Practical Tips for Giving a Speech

How to Give a Speech

Here are some practical tips for giving a speech (or tribute) - on occasions like Veterans Day, or Pastor or Teacher Appreciation Days.

These tips are for while you're delivering your speech.

If you're in the process of writing your speech, go to Speech Writing Help.

Over 2 Dozen Practical Tips - Coming from a Lot of Experience

I've included over 2 dozen tips, so you don't have to go bananas with stage fright!

I've given probably around 1000 speeches in my lifetime - so far.

And that's not counting the thousands of hours standing in front of a classroom as a teacher - too many I can't count, but maybe a guess at say around 5-10,000 hours? I have taught all the way from 2nd Grade to college students.

And I've personally attended a couple thousand speeches myself !

Besides listening to countless radio and internet speeches.

I've taken a lot of speech classes. All the way from a special class in Second Grade when I had to miss movies the class was watching in order to learn how to say my s's and r's right...

... all the way through college courses, and some special training even later.

I've also had the opportunity to observe the interactions between speaker and audience and study their reactions.

I wish I had known some of these tips a lot earlier, it would have saved me a lot of stress and strain stress and pain !

Practical Tips for Giving a Speech - Use the Bathroom Ahead of Time.

Yes, I know I'm getting into the really, really practical stuff, but forgetting this kind of stuff can make you really miserable.

Yes, it's easy to forget to go the bathroom ahead of time, so put it on your checklist.

I've been on stage having to go, because I forgot to go, and that makes for one tough time. Oh well, you do your best and chalk it up to experience.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Don't eat too much before.

Don't eat too much before hand, especially rich or heavy foods. Else this can make you:

  • groggy - tired and sleepy
  • foggy - your mind and brain going much slower
  • and froggy - your voice, nose and throat as sharp and clear as you and your audience would like. (ahem, ahem...)

A little further below I talk about throat care, how to avoid or handle a hoarse or froggy throat, and sipping a bit of water during the speech.

On the other hand, you don't want to be starving either. What you want to achieve is a happy balance.

I remember one time doing a play, and the play was delayed about an hour, and I ended up getting quite hungry. It ended up being a rather miserable experience for me.

O well, in such cases, you just go out and do the best you can.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Don't drink too much before.

And don't drink too much, or you'll be back to having a bathroom emergency.

By paying a bit of attention to these details, you'll eventually you'll know what works for you. Here's hoping you don't have to learn the hard way, but it can happen.

Especially if you have poor kidneys or your speech is long. And if it's too long, plan a break. Everyone will thank you.

And if you have a personal emergency and you can't hold it, tell the audience, and go. Don't let your embarrassment keep you on stage until your emergency becomes a real big one.

One wise teacher told me years ago - when I was a teacher in training - that if a child has to go the bathroom, no matter how important you think what you have to say is, he won't be able to learn a thing when he has to go the bathroom bad. So do be considerate of the needs of you and your audience.

It's a good reminder we're not angels - yet. Last time I checked, I didn't find wings sprouting, so yes, we're still human.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Breathing

Breathe deeply. Breathe deeply. Breathe deeply.

But let your breathing be gentle and relaxed.

You want to get to the point that you don't even think about it.

For me, it's the most important tip. I've caught myself going many minutes without breathing at all, and then I'm literally going on the fumes of nervous energy. Pretty scary stuff.

Most people don't know how to breathe deeply.

For years, I was all nervous giving public speeches, getting very sweaty, to the point I would feel faint. It became something I dreaded.

For me, the biggest tip has been learning how to breathe correctly. Before that, I never knew how to deep breathe with your diaphragm behind your stomach, and keep it relaxed, and breathe like a baby sleeping, where you see the baby's stomach go in and out (or up and down.)

It made a night and day difference. The problem was, by not breathing correctly, I wasn't getting oxygen to my brain, and that's why I'd get dizzy.

Now if I'd only remember that, when I'm in the middle of a talk, and getting all excited!

Tips for Giving a Speech - Plenty of Oxygen to the Brain

One thing I found helpful to stay relaxed is to get some exercise like walking every day.

I also use a mini-trampoline, even for a few minutes now and then, to loosen up. Just a little bounce, one or two inches, not even letting your feet leave the mat, does a lot to get the circulation going and loosen up for deep breathing.

It's so important to get fresh air and get our circulation going a little. We need to get oxygen to our brains to think properly.

Exercise and fresh air can help get rid of excess sugars that can make us nervous and get the jitters.

You may get a quick fix by sugar and caffeine, but it doesn't help in the long run.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Good Posture

You don't want to be stiff at all. Otherwise, it can show up in your face and be heard in your voice, and your audience will pick up on it.

But you do want to be standing - or sitting - as fairly straight as you can. This will help you breathe well, and often you can you can project your voice better on a deeper column of air.

If you do shallow breathing, you may come across as panting.

By the way, I sang in choir for years, and a lot of what you learn in music training crosses over into giving good speeches.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Dress nice, but focus on the message.

Another problem I had, I was too self conscious. I used to worry how my hair looked, my clothes, shiny shoes, shoes tied, etc.

A great solution for that is to have a great message, tell it like a story to a friend in a conversational style, and give that to the audience. Not you.

In other words, people are going to go home with the message on their minds, they're not taking you home.

So yes, dress nicely, get ready, but that's not the most important.

And how we talk, that's not that important either.

When we speak in conversation, we don't speak in perfect grammar and complete sentences.

So put more emphasis on the message, the story, and don't worry about you and the delivery.

Tips for Giving a Speech - You're in the Public Eye.

Remember, you're in the public eye. Translate that, the eye of the camera. And a video of you can put you in the public eye for years to come, and affect your ability, for instance, to get a job, or more work, or more speaking engagements down the road someday.

I saw a good speaker on TED recently, who had a wonderful humanitarian purpose, but she kept taking her hand and pulling back her hair, which kept falling in front of her eyes. Just fix your hair somehow, and forget about it.

We live in a much different media world than decades ago.

People - especially the younger generation - can and do, with their cell phone or recorder, take a cheap video of you and all your mistakes, from any angle in the audience, and then post it online. It can go viral, where hundred, thousands, even millions of people can see you, and this can be quite embarrassing - unless you want that kind of attention.

Some kids do love this kind of attention. But unfortunately, many of them do not have the sense of what's appropriate. They don't have the maturity and wisdom and respect for authority and elders, that would keep the rest of us from making a scene and further embarrassing the precious human being involved.

Even if you say no cameras, some people think nothing of breaking the Golden rule. So always act as if you are being recorded, but don't be afraid of getting your message out.

Going viral can be an opportunity to get your message out further, and if something embarrassing happens to you, it's not the end of the world, pick up the pieces, we've all been there done that, and you'll become better for it. And one day, you may laugh at yourself again.

To a degree, it is the fault of our society and families and especially parents not teaching good manners. Which this website is designed to do, especially in the thank you and appreciation department.

Just because the big media tries to get the latest scoop first does not make it right to break the Golden Rule.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Shoes

Along this same vein, I've seen too many speakers trip, fall off the stage, and other similar situations.

I'm not a woman, but I highly recommend against high heels. I see no practical purpose in it. If it makes you taller, it makes your fall that much further.

And for men, some dress shoes and boots can pinch your toes and make your walking uncomfortable.

The days of having to stick to the latest fashion are long gone.

The notion of fame and glory that the advertiser sold you will quickly evaporate when it backfires on stage and you're the one standing (or sitting) there awkwardly.

I used to get red in the face by even a slight trip going up or down a stairway to the stage, maybe I was just a little more sensitive than others.

I don't wear dress shoes anymore. I can't stand to keep them polished and shiny anyway, I don't have time for it.

I use walking shoes that look like dress shoes - black or brown - and I work, play, teach, even work in the garden and go hiking and spend all day in the same pair of comfortable practical shoes. And my back feels much better for it. Again, it's your choice.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Modesty

I'm adding this little section on modesty in dress as an afterthought a few days after I posted this page, because it keeps coming back to mind - maybe it's a distraction, maybe it's an inspiration.

So, if my feedback in this area helps even one person become a better speaker, I figure it's worth posting it. Feel free to take it or leave it, it's up to you, but if this helps, thank you, and you're welcome.

I don't believe enough people are aware that floor shots from behind are made by the camera crew to get the audience in the picture, and many speakers look rather poorly dressed from behind.

So please dress modestly. This goes for both men and women.

Tips for Giving a Speech - More tips on Modesty

It is especially because I have respect for women that I bring up this issue.

Modesty is an issue. With pornography and sex crimes at an all time high, how much longer will it take some people to wake up and pay attention?

When a women dresses immodestly, she is dressing for sex. Instead of commanding the respect of men, she loses all respect and degrades herself.

And those who say it doesn't, are either woefully ignorant, or are totally lacking in decency, values, and morals in this area.

There are many fine books by women that counteract the modern abominable trend of dressing for sex.

You can dress modestly and very nicely at the same time.

If you're a woman and offended by this, you do not understand that men tend to be - at the natural level - physical first, then intellectual. If you are immodest, you are sending the wrong message to men. They will not pay as much attention to what you have to say, if at all.

They will pay attention to all the wrong things, the things you don't want them to remember you by. I'm not making this up, I've received a lot of training in psychology.

When I was growing up, I was very blessed to have a mother who was very modest, and trained us in the importance of modesty. We didn't even have women teachers or girls in our classrooms in the private schools I attended.

If you are immodestly dressed when speaking, I simply can't watch, not matter how good your message, or how hard and long you worked on it. For many people, this is a distraction at best.

And if I see a problem with it, how about several generations of men and boys who see no problem acting like animals around women. Women are the ones who get the raw end of the deal, and become the brunt of physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse and harm.

So I'm saying this for your protection, this may save your life and honor someday, and it's my job as a gentleman to warn you.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Your shirt is Speaking!

How would you like it if another speaker tried to share the same stage with you, was in competition with you, and constantly interrupted you while your were speaking?

Don't let that happen to you!

It's best to have no writing or images of any kind on your clothes, like a shirt with letters.

Any message on your clothes, also detracts from your message.

Even if they're the same message, it's only a moment. You have other topics in your speech.

Letters and images only draw attention to the wrong parts of your body that the clothes are there in the first place to cover up.

It's also a good idea to avoid wearing clothes with loud or flashy colors, because they are so distracting.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Relax.

If you try too hard, you can goof. So relax, breathe, and enjoy telling the message and stories people need to hear. They'll appreciate your efforts.

In the long run, it's not the messenger they'll remember. It's the message.

You are doing a service to people when you deliver a message, so do the job to the best of your ability, but don't get bent out of shape if it's not perfect.

Tips for Giving a Speech - What helped my Stress.

For years, I was almost paranoid of public speaking. I did not realize how tight I held my face, and how tight my eyes were. I was actually losing my sight because I never knew how to relax.

Eventually, when I was in college, I read a book Better Eyesight without Glasses, and started doing the palming exercises (totally covering your open eyes with your palms without touching your eyelids or eyeballs at all, and seeing total black) and similar exercises outlined in the book.

And one day, my face muscles relaxed. I could not believe and would probably never have known how I was holding my stress continually so tight in my muscles.

Eventually, I was able to learn how to consciously relax all my muscles, and no doubt saved myself from a lot of stress-related damage.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Turn up the Noise Level?

Another tip. Be loud enough.

It would be a shame to go to all the trouble to make a good tribute or speech, and then people not hear you. It's actually better to be a little too loud than not loud enough.

So, take time to make sure your mic is tested, you are loud enough for the location, and that you will not get microphone feedback when you speak or when the volume is turned up.

Also, sudden weird microphone noises can totally ruin whatever you have to say. It's one surprise people just don't like. So do your best to avoid this kind of thing ahead of time.

No mic? If you don't have a microphone, such as in a classroom, be sure to talk loud enough so the ones in the back can hear you very well. Ask them in the beginning if you're not sure.

We learn best when the environment is cheerful and friendly. So when people have to strain to hear you, they're probably not getting the most out of the message.

Again, if you had important news for your friend, they wouldn't want to miss a thing because they couldn't hear you.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Room Check

If possible, go to the place ahead of time. Test the right location for you. Have a podium to lean on or chair nearby to sit on if you get dizzy. Learn where not to fall off the stage.

If that sounds dumb, accidents do happen and people do get hurt. You have a lot on your mind - no kidding - and it's easy to miss a step or lose your bearings. It can ruin the day (or night) for you and your guests. Try to avoid this - if at all possible - by wise planning.

Check the speaker system, the acoustics. What potential distractions to avoid, like posting someone at a door to keep it closed if there is a noise coming from a hallway.

Is there enough lighting to read your notes? Who is in charge of the lighting? Will there be music playing before the speech, and is it appropriate to your audience and your message, etc.

A little preparation can go a long way in these departments.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Room Temperature

Speaking of room check, probably the most often overlooked check is the temperature.

Air conditioning too cold. Thermostat setting too high.

You don't want you and your audience shivering in the cold or dozing off because it's too warm - if at all possible.

Sometimes the air conditioning can be too noisy. Or a fan directed right in your face can distract or chill you.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure - or a stitch in time saves nine.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Outside!

And sometimes, you can't do a thing about room temperature because you're not in a room. You're outside. Wouldn't it be nice to have that thermostat under control!

Many speeches are held outside. Veterans Day in November in a cemetery can be cold and rainy. Memorial Day in May can be chilly, windy, rainy, or hot, humid, and sulky. And political speeches have been held in different outdoor conditions.

So dress appropriately for the occasion, keep your audience in mind, warn them in advance if possible.

You might even need an umbrella.

Tips for Giving a Speech - An Outside Eulogy

I've officiated at many graveside burials, and weather can be a very significant factor.

When holding a graveside eulogy, remember that funerals and burials can happen any unplanned time of the year, out of our control.

Personally, I shiver in the cold even if dressed warmly, and can hardly pay attention. But others handle it better.

If people can attend a game or a parade in cold or bad weather, surely we can make reasonable sacrifices to honor our beloved departed, or our veterans, when a speech or service is held outside.

Tips for Giving a Speech - A Memory of my Own

In my early twenties my mother was buried in early December.

The burial was after a day of intense rain, and all kinds of mud, and then a night of heavy wet snow, building up to 6-12 inches in places, more in the mountains where she was buried. The service was long delayed as hundreds of people tried to drive their cars up the slippery roads and many went into the ditch and had to be pulled out.

Luckily, the service and eulogy were held inside the church. But we all had to climb the slippery long path up to the little hilltop cemetery, where the final prayers and blessings were made outside. We had deep snow boots on, including the officiating clergy and assistants.

Many of the pallbearers were sliding carrying our precious burden, many extras helped along, and everyone in the community parish were helping everyone else.

But coming down the mountain the sun broke out, and it was like walking on clouds, everything was snow white, the evergreen forest for miles was completely covered with snow, and the clouds socked in the valley below, like being in an airplane above the clouds. A very special moment indeed.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Throat Prep

In old days it was a no-no to have a glass of water on the stage. I'm glad that today it's far more common to see a speaker or singer with a glass or bottle of water on stage.

It can come in very handy to swallow a frog in your throat or stop a hiccup episode.

Just a little to wet your whistle will often do the trick. Avoid doing it constantly because it can get distracting.

Tips for Giving a Speech - The Hoarse can stop Everything

I have gone totally hoarse - couldn't hardly whisper - from too much speaking on the phone. One time I took straight garlic, took a nap instead of lunch, and the hoarseness was gone by the time I had another phone consultation in the early afternoon. A little harsh, but it worked. But I wouldn't recommend garlic especially if you are going to be in public.

Sometimes, I have heard radio announcers that have this as a perennial problem. Part of it can come from all the electronics they are surrounded with - headphones, mics, multiple computers, lighting, control panels.

This is just my opinion now - but I have dealt with this problem for some years now, doing extensive research of my own - all this electronic energy causes free radical damage to our body's cells, and tend to make our systems more acidic. While it would be best to lower the amount of chemical and electronic radiation in the first place, and some newer technology is taking this into account, some of this can be counteracted by eating healthy alkalizing foods proper for our bodies according to our blood type, genotype, allergies, etc.

Even the type of lighting can make a difference. When I was really sensitive to radiation - like I was before I found out I needed a gluten free diet, and my body was acidic - I was especially sensitive to fluorescent lighting.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Keep Your Throat in Top Condition

Did you know that some speakers, singers, and actors insure their voice for millions of dollars?

Losing your voice can put a quick end to a teaching, speaking, singing, acting, or political career, and that can be real disturbing, especially if your voice is the tool how you make your living.

Some people take care of their car more than this very special gift God has given us.

What usually works for me to keep my voice in good shape, especially right before talking, is the plain juice of lemon in water, or a fairly warm herbal tea - but not too hot.

For me, unsweetened, because sugar and especially sugar substitutes can do a lot of harm, and sometimes brings the frog right back!

A personal observation. I have noticed that by adhering to a natural wholesome diet, I get a lot less colds, and can usually avoid them when I feel them coming on.

It pays to stay healthy, don't rely on quick fixes, but build on a good foundation of nutritious food, exercise, water, and fresh air, especially if speaking is how you make a living.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Eye Contact

Eye contact. People appreciate it when you look at them. Start by taking a moment to look at them, welcome them, and thank them all for coming.

And glance at them every now and then in 2 or 3 different directions. But don't get distracted by looking at just one person - it's rude to stare - but by looking every now and then you can generally see the non-verbal reaction of your audience.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Notes

Don't trust your memory. Use notes if you need them.

I'd rather have a few notes, or even my whole speech written out, rather than get stuck for good. Usually a little outline telling you what to do is pretty helpful.

Like, what stories to tell. What is your message. Who you want to thank. What you'd like the audience to remember. Call to Action.

It's easy to forget what to say, especially as we get older. Sure, it would be nice to do everything from memory, or even better, do everything impromptu (meaning, on the spur of the moment, or off the cuff), but what often happens when we try that, is later we realize we had something really important to tell and we totally forgot it.

Tips for Giving a Speech - The Opening Line

One of the best things you can write in your notes is your opening line, so you get your speech off to a really good start. And write the word "smile" to tell yourself to smile, it will come out in your voice.

Your opening line is uber-super-critical.

You have very little time to grab the attention of the audience with a welcome, thanks for coming, an opening statement, a good question. Once you get their attention, half the battle is won.

It's like racing. If you get off to a bad start, you can lose a lot of ground. So make a solid start, set the tone for the rest of the speech, and you have a foundation to build the rest.

You want to tell your audience what the speech is about, and then get right into the meat of the matter.

Get more tips on Speech Writing in Speech Writing Help.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Tick, Tock, Time

Do it enough times like I've done, really get going with stories and facts and your audience is involved and everyone's busy enjoying a wonderful speech ...

... and time flies!

You can run the danger of catching this disease I call run-of-the-mouth-itis. In other words, you have so much to say and you get so excited you go way over time. So, practice your delivery ahead of time with a clock.

No one likes to see you look at the watch, but that is better than it getting too long. You don't want people falling asleep.

You want to give a speech that captivates your audience. It can be long or short and still be interesting, but do stick to the time allotted.

Especially younger children, they often don't have a very long attention span.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Smile

Even if your message and story is serious, try to smile once in a while when appropriate.

We all appreciate a little cheer now and then, whether it's appropriate humor, a funny story, or even a smile.

It's by going the extra mile that you really can become good at what you do.

I know, it's real hard to do when you've traveled far and you have jet lag and it's the end of a long day, and your audience is bright eyed and bushy tailed. A friendly explanation and a little humor about it might set your audience at ease - instead of keeping them on pins and needles.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Respect

It is always important to be respectful of your audience. Especially if they are children, because they are so impressionable. Every person is special, unique, created by God.

Many times I have given speeches where most of my audience was older than me. It's humbling to think I might have something to tell them, when I know that they have a lifetime of experiences and wisdom.

Tips for Giving a Speech - I Hope this Helps

I hope these pages I posted on speeches and tributes helps make you a better writer and / or speaker. Who knows, it could be a life saver for you.

It could even launch you into a new direction, a new career, using the power of words to teach, influence people, and get your message across.

Tips for Giving a Speech - Practice Makes Perfect

The best practice is before your tribute or speech.

But when mistakes happen, whether our fault or due to circumstances, when basically it turns out a flop, don't take it too seriously. It's a good lesson to learn from it, because it's good experience.

There's always be room for improvement. Next time you'll do better. In fact, over time, you'll get better if you are always willing to learn. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from others. And go do it again.

You'll thank your stars you did.

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