By THOMAS HUKAHU
HAVE you written a speech, or oral presentation, and delivered it?
How was it?
Did you deliver it effectively?
We do all have problems, right?
Our body becomes sweaty, even in an air-conditioned room? Our voice changes its pitch suddenly – or refuses to function normally as it had for the other 364 days of the year?
Such nervousness is common for most people if they were tasked to do any public speaking duties, or participate as a member of a debate team for the first time.
So, how does one prepare better for cases like this, as in giving a good speech?
In this article I offer you some tips on how best to prepare a speech.
Speeches and oral presentations
Delivering a good speech or making an oral presentation is a vital skill.
All sorts of people are required to make speeches – a researcher presenting a paper at an academic conference, a teacher speaking to students urging them to focus on their learning, a politician launching a project in a suburb, a lecturer visiting his former primary school and speaking to students, a student leader addressing the school on an important day, or a village elder informing people about the pros and cons of a new project in their district.
An oral presentation can be made by students in school, college or university.
That is part of their assessment.
Similar skills are applied in both cases where the talk must first be planned, as in it being written, and then delivered.
In an oral presentation, the talk can be supported by slides projected on a screen or using PowerPoint.
But the key thing is, the talk must first be prepared before it is delivered.
Good and bad memories
As a student, I have some good and bad memories of making oral presentations in class.
I also remember some awkward moments, where classmates became so nervous while trying to make a small presentation that they stood for half a minute before the class without uttering anything and then sitting down.
Yes, those moments can be quite embarrassing.
I also remembered myself giving a presentation during first-year in university for my Science English class, where I decided to talk on how long it takes for light to travel from different star systems to us in the Solar System, as in the wonders in astronomy.
Even to this day I still wonder if my classmates at that time understood what I was talking about.
I knew then that they seemed interested – but I am not sure if they understood what interested me at that time.
I have asked myself whether they were interested in what I was saying or were merely struck by the topic of my presentation, something that interested me when I was in Grade 12 – a theme that may not be interesting to many first-year science students.
I was 19 years old then.
On a more positive side, during an academic conference staged at the University of Papua New Guinea in 2003, I presented a research paper on traditional astronomy to a lecture theatre filled with academics and students from within the country and abroad.
I was in my 30s then.
It was supposed to be a 15-minute presentation and I prepared my paper and had to pick salient points from that paper for my short presentation, which included PowerPoint slides. (The paper I presented, with those of other researchers, was later published in a book. And, I requested the help of a computer science student in the mathematics department to help me prepare the slides for my talk. Yes – get help to better prepare your talk.)
The effectiveness of that talk was relayed to me in two ways.
Firstly, during a recess after the session, a literature postgraduate student from the Highlands said: “Your talk was very interesting. Why did you stop talking? You should have continued!”
I smiled and responded politely: “It was supposed to have been a 15-minute talk so I kept strictly to the allocated time!”
I knew that if that student was interested, he could always read a copy of the paper I had prepared and left at the conference for those who were interested to learn more about my research on how our island ancestors used the stars to tell the end or onset of a season, as well as finding directions when out at sea at night.
Secondly, a few years later, while I was waiting within an institute’s premises for a job interview in Port Moresby, I met a University of Goroka graduate. (He was there for the interview as well.)
When the young teacher told me he was from a province which had islands and had a history of sailing and traditional barter trade, I told him about my interest in such topics – traditional navigation knowledge and trade.
He then told me that one of his lecturers who was present in the 2003 conference at UPNG was quite interested in a presentation given by someone who spoke on traditional astronomy in PNG and other parts of the world.
The graduate told me that the lecturer at Goroka had mentioned bits of the traditional astronomy paper to students in his class.
I told the graduate that that was an interesting piece of news for me because I was the one who presented that paper.
I have a few more experiences like that but I will not bother you with them.
(It has been a habit of mine to congratulate young people who give good speeches that are meaningful. It is an art and must be appreciated.)
I hope you see how effective a speech or presentation can have on people – that is, if you can write a good paper and then present the paper effectively.
And this and two more articles in later issues should help in your quest to be more effective in writing and delivering speeches.
Before I turn to another section of this article, note that today some people are paid for just speaking to an audience. So, the skills learned here can actually earn you some money in the future.
Years ago, a school in Port Moresby engaged me as a speaker during their book week celebrations.
After I had given the talk, they gave me some money for doing that. It was a token of appreciation of my effort to motivate their students to be interested in books and their value in learning.
The audience and theme
Before you actually write your speech, take the time to think about these two very important aspects – your audience and the theme or topic you will speak on.
Your audience will be the people listening to your talk, students in a school or locals in your village.
The kind of audience you have will determine the language you will use – English, TokPisin or your local dialect.
As much as possible, stick to one language. If there is need for translation, you can give that later, after you are done with completing the speech in the language you used.
(Personally, I dislike people switching from English to TokPisin after an introduction in English and then back to TokPisin half way through, and then switching back to English, and so on. Someone who does that may have not prepared a good speech – it is likely that they may not have written their speech.)
Thinking about the audience will also help you choose the correct level of language to use to be effective in your delivery.
You cannot speak to primary school students the same way that you would speak to university students, much less a roomful of employees of a commercial bank.
You have to tone down your speech for younger students so they understand what you are talking about. Use the appropriate level of language for your audience.
The theme of your talk will depend on what audience you have as well as the reason for speaking to them.
If you are speaking to students of your former primary school, you have to choose a theme to motivate them to do better as students.
If you are speaking to villagers about health issues, your talk will revolve around basic health topics like properly taking care of their rubbish and basic hygiene as well as the diseases caused by not being careful about the basics.
If you are preparing a eulogy (a speech given at a funeral service in memory of someone who has passed away), you theme will be about the person’s life, the history and achievements, among other things.
Apart from the eulogy or health talk, it is likely that you will choose any theme, so spend some time to think about it before writing it.
Main parts of the speech
Now, let us turn to the parts of your speech, or talk.
When you write your speech, break it up into three main parts – the introduction, body and conclusion.
In the introduction, tell your audience what your talk is about – and do so in an interesting way, as in relating them to something that they know.
Maybe you are speaking to students and learned about the outstanding performance of students from a school in the nation and use that to grab their interest.
In the introduction, define any complicated terms that may be used in your talk, if you will use such at all.
You can also give a brief outline of your talk – like, the different aspects you may touch on later on.
The body is where the main content of your speech is.
The three or four points or aspects you will touch on will be written in detail here. (You may have to research well for this part.)
In the conclusion, you summarise your talk and review briefly what was told them.
You can tell them a good story here too, to illustrate the practical side of what you spoke about.
Additionally, you can use a good quote here to tie up things neatly before you take your seat.
Perfecting the art
What has been shared in the last sections should help you write a good speech.
After you write a speech, show it to a friend or guardian to check if it is suitable to use for your audience.
As with all skills, your first speech will not be your best – but you will become better at it with more practice, as well as watching how very good speakers give their talks.
Learn from those good speakers and keep working on your skills.
You can also go to sites like YouTube or ted.com and access videos there to see how effective the speakers are.
(Very good preachers and stand-up comedians can teach you a lot too.)
Learn from them and try to prepare a better speech the next time you are invited to deliver one.
- Next week: How to deliver your speech. Thomas Hukahu is a freelance writer.