Preparation is an important key to self-confidence. If you are asked by your boss, friend or Professor to make an impromptu speech and are denied this precious preparation time, presenting can be a nerve-racking experience. An unrehearsed speech has its advantages though: 1) spontaneity 2) that it forces you out of your comfort without giving you the time to think about what could go wrong. All you need in these situations is knowledge of the topic you are speaking on and a failsafe structure to organise your thoughts. The speaking arrangement below has been used for over 2,000 years (you can see the ancient headings in italics) and it’s as failsafe as it gets:
1. Introduction (Exordium)
* Traditionally this is where a speaker secures the audiences ‘good will’. This is your opportunity to prepare your listeners to be receptive to your topic. You can acknowledge the audience’s perspective ‘ we are all here because we love Laura and it’s her birthday…’, ‘ I understand you are unsure and still need convincing about this project…’, ‘ The whole team has high expectations for x product…’
* Arouse the interest and, if possible, good will of the audience
* Make clear the central point of your whole speech – just like a prelude in music or a prologue in drama, your introduction prepares the way for what is to follow; set the tone.
2. Definitions (Partitio I)
* Clarify any relevant details- why are you delivering the presentation, why has everyone been asked to attend this dinner, does everyone understand what the product does, what the event is for etc
* Here is where you include any definitions of terms or explanations of ideas.
3. WHAT you’re going to say (Partitio II)
* Outline your three main points ( if your speech is longer you can include more main points or expand them and discuss their subpoints)
4. Main argument – now say it! (Confirmatio)
* Deliver on your promises of 1. And 3.
* Convey a strong argument. Include evidence and relevant expert opinions where possible
5. Anticipate criticisms (Refutatio)
* Address any criticisms you have received or pre-empt those which are likely to be made. Tackle criticisms in order of descending importance so the strongest counter-arguments are not fresh in the audience’s mind when you conclude.
6. Conclusion (Conclusio)
* Emphasize the significance of your presentation topic- why was it important? Who does it effect?
* Reiterate your most important points
* If possible, ask the audience to perform an action related to the speech: fill out a questionnaire, sign up to the charity marathon, write their suggestions on a small piece of paper. This will make your speech memorable and worth their while.
The effect of the overall speech should always be greater than the sum of its parts. There is no need to artificially separate the individual sections too rigidly in your mind as this can make a presentation disjointed. Be flexible with the ‘rules’ and use your imagination – the best speakers always do!