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Establish the Form

Now you are ready to establish the form of your speech. There are three main elements: an introduction, the body of the speech, and the conclusion.

Let’s talk about each one of those parts of a speech.

The Introduction

This is perhaps the most important part of a speech. Within the first minute of your speech, your audience is going to make a judgment about you and about whether they are interested in hearing anything else you have to say.

Let me give you three “don’ts” and three “dos.”

I. Don’t apologize. More speeches have been hurt than you would believe by speakers who

opened their speech with “I’m not much of a speaker . . .” or “I hope you will forgive my lack of preparation in this subject . . .” or “I didn’t want to do this, and I’m very nervous. . . .”

II. Don’t demean. Your audience is giving you their time. They don’t owe you anything. You owe them. When you make fun of the audience or become caustic or angry in your introduction, you might as well sit down. A song leader, in a poor attempt at humor, gave me the audience with these words: “Steve, this is a hard bunch, but I’m sure you will survive.” When I got up to speak, it took me five precious minutes to get the audience back on my side.

III. Don’t patronize. Speakers who show arrogance in their opening statements will die before they get to the body of the speech. There are some speakers who give the impression that they are preparing to speak from Sinai. There are also introductions that make the speaker feel as if he or she were going to speak from Sinai. You might think, “If I’m that good, I can hardly wait to hear what I have to say,” but if you communicate that kind of attitude, you will have already lost the audience.

Lest you think that I am only giving negatives, here are three “dos.”

I. Do get the audience’s attention. There are lots of ways you can do this in an introduction to a speech.

Continuing with the example of a speech on “How to Teach Children,” you could make a startling statement of purpose: “I’m going to show you something today that will break your heart [shatter your illusions, bring tears to your eyes, etc.].”

You could also get attention with an astounding fact: “Did you know that over 50 percent of the children in our public school system can’t identify the last three presidents of the United States?”

You might use humor: “Did you hear about the three boys who were in a huddle in the back of a room? The teacher asked them what they were doing, and they admitted that they were telling dirty jokes. The teacher said, ‘Thank goodness! I thought you were praying.’”

Sometimes you can get an audience’s attention by a well-placed compliment: “I have been looking forward to being here this evening because you have shown yourself to be concerned and intelligent citizens of our community.”

II. Do whet the audience’s appetite. A good opening will give your audience a desire to hear what is going to be said in the speech itself. If an audience doesn’t have a vested interest in what you are about to say, the odds are that they won’t pay attention. If you are giving a speech to death-row inmates on how to “beat the system,” you are going to have an attentive audience. If you are going to speak about investments to entrepreneurs, they will listen. If you are going to deal with how to raise children, frustrated parents are going to listen to your every word. But let them know what’s coming.

To follow through with the example of giving a speech on “How to Teach Children,” you might begin, “The future of our nation is dependent on the education of our children. If we fail there, we fail as a nation.”

Or you could say, “W. C. Fields said that anybody who didn’t like children or dogs couldn’t be all bad. Jesus said to let the children come to him. Fields is dead and, for the most part, forgotten. Jesus is still the expert to whom people listen. Concern for children is the measure of a nation and an individual.”

You might ask a question: “Have you ever wondered why, despite the billions of dollars we spend on education in America, we have one of the poorest educational systems in the industrialized world?”

III. Do give the audience your theme. Someone has said that in a good speech a speaker will first tell the audience what he or she is going to say, then say it, and then conclude by telling them what was said. That is too simple, but there is a point to be made. It is important that the audience know the direction in which you are heading.

If you wait until the end to state your purpose, it will be too late. That is not to say that you should give away everything you are going to say. If that were the case, there would be no need for your speech.

However, your theme or purpose ought to be stated, preferably in an arresting way. For instance: “I intend in the few moments we have together to show you how, when given a choice of schools, children who want to learn can make astounding educational progress. Further, I intend to show you that there are great numbers of people in our country who, for very selfish and ill-advised reasons, would have you remain unaware of what I am going to say.” (If, of course, you were taking the other side of the issue, you might say, “During our time together, I plan to show you that there are some very narrow and biased folks who are trying to destroy the greatest institution in America, public education.”)

The Body of the Speech

Now, to the second part of a speech, its body, or substance. This is the place where you will communicate your main ideas, present your data, and make your case. There are two important principles to remember in preparing the body of your speech.

Principle #1. Your speech will be successful in direct proportion to how many of your audience’s questions are anticipated and answered. The next time you are listening to a speech or sermon (assuming that you keep listening after the introduction), note how you react to what the speaker says. If you disagree with something, you will say in your mind, “That is nonsense!” If you are in strong agreement, you might whisper, “YESSSSSSS!” If the speaker is confusing, you will find yourself thinking, “I wish he would explain that a bit more. That seems to contradict what he said before.”

A speech is a dialogue between a speaker and an audience. One side of the dialogue is silent—but real. If you forget that, your speech will bomb. Speakers with years of experience have learned to read an audience in terms of confusion, anger, or affirmation. However, if you are relatively new at this, you must anticipate the reaction by asking yourself questions: If I were in the audience, what would I want to know about this subject? What kind of questions would I ask? What will elicit a proper response?

Principle #2. There is also a direct correlation between the audience’s ability to take notes and the effectiveness of your speech. Please note that I did not say that an audience must take notes for your speech to be a success. However, if anyone in the audience wanted to take notes and could not do so because of your sloppy transitions, merging of points, and lack of clarity, your speech will be a failure.

I find it wise to number my points, and as I move to the next point, I review points already made. Watch transitions. They need to be clearly delineated and stated so that the audience can take notes, if they should so desire.

The Conclusion

The final part of a speech is not the place where you try to do what you failed to do so far. The conclusion should never be a time of review, unless the review can be made to “sizzle.” Neither is it the time to try to recover what you have already lost or to make another point. The conclusion of a speech is the time to end with a bang. There is nothing worse than a speech that was making it up to the conclusion but dies at the end. There is cognitive communication where the object is to communicate a definable message of facts, points, and conclusions. And then there is emotive communication, which is primarily designed to solicit emotion.

The conclusion of a speech should, of course, have an element of the cognitive—but it is terribly important that it also be primarily emotive. A good story can be emotive. A pithy line can be emotive, as can humor. However you do it, make sure that there is some strong emotive stuff in your conclusion. A speech without an emotive conclusion is like a rocket that dies on the launching pad.

For instance, following through with our speech idea of teaching children, a conclusion might be as follows: This evening we have taken the time to think of our children’s future. When we discuss educational choice, we must look beyond the politics, the economics, and the vested interest of educators. We must remember the children. Socrates once said, “Could I climb to the highest place in Athens, I would lift my voice and proclaim: ‘Fellow citizens, why do ye turn and scrape every stone to gather wealth, and take so little care of your children, to whom one day you must relinquish it all?’”
Let me give you three rules about conclusions:

I. A conclusion must be short. There is nothing worse than speakers who, having said all that they came to say, keep on talking.

II. A conclusion needs to be … conclusive. Have you ever listened to a reasonably good speech and thought that there were three or four times at which the speaker would have done well to conclude? Make your conclusion a formal and clearly definable part of your speech.

III. A conclusion can save your speech. If your speech has bombed before the conclusion, the conclusion probably won’t save it. But it might. So, go with it anyway. Sometimes a very bad speech is saved by a very good conclusion. (Not a bad line, I thought, with which to conclude this chapter.)

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