It’s the unusual union officer who isn’t called upon to give a speech at some point – this includes a talk you may need to give at your own local union meeting. If you haven’t done it before, rest assured that there are not all that many “natural-born-speakers” in the world – almost everyone has to work at it.
You will be wise to prepare your speech beforehand – very few speakers can do a decent job completely “off-the-cuff’ – but most of the experienced ones find it’s a mistake to write it all out and read it off word-for-word. It ends up sounding like you had someone write it for you. The best speeches are at least partly “unscripted” for one very basic reason. Very few people write and speak the same way, and fewer still write a speech “the way it should sound.” What’s written on the page is meant for the eyes; what’s spoken is meant for the ears – and how we do these two things is very different.
Write down your main points, and list the sub-points to make under each main point. If you’d like to use illustrations, or “stories,” put down a couple key words that will trigger your memory to recall what you’d like to say. Prepare your talk thoroughly, but make your notes in outline form only and let the words come as you go along. The amount of detail that’s necessary will come as you get experience.
For a beginner, it’s usually wise to do more work in preparing your speech than you might think necessary. One strategy is to locate yourself away from noise and distractions. Work through what you would like to say in your mind, and make an outline as you go along. When you’re finished, copy your rough outline onto a new sheet of paper, this time giving a rough version of the speech to yourself as you copy each point.
Finally, practice it! Give the speech at least once in its entirety out loud. It’s best to finish the speech a day before you’ll give it, review it before you go to sleep – and make no changes to it in the morning. Your subconscious mind will actually help “keep it in order” – as long as you’re not trying to make major changes up until the last minute. Have confidence. You’ll do fine.
Use Facts Wisely
Present your facts as simply as possible. A series of numbers, read off one after another, is hard to grasp – and an invitation for a houseful of glazed eyes. If it’s necessary to use figures, put them in the form of a chart, or use slides, or a blackboard, or any other viewable form to fix the general impression in their minds. You can use a handout, too – but give your audience time to grasp it. Use round numbers – they’re much easier to remember. (By the way: if you’re using handouts, its always better to pass them out before you start, thus avoiding a major distraction during your presentation.)
Orator or Speaker?
Four-bit words and a thundering voice may make you think you’re impressing your audience – but the point is to give a good speech. Oratory for its own sake is poison. Remember that while fist-shaking and floor-stamping are useful to impress audiences with your sincerity, a union audience is hard to fool. The object of a speech is not to see how loud you can shout, or how many “clever-tricks” you can pull with the words you use, but to inform the audience, to convince them of your point of view, and to get their approval of a plan of action.