Whether you’re new to giving speeches or are a seasoned Toastmaster, these how-to articles will help you hone your skills. Get quick and easy tips for how to prepare and present an award, use visual aids and props, incorporate body language into your presentations, and more. With time and practice, you’re sure to see improvement in your ability to communicate and an increase in your confidence as well.

Accepting Awards

Whether you’re accepting an Oscar or community recognition, Toastmasters International offers these proven tips for delivering a powerful acceptance speech for any type of award:

  • Show your personality. Your acceptance speech should come from the heart.
  • Be gracious. Acknowledge the good work done by your competitors and thank the organization that selected you for the award.
  • Show excitement. You don’t have to climb over chairs or even cry, but the audience should recognize that you’re happy to have won the award.
  • Be modest. Your acceptance speech should be heartfelt but not self-congratulatory.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Rehearse with a timer, memorize key people to thank and allow time for the unexpected.

Learn more about acceptance speeches by exploring the Toastmasters International Special Occasion Speeches handbook.

Delivering Euologies

Delivering a eulogy at a funeral or memorial service can be difficult. A speaker is challenged by dealing with their own grief while communicating in an effective and heartfelt way. Here are some tips to help deliver a eulogy:

  • Write out a eulogy in detail and practice delivering it.
  • Limit a eulogy to two or three main points. A eulogy should not be the chronology of a life but a tribute to it.
  • Focus on the eulogized person’s life and times through meaningful stories, anecdotes and quotes.
  • Make a eulogy inspiring. Help the audience deal with mortality and help them improve their outlook.
  • Use appropriate mannerisms and gestures when delivering a eulogy. The atmosphere of a memorial service does not lend itself to overly dramatic gestures or special effects.

Technical Briefings

A technical briefing is a speech that conveys technical information to a specific audience, usually in a workplace.

Technical briefings should be presented in a way that allows an audience to understand and apply critical information. Technical briefings can range from an engineer briefing a group of managers on a current project, to a retail supervisor explaining a new company policy to the store employees. Follow the steps below to ensure your technical briefings are as effective as they can be:

  • Know your audience. Avoid using too much industry jargon or material that is too technical for your colleagues to easily understand.
  • State the purpose of the technical briefing in one or two sentences and use this summary as the focal point for the entire presentation.
  • Arrange the material into an outline containing an introduction, main points and a conclusion.
  • Summarize the main points of the technical briefing during the conclusion.

Sales Pitches

A sales pitch or proposal seeks to persuade. The objective of the presentation is to sell a product, concept or idea. The ability to present sales pitches and proposals effectively can open the door to professional opportunities.

To organize ideas into an effective sales pitch or proposal, use the “inverted pyramid” approach, which gives an audience the most important information in the first few sentences (how much money might be saved, how lives might be improved, etc.). Support claims with logic and evidence, and end every sales pitch or proposal with a call to action. If an audience agrees with the initial message or point, the supporting material that follows will reinforce that agreement. If an audience disagrees, logic and evidence may win them over.

Use high-quality yet simple visual aids, such as charts or slides, to help clarify any sales pitch or proposal. Make sure the visual aids can be seen by every person in the audience, and limit each chart or slide to a single main point.

Offer a question-and-answer period following a sales pitch or proposal, which can supply you with valuable feedback about the effectiveness of the pitch. It also gives an audience the opportunity to further clarify specific points or data that was presented. Below are a few ways to effectively answer questions from an audience:

  • Anticipate possible questions by rehearsing with colleagues or friends.
  • Provide answers that support the sales pitch or proposal.
  • Disarm loaded questions (those based on false premises or irrelevant assumptions) by being polite and asking the questioner to further explain his or her question.
  • Divide complicated questions into several parts before answering them.

Introducing Speakers

If you host a special event, you may be required to introduce speakers. Try these quick tips for delivering thoughtful speaker introductions:

  • Don’t steal the show by making the introduction too long (60 seconds or less is sufficient), or by speaking on a topic that is in no way related to the speaker.
  • Grab the audience’s attention with a great opening. This can be an inspiring quote, a humorous anecdote, or an impressive milestone the speaker has achieved.
  • Briefly mention the topic the speaker is addressing, but don’t reveal too much about his or her speech.
  • Establish the speaker’s authority and expertise. This information will help solidify with the audience the speaker’s credibility as a subject matter expert.

Preparing Speeches

Preparing for a speech is one of the best ways to ensure you give an effective presentation. Try these tips to help you properly prepare:

  • Organize your speech in a logical sequence: opening, main points, summary.
  • Practice and rehearse a speech frequently prior to delivering it. Ask friends to be your audience, or practice in front of a mirror. Be sure to use a timer to help you pace your speech.
  • Become familiar with the stage or the setting where the speech will take place. Get a sense of the size of the stage, where any steps or obstacles might be, and where to enter and exit.
  • Choose comfortable clothes to wear, but always maintain a professional appearance.
  • Visual aids should fit a speech, whether they are funny, serious or technical. The main goal of visual aids is to help the audience understand what is being said, and reinforce the points of a speech in unique and interesting ways.

Presenting Awards

When recognizing someone for a job well done, it’s important to highlight the value of both the award and the recipient. To create a memorable presentation, explain the criteria for the award and how the recipient met those criteria. Here are a few additional guidelines:

  • Tell a story about the significance of the award.
  • Pronounce names of the recipients correctly.
  • Provide background on the recipient.
  • Hold the award respectfully and hand it to the recipient as if it were a treasure.
  • Wait to invite the recipient to the lectern until you formally introduce them.
  • Stand so the audience can see the recipient and the award clearly.

Speaking to diverse audiences

Giving a speech or presentation to an audience of people who speak various languages or have differing cultural backgrounds requires special tact on the part of the speaker. Here are some tips and techniques on how to effectively engage a diverse audience:

  • Enunciate clearly. If possible, try to speak with a neutral accent to better include all audience members.
  • Don’t speak too fast. Remember that the normal pace of speech in one language might become incomprehensible for people relatively new to that language.
  • Be careful with metaphors. Some metaphors that are appropriate in one culture can be offensive to another. A good example is references to sports not popular or practiced in a certain country, or phrases that are comical in one culture yet offensive in another.
  • Know the meanings of words outside your native language. Unless you are absolutely sure of the meaning and pronunciation of a word you are using in a given language, do not use it. In some languages, slight variations of a vowel will completely alter the meaning of a word.
  • Avoid slang, jargon and idiomatic expressions. Diverse audiences may not understand slang from a given country. English phrases such as “that dog don’t hunt” or “cool as a cucumber” might be colorful, but the meaning could be lost on a large part of the audience.
  • Be mindful of body language, eye contact and personal space. Posture, mannerisms and eye contact speak volumes and what is taken for granted in one culture might be considered offensive in another.

Successful speeches

Whether you’re talking to a small group of people or speaking to a large audience, you want to be sure your speech is memorable and enjoyable. Follow these five easy tips to help ensure your speech delivers:

  • Be prepared. Your audience is giving you their time and consideration, so rehearse enough to be confident you’ll leave a good impression.
  • Start strong. Begin your speech with a powerful opening that will grab your audience’s attention, such as a startling fact or statistic, an interesting story or a funny joke.
  • Be conversational. Avoid reading your speech word for word. Instead, refer to notes or points from an outline to help your speech have a more free-flowing, conversational tone.
  • Speak with passion. If you’re truly invested in what you’re saying, you’ll be better able to keep your audience’s attention.
  • Be patient. It’s easy to get frustrated if you make a mistake. But remember that public speaking is not easy and it takes time to hone your skills. Keep practicing and you will reach your goals.

Visual Aids

Visual aids and props are an effective way of supporting and supplementing any speech or presentation. Visual aids and props should be colorful and unique, but not so dazzling that they detract from the speaker’s presence. Never use visual aids and props as a way of avoiding eye contact or interaction with an audience, such as reading directly from slides. Here is a list of common visual aids and props, and quick tips for using them effectively:

  • Diagrams, graphs and charts should always coincide with what is being said in the speech. Always stand to the side of a diagram, graph or chart while facing the audience.
  • Maps should be simple and easy to understand, with key places or points clearly plotted or marked.
  • PowerPoint slides should present main points as short sentences and bullet points and should never be read verbatim by the speaker or presenter.
  • Lists should be kept to a minimum. Five or six listed items are usually enough.
  • Handouts should be passed out to an audience before or after a presentation to avoid wasting time and causing a distraction.
  • Photographs or sketches can be powerful visual aids as long as a speaker maintains consistency between what is being said and what is being shown.
  • Physical objects and props should not be too large or too small, nor too few or too many. They should always be relevant to the presentation or speech and should always be checked prior to taking the stage to make sure they are working properly.

Gestures & Body Language

Speakers generate a great amount of emotion and interest through the use of non-verbal communication, often called gestures or body language. A speaker’s body can be an effective tool for emphasizing and clarifying the words they use, while reinforcing their sincerity and enthusiasm. Here are a few tips on how to use gestures effectively:

  • Eye contact establishes an immediate bond with an audience, especially when a speaker focuses in on individual listeners rather than just gazing over the audience as a whole.
  • Control mannerisms. Mannerisms are the nervous expressions a speaker might not be aware of such as putting their hands in their pockets, nodding their head excessively, or using filler words like um and ah too often.
  • Put verbs in to action when speaking to an audience by physically acting them out with the hands, face or entire body.
  • Avoid insincere gestures by involving the entire body as much as possible in the movement and matching facial expressions to it.
  • Move around the stage as topics change and move toward the audience when asking questions, making critical connections, or offering a revelation.