at the Podium
imagining your audience in their underwear. Shawn Whalen, director
of SF State's Speech and Debate Team, said there really are no tricks
to getting over the fear of speaking in public. "The only way to
get comfortable in front of an audience is repetition -- getting up
there and speaking again and again -- and being fully confident in the
content of your speech," said the Communication Studies lecturer.
A well-stocked trophy case in the Humanities building attests to the
historic success of the SF State Speech and Debate team. Under Whalen's
guidance for the past ten years, the team has consistently ranked in
the top twenty in national forensics competitions. Here are Whalen's
dos and don'ts for getting your next speech off to a great start:
Public Speaking Tips
Five speech-starting dos
1. Use physical activity to get the audience's attention.
A theme-related physical activity can also help the audience generate
a visual image of your topic. Often you can draw on that later in the
speech. A speech on the importance of exercise could open with jumping
jacks. A speech on child abuse could open with the speaker striking
an object with great force.
2. Make a startling statement or present a startling
statistic. "Government officials in the United States have murdered
23 American citizens" might open a speech opposing the death penalty.
This type of opening can create a feeling of suspense and anticipation
of the statement's justification.
3. Tell a theme-related joke. Humor isn't for everyone
and it's a little risky if you aren't familiar with the audience, but
nothing wins audiences over as much as a good laugh.
4. Provide an apt quotation. In addition to framing
the theme of the speech, you can generate credibility by demonstrating
that you are familiar enough with the topic literature to have found
such an appropriate quotation.
5. Relate a relevant story. Most people give only a
few formal public speeches in their lives, yet we all tell stories every
day. Telling a story can be a comfortable and natural way to generate
momentum for the rest of the speech.
1. Begin with "Hi, my name is…" The
sentences most likely to be remembered by the audience are the very
first and the very last sentences you utter. Don't throw away the opportunity
to do something meaningful in the opening line.
2. Make a false start. Avoid apologies and tentative
statements that can put your credibility in question. Some typical phrases
to avoid are: "Well, here goes," "Where shall I start?"
and "Can you hear me OK in the back?"
3. Use a rhetorical question. Typically they result
in an awkward moment where the audience is unsure if a response is really
desired by the speaker. This can erode your confidence.
4. Go overboard.You want to be creative and innovative
in attracting audience attention, but your opening should be consistent
with your personality and with the tone of the rest of the speech.
5. Fail to consider how you'll get to the podium. Speaking
areas are often crowded and nothing destroys your credibility like tripping
on the way to the front of your audience. This happens to someone famous
every year -- Senator Bob Dole and football coach Mike Ditka are recent
-- Shawn Whalen