Why make a speech?


Recently I attended the local Toastmasters Area and Evaluation contests. It was a revelation.

Almost all the speeches delivered that day were without purpose. Or, to be more precise, they had little relevance to, or value for, the assembled audience.

This is not intended as a criticism of the speakers, all of whom are at various levels of the learning process. They cannot know unless they are told what a speech is for.

Their speeches were either self-centred or simply narratives.  In the evaluation contest, for example, a speech was delivered by an invited speaker who told a charming tale of her time in Japan. She told it well, and it was interesting, but it was not a speech.

In simple terms, the purpose of a speech should be to bring about Change — in the thinking, attitude or behaviour of the audience. What passes for speeches most often could better be described as an entertainment, a confession, or a declaration. If the audience thinks, “Why do I need to hear this?” or “How is this relevant to me?” it fails as a speech.

When I am training people in public speaking, I sometimes don a surgical mask and tell them how people in Tokyo may be seen in public places wearing similar masks — not to protect themselves from that city’s infamous smog, but because they have head colds or other infectious ailments. They wear the masks to protect others from their germs.

So my question is this: is your speech for your own benefit, or for the sake of others? That’s a good starting place for any speech.  Or presentation.

Filed under: Presentations, public speaking, speaking