12 Tips to Giving a Winning Speech (That Engages Your Audience)

, Staff Writer
Updated August 23, 2022
male student giving a speech
    male student giving a speech
    Cimmerian / E+ / Getty Images

Giving a speech can be very intimidating, but proper preparation and practice can help boost your skills and give you the confidence you need to deliver award-winning and life-changing speeches. Follow these 12 tips for giving a speech and you’ll be one step closer to standing before a crowd and proclaiming your truth without any fear.

1. Carefully Select the Topic

Choose a topic that you are interested in and passionate about. It should be something that you are knowledgeable about or that you will enjoy researching. Even if you were assigned a topic, you can still select the angle. Don’t try to cover a topic that is too broad. Instead, focus on a specific aspect or angle that can be covered effectively in a brief presentation.

  • broad topic - The impact of social media on society.
  • narrow topic - The pros and cons of social media for middle school students.

The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to gather and organize your material, and to get your point across to the audience.


2. Analyze the Audience

Once you know what your topic will be, it’s important to analyze your audience. This involves not only considering you will be speaking to in terms of demographics and interests, but also in terms of the size of the group and the setting in which you’ll be speaking. Use a mnemonic device based on the word audience to conduct a thorough audience analysis.

  • analysis - Who are they? For example, are they students, conference attendees, company employees, teachers, or another group? What is the approximate group size?
  • understanding - What is their knowledge of the subject? Are they beginners or should you assume a certain level of knowledge?
  • demographics - What is the age range of audience members? Is the group diverse or does everyone share a certain characteristic (such as if they are all women)?
  • interest - Why are they there? Did they choose to attend or are they being required to be there?
  • environment - What is the speaking environment like? Will you stand behind a podium or present without a lectern? How will audience members be seated?
  • needs - What are the needs of the audience? Do they need information to help make a decision? Are they expecting to learn how to do something?
  • customized - How should the program be customized? Should the examples be specific to an industry or geographic region?
  • expectations - What do audience members expect? Are they expecting an emotional appeal or statistics? Do they expect to see a video as part of your speech?

Considering these factors before you start writing your speech will help you come up with an approach that will appeal to your audience.


3. Analyze the Occasion

Spend some time thinking about why the audience members are gathered together for your presentation. Knowing the occasion for the speech will allow you to consider factors relevant to the circumstances in which you are speaking, which is information that can help you further prepare to refine your speech.

  • How much time will you be expected to speak?
  • Is the occasion formal (such as a PTA meeting) or informal (such as a birthday party)?
  • Will you be speaking directly between two other presenters?
  • Will someone make a few remarks to introduce you and your topic before you start speaking?
  • What time of day will you be speaking?
  • Will a whiteboard be available for you to write on?
  • Will a computer and projector be available for you to use?

4. Identify the Purpose of Your Speech

Before you start writing your speech, it’s important to clearly identify the purpose of your speech. With any speech, the speaker wants the audience to listen to what he or she has to say. However, what a speaker hopes to accomplish as a result of delivering a speech is not always the same. Clearly define the type of speech so you can structure the content to help you accomplish your goal.

  • demonstration - The purpose of a demonstration speech is to show the audience how to perform a skill, such as to apply makeup or bake a cake.
  • informative - The purpose of an informative speech is to share information that will educate the audience about a particular topic or issue.
  • introductory - A speech of introduction is usually an about me speech in which you tell the audience about yourself. Sometimes It is to introduce another person.
  • persuasive - When delivering a persuasive speech, your goal is to convince the audience of something or to get them to do something, such as vote or buy a product.

5. Organize Your Research

Once you have completed the pre-work steps above, then it’s time to organize your research into a general outline for your speech. Approach this part of the process as if you were preparing to write a paper and formulate an outline. However, instead of converting the outline into an essay or other written document, you’ll use it to craft your presentation. Review these keyword outline examples to learn how to properly outline a speech.

6. Refine the Introduction

Introducing yourself and your topic is, perhaps, one of the most crucial elements of your speech. This is your opportunity to hook the crowd into your words and encourage them to think, "I want to hear what this person has to say." As a presenter, you only have a few seconds to grab the attention of the audience and focus their interest on your topic. Use those brief moments wisely by writing a great hook.

  • Begin with a short narrative.
  • Raise a thought-provoking question.
  • Share a somewhat startling statistic.
  • Make controversial or striking statement.
  • Recite a relevant quote.

If you're wondering how to start a speech, here's an example of a great hook by Sir Ken Robinson. Schools are supposed to foster creativity and nurture growth. But, the impetus for this TED Talk video is, "Do schools kill creativity?" It's an interesting spin with an interesting opening, one to keep in mind as you formulate your own.


7. Build the Body of Your Speech

Use the outline that you started writing in a previous step to start the process of building out your speech. Keep in mind that the outline will likely evolve as you go through this process. The best way to structure the body of a speech is by formulating a series of points to raise. Don't overwhelm your audience by trying to cover too many points.

  • Try to keep it to no more than three main points. It’s better to make fewer points well than to have so many that you can’t cover any of them well.
  • Use a logical progression in your speech. Related points should follow one another so that each point builds upon the previous one.

8. Use Simple Language

If you're well-versed in the English language or a particular field, your vocabulary is probably quite impressive. Still, save that for the white papers and academic writing. Avoid jargon unless you are certain that everyone in the room will immediately know what you are talking about. Instead, choose language that will make sense to the guest in the room with the least knowledge. This will keep your language at an appropriate level that everyone can understand.


9. Avoid Vocal Interferences (Fillers)

Now here's a tough one. One of the golden rules of public speaking is to avoid "uhs" and "umms," yet most people are prone to making those sounds, especially when they are nervous. Those little fillers can be highly distracting to the audience and can undermine your credibility as a speaker. In fact, as your speech progresses, those fillers start to stand out more and more.

Enlist someone you trust to work with you as you prepare your presentation and ask the person to stop you or signal you every time you utter an “um” or “er.” This will help you become cognizant of how often you make these sounds and allow you to recognize the context in which you are most likely to utter a vocal interference. People make these sounds when they are uncertain of what comes next. It's better to have a second of silence than an "uhh" or "umm" when you're searching for your words.


10. Practice, Practice, Practice

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of practice. You simply cannot deliver a well-thought-out, organized, confident, and coherent speech if you haven't practiced. How will you know if your timing is right? How will you know if your speech follows a logical flow? Don’t just read through your outline, but practice delivering the presentation out loud.

  • Practice in front of a mirror or, better yet, with a friend or colleague you can trust to give you constructive feedback.
  • Consider making a video of yourself delivering a practice speech so you can see how you come across and do a self-critique.
  • Once your delivery is pretty polished, ask a group of people you trust to observe so you can get a sense of what it feels like to speak in front of an audience.

The more you practice, the better your delivery will be. And isn't that the goal? You want a smooth delivery and a clear message that the audience will absorb. The only way to achieve that goal is to practice until you are completely comfortable.


11. Project Confidence

This is another tip that sounds too good to be true. The truth is, absolutely nobody in that crowd needs to know you're nervous except yourself. How could they know? They can't read your mind, and you're going to be well-prepared and able to push through the temptation to use fillers. So, who's going to know you're nervous?

It's certainly not a good idea to start off your speech by announcing, "I'm so nervous." Then, you've just proclaimed your nervousness and (possibly) compounded it. Instead, walk up there knowing you've rehearsed really well and have a great message to share with the audience.

12. Connect With the Entire Audience

When delivering a speech, you’re addressing a crowd, but you need to connect with each person on an individual level. Eye contact is absolutely paramount when delivering a speech, as is movement.

  • If possible, step out from behind the podium. A little bit of movement in your speech will help the energy in the room stay alive.
  • As you move around, pick a person to look at every few seconds. Strive to reach the people all the way in the back of the room.

If audience members feel engaged by you, they're more likely to continue listening to you and be open to the message you’re seeking to deliver.


Enjoy Public Speaking Success

Without faith in your own ability to deliver an effective presentation, no outline, no topic, no research, and no PowerPoint presentation will be enough. You simply must have faith in yourself, your delivery and your topic. Be brave, even if you have to fake it.

To further enhance your skills, brush up on your nonverbal communication effectiveness. After all, how you come across via body language is just as important as what you are saying. Polishing your public speaking skills will help you change the world, one person at a time.