“Speak Easy”          

 Issue 5

By:  Ron Brounes      

September 1997


Recently I was reading an interesting article on human nature, and more specifically, about individual’s greatest fears.  If memory serves correctly, people are most afraid of flying (or rather, crashing while flying).  Personally, that first sign of turbulence on the airplane and I’m pushing that button for the flight attendant.  Next, people are petrified of sharks (or rather getting bitten/eaten by sharks).  Every since Peter Benchley brought countless nightmares to those of us who read “Jaws” and watched sequel after sequel, my recreational water activities are confined to the swimming pool.  Finally, individuals are scared of public speaking.  Unfortunately not even kindergarten “show and tell”, Dale Carnegie, nor visualizing a naked audience have been able to cure us of getting nervous. 




The key to overcoming this fear of public speaking is to always be prepared when these situations arise.  That preparation begins with the composition of a quality speech.  While most of us would claim to have virtually no training in speech writing, in reality, we all have been gaining valuable experience in this area since the very first day at school when we were told to compose an autobiography or a paper on our summer vacation.  This experience was further enhanced with each book report and term paper we wrote (copied).  


Regardless of the setting (board meeting, business presentation, industry conference, political rally), the key to writing and ultimately delivering an effective speech is to answer six simple questions: “five W’s and an H.”  These are the same questions we answer in virtually every writing assignment we have ever undertaken.  


·         WHO – Who am I?  What is my background on this important matter?  What are my qualifications to be giving this speech? 

·         WHAT – What am I here to talk about?  What does my audience want me to talk about?  What am I hoping to accomplish by delivering this speech? 

·         WHEN – When is the event I am talking about taking place?   When will a decision need to be made on this important matter?

·         WHERE – Where is the event taking place?  Where does the audience need to go to accomplish the task I am telling them about?

·         WHY – Why should the audience care about this particular information?  Why should they even listen to my speech? 

·         HOW – How will they be affected by this event?  How do I want them to feel after I conclude my talk?




Before beginning to write any speech (or paper for that matter), answer these six basic questions  which will become your source information.  I always recommend creating a written outline before beginning to actually write the text for your upcoming talk.  Identify all of the important topics that you wish to cover and categorize all of the answers to the “five W’s and an H” into a formal comprehensive outline.  The more complete and effective the outline, the easier time you will have writing the speech.  In many cases, the speech may actually write itself.  A standard speech should be divided into three sections:  introduction, body, and conclusion. 

·         Tell the audience what you are about to tell them

·         Tell them

·         Tell them what you just told them  




Once a good working draft has been written, three crucial steps remain in the public speaking process: practice, practice, practice.  The easiest way to get over your nervous feelings about public speaking is to be totally prepared for the task at hand.  Read the speech again and again, to ensure you will not lose your place or get tongue tied at significant points.  Practice it aloud, in front of the mirror, in front of your wife, your dog, or in the car on the way to work.


Recently, I composed a speech for a business client of mine, who I was certain would do a fantastic job at the upcoming conference he was attending.  He had a great gift for gab and a wonderful booming voice much like James Earl Jones (This Is CNN).  He informed me that he would work best from an outline, allowing him more room to ad lib.  Still I wrote him a speech from the outline, just in case.  A few days before his conference, we held a training session where he was to practice the speech in front of me and some office mates for a little critique.  


The video tape started rolling and he began talking, ad libbing material and swaying from the speech I had prepared.  Almost immediately, he lost his frame of thought, began to stumble, and grew nervous.  James Earl Jones’ voice actually began cracking; sweat was beading on his brow.  He forgot to mention humorous anecdotes and left out crucial facts.  Finally, he pulled a Tanya Harding, and asked if he could start again.  The next time, he read directly from the prepared draft, growing comfortable with the order of the speech.  He practiced a few more times, until he virtually had the words memorized and was able to throw an occasional ad lib into the talk. The best speakers are the most prepared speakers.




When constructing your speech, always attempt to define your audience.  Remember, the speech is for them, not for you.  Try to put yourself in their shoes, and anticipate what they would like to hear.  Tailor your words to meet the audience; target your message to meet  their interests.  Know your audience; know their interests; no excuses.


Often times, written words are simply not enough.  The average human attention span is about one and a half minutes (I made that up).  Anything longer and our minds tend to wander.  You may wish to incorporate a few helpful aids to keep the audience’s attention.  I am an advocate of humor within the context of a talk.  Laughter can break up a speech better than anything, hopefully encouraging folks to listen for the next one liner.  Stories and anecdotes are always the most effective methods of getting your points across.  Props can also help break the monotony of any speech.  The audience is again forced to pay closer attention, and will tend to not daydream when focused on the visual aid you are projecting.  If all else fails, go back to visualizing a naked audience (of course, that depends on the audience).  They may get bored, but you won’t.


FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is a  publication of Brounes & Associates focusing on business marketing and general communications strategies. Please call Ron Brounes at 713-432-1910  for additional information.  Brounes & Associates promotes public nudity within the context of a presentation only as a measure of last resort.