What I Learned from My Fourth Grade Science Presentation and Other Adventures in Public Speaking

I remember one of the first speeches I ever gave. I was in fourth-grade science class, and my assignment was the circulatory system. For a visual, I spent hours tracing and coloring a picture from the encyclopedia.  

It was the ’80s. That’s how we rolled — with transparencies and props, overhead projectors, and, at least in my case, rambling speeches.

It’s now 2015 and we have slide decks, video, audio and even real-time feedback from the audience, but sometimes, I wonder if speeches have seen the same evolution.

I’ve been honing my craft by researching and reading speeches, learning from other speech writers, and listening to great orators.

Recently, I wrote several speeches for a client to present at a nationwide conference. I assisted during pre-conference run-throughs and last-minute word changes. But the client also invited me to sit in the audience as the speeches were given. Hearing it live provided an incredible experience and gave me more to think about in speech writing.

We all have to give, or even write, a speech from time to time, whether it’s for a handful of colleagues or for thousands at an annual meeting. Here are some things I’ve learned that I hope will be helpful to you.

  1. Make one main point. Think about the last speech you heard. Was there one clear message? A really great speech has one idea — one idea you will remember a week later … or beyond. Everything builds on that.
  2. Complement your speech with visuals when appropriate. Whether it’s slides, a short video or pictures, visuals can help bring your words to life. 
  3. Simplify your slides. Bombarding the audience with too much information means they will retain very little of it. Make the slides much more visual, and keep the text minimal. Create a visual theme and consistently carry it throughout the presentation. No one enjoys sitting through a litany of numbers or data points.
  4. Tell a good story. Every speech should have a story that sticks with the audience and supports the main point. And if it’s a personal story, all the better.
  5. Find your voice. Your speech should sound like you. If you’re a slow talker, give yourself time. If you’re a fast talker, you may need to slow down a bit, but find a pace that's comfortable. A great speech is conversational and incorporates phrasing that feels natural.
  6. Rehearse. And rehearse again. When you stumble on a word, especially more than once, change it. Let the speech sink in, so it becomes your own words rather than words on a page.

Great speeches take thought, planning and immense creativity. Sometimes, it’s more than what one person can handle. Find a good partner and collaborate. At Rhudy & Co., we love helping our clients present themselves with excellence.

We believe you can give a better speech. You are more than your fourth-grade science presentation!

Donna Dunn doesn’t love giving speeches herself, but happily helps others craft their vision into words.