Now let’s discuss some problems we might have in making speeches.
The first is being nervous. One feels nervous mainly due to a lack of self-confidence or the fear for failure or mistakes. In fact, I am still nervous from time to time even after giving so many speeches. I guess most people have experienced nervousness, which is likely to be the pathway to readiness. The question is: how to control it, and how to transform it into a driving force and passion for success. When we feel nervous, we should speak louder and concentrate more. Be careful not to let nervousness disturb our thinking, not to go from nervousness to arrogance, and not to use a stern expression to cover your uneasiness.
It is important to show respect to the audience, no matter who they are and however different your views are. Their presence is a respect to us, so they deserve our sincerity. Speak nothing but the truth. If we want others to believe in what we say, we have to have faith in the first place.
A good tip to dispel nervousness is to handle it as early as possible. Standing before the audience, one shall be lucky to have 70% of his usual aptitude in the face of emergencies. Thorough preparation is very important and the earlier the better. Practice makes perfect. Speech is no exception. In his memoirs The Gathering Storm, Winston Churchill told us that he would fully prepare and practice even for a small question he would put forward in the Parliament. I am used to practicing before I go to the podium. I may not recite the whole text, but I will read every line at least once and try to remember them by heart. And for unfamiliar words, I will simply read more times. It turns out to be effective for me to ease nervousness when the moment comes.
The second problem is dullness, which is, more often than not, due to the presence of too many points, not too few of them. A good speaker should know how to choose materials, or drop them, to make his or her points clear. When drafting a speech, we are inclined to write it gorgeously. But when we speak it out, it might not sound nearly as gorgeous. Don’t make beautiful language too big a deal. Any unnecessary words or ideas should be dropped. As a result, you will get a text that is both concise and clear.
The third problem is taking much more time than assigned. It is common among speechmakers to use over seven minutes for a three-minute speech or over 30 minutes for a 20-minute one. Time-abiding is also one dimension when judging a speech. It’s better not to exceed 10% of the requested time limit.
Avoid speaking too fast or too monotonously. Some pauses and changes of tone will work well. There are lots of things to learn in controlling the speed and tone of speech, which will require some training. Eye contact and gestures are necessary. Eye contact is both a way of communication with the audience and a display of your self-confidence. Gestures, natural and proper, can be used to support your voice. After all, all you need for success are in the details.
The fourth is the difficulty in making people laugh. I once translated a book named Techniques of Speech, which said that if a speech couldn’t make the audience laugh within the first two minutes, the speaker should be cautious and if the atmosphere was still dull up to the fifth minute, the speech could be counted as a failure. In Britain, a speaker’s sense of humour is essential. According to my observation there, a 20-minute speech usually makes the audience laugh three or four times and some even make the audience laugh all through.
The fifth is about answering questions, which is an important part, sometimes even more important than the speech itself. If we accept the invitation to make a speech but refuse to answer questions, we might leave the impression of being rude or cowardly. Answering questions is a challenge to the speaker’s wisdom, preparedness and ability to rise above the situation, but at the same time a good opportunity to settle down some sensitive issues. If a sharp question is raised for you, don’t get negative, but use this chance to speak out loud your own disagreement and equally, if not more, incisive opinions.
If you have no idea how to answer the question, say you don’t know and, if necessary, promise to provide a written response afterwards. If the questions are provocative, you have to identify and steer clear of the traps and speak your mind in your own way. It calls for a lot of efforts off the podium. Dig deeper into the news about China you read every day in the newspapers. It is very likely that they will come back to you on some later occasions.
Generally speaking, whether a speech has engaged the audience, has solved one or two of their questions, or has passed on new messages are critical standards measuring its failure or success. I believe that with more and more successful speeches, we are contributing more and more in building a better international image for our country.
In conclusion, I would like to stress that there are no secret shortcuts to giving successful speeches but diligence, full preparation, practice and confidence.
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