Self-Help & Personal Development

How to Make a Speech by Steve Allen

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In the first chapter Overcoming Stage Fright, Steve gives a lesson that I had to learn the hard way. I was asked by Joseph Newman, the energy machine inventor, if I would give a speech in support of his invention at the Hilton Hotel in downtown New Orleans. I scribbled a few notes on a piece of paper and placed it in my pocket. The room was packed to overflowing with 2,000 people, and I was at the head table sitting next to Eddie Albert, the Hollywood movie star, who spoke immediately before I did. I opened my speech with these words, "Most people ask how big Joe's energy machine can be built, but I'd like to ask how small can it be built." I went on to describe a world in which every electric appliance will be without wires if the machine can be made small enough. It was a good speech, held the crowd's attention, and received warm applause. What went on inside of me during the speech was difficulty breathing, tension, dry throat, my hands trembled a bit, all the classic stage fright symptoms. This speech was videotaped, however, and I have had numerous opportunities to view the tape, and what is astounding to me is that not a single sign of all the mess that was going on inside of me was visible externally to the crowd. Somehow that has freed me from ever experiencing stage fright again — why worry about something happening if when it does happen, it has no discernable effect on your speech? Steve makes a similar point and adds:

In the chapter Writing the Speech Steve recommends an old book that is a favorite of mine since I discovered it years ago titled How To Lie With Statistics. Its stated purpose is not to teach you to be devious, Steve says.


Steve recommends the use of outside authorities, but notes the pitfalls that accompany them — especially if the quotations, even though cited with the originator's name, take the place of expressing your own point clearly and concisely.

Should one memorize a speech? I suppose for actors the answer is obvious, but sometimes one doesn't have the time to memorize a speech. Steve says even if you memorize it, don't give it exactly as memorized. And if you don't have the time for memorization:

Mortimer Adler makes a similar point in his book titled How To Speak, How To Listen. He suggests that you know exactly how to open your speech, and do it with elan, looking your audience directly in the eyes. And close the same way.

There are many more chapters in this book: Rehearsing the Speech, Getting Ready, The Actual Performance, The Ad-Lib Speech, Should You Employ Humor?, Speaking in Unusual Circumstances, Accepting an Award, Summing Up the Evening's Program, and Serving as Toastmaster. Each one of them is chock full of thoughtful suggestions and appetizing tidbits to enliven and enhance your speeches


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