Module VIII: Public Speaking

Section 9: Delivery

After completing this section, students should be able to:

  1. describe the four methods of speech delivery.
  2. use the extemporaneous style of speaking.
  3. make effective verbal communication choices.
  4. make appropriate nonverbal communication choices.
  5. understand and manage speech anxiety.

No matter how well a speech is constructed, how qualified the sources of evidence, and how good the visual aids, a speech is still a performance. If a speech is not delivered well, the speech is weak. A well-delivered speech with weaker content will be seen as better than a speech that is strong in content but is poorly delivered.  For example, a very intelligent, well learned teacher may have excellent information, but if they cannot communicate in a clear, pleasant manner, students will struggle to be engaged. How we present information is as important as the quality of the content, and we need to be responsible to do the very best job we can with both.

In our highly mediated culture, we are well accustomed to information being packaged for us in enjoyable ways. We expect good television shows, movies, music, and web sites. If we do not like the way they are packaged, we turn the channel, flip the switch, or surf away. Since we are speaking to audiences that expect the speaker to make the speech interesting, we have to take on that responsibility to make good choices for an effective presentation. If a speech is boring, it is because the speaker chose to make it that way. In order to understand what kinds of choices can be made, we need to consider the various methods of giving speeches, the characteristics of good verbal and nonverbal delivery, and the impact our speech anxiety can have on effective speaking.

Delivery Methods

Four methods for giving speeches are:


Impromptu speaking is speaking with little or no preparation when the speaker was unaware that he/she would be speaking.  It is only impromptu speaking if the speaker truly did not know they would be asked to speak.  Simply failing to prepare for a known speech is not impromptu; that is irresponsibility.  Impromptu speaking is the most common form of speaking.  Whether in a classroom or a business meeting, we are often called upon to state our ideas in a thoughtful organized way.  Perhaps we are not standing in front of a room when we do it, but even if sitting, our credibility and believability are still being judged. Realistically, anytime a person is called upon to say something intelligent, they are being placed in an impromptu speaking situation.

There are three keys to speaking impromptu:  organization, fluidity, and delivery. First, the speaker needs to have the information well organized so the listeners can follow the development of ideas.  Second, the speaker needs to be fluid, carefully monitoring the use of disfluencies, hesitancies, and restatements.  Third, the speaker needs to have a strong, outwardly focused delivery with especially good eye contact.  Since the audience realizes this is impromptu, meeting the three standards demonstrates a powerful degree of confidence and ability.


Student speaking.
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Extemporaneous speaking is speaking from limited notes, but well prepared.  This is the speaking style that most speakers

do use and should use.  The method focuses the speaker properly, on the flow of ideas instead of the flow of words.  Extemporaneous speaking combines two very important traits of good speaking:  the speaker is well practiced and prepared, and the speaker retains flexibility in wording to adapt to the present audience.

To speak effectively extemporaneously:

  1. Carefully prepare an outline of the speech, getting the flow of ideas developed to a comfortable point.

  2. Practice the speech from the outline. There are three major benefits to this step. First, the speaker is getting comfortable with communicating the information. They start to get a sense of what the actual situation will be like. Second, what looks good on paper may not necessarily sound good when delivered. The speaker may realize a need to reorder or redo sections of the speech to have a comfortable "flow" to the presentation. Third, the speaker gets a realistic sense of the length of the speech.  The only way to really know how long a speech will last is to stand up and give it, so the process is vital. The speaker may find the speech runs long, so they have to edit something out, or if the speech runs short, they may be looking to add ideas and material.

  3. Develop a notecard, if one is going to be used.  It is important to balance having enough notes to adequately do the job with keeping them minimal so as to reduce the amount of time spent focusing on them.  Always remember, the more notes a speaker has, the more they look at their notes and not the audience. Try to work with minimal notes. Use words and phrases on the card to allow for glancing at the notes as a reminder of what to say next.

  4. Practice with and refine the notecard.  Practice the speech from the notecard, making any necessary alterations.  Once the final card is developed, focus the remainder of the practice on developing a strong delivery. Be sure to practice being able to glance at the notecard, don't read from it.

  5. When practicing, it is important to not start over every time a mistake occurs. First, by starting over repeatedly, the opening of the speech gets practiced a lot, but the same attention does not get paid to the remainder of the speech. This can lead to a noticeable decline in comfort and confidence when the speech is delivered. Second, by working through the entire speech, the speaker can practice adjusting to mistakes so as to be more prepared for when those slips occur in the actual presentation.


Manuscript speaking is speaking from a verbatim (word by word) script.  The speech is written out and then is literally read to the audience.  For most speakers in most situations, manuscript speaking is not the appropriate delivery method:

  • When writing a speech out, it is too easy to slip from an oral style of language to a written styleSee more about the differences here; thus, the speech sounds very unnatural and awkward.
  • Manuscript speaking focuses the speaker on the flow of words, not the flow of ideas.
  • Manuscript speaking can be very boring and monotone, with little eye contact.
  • The speaker is so locked onto the manuscript, he/she has little freedom for movement or variety in general.
  • Manuscript speaking virtually removes any ability to adapt the speech to the moment or at the last minute.
Obama Speaking
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However, in a few situations, manuscript speaking may be appropriate.  If the exact wording must be so precise, manuscript is appropriate.  When the President speaks, he speaks from a manuscript as a simple misstatement can have dramatic consequences.  The CEO of a company speaking to stockholders will speak from a manuscript to present the issues carefully.  A commencement speaker will typically speak from a manuscript.   However, for the vast majority of speaking situations and speakers, manuscript speaking is rarely justified.



Memorized speaking is committing a manuscript to memory which is a very weak and dangerous method of delivering a speech.  It has all the hazards of manuscript speaking with the added problems of forgetting and poor delivery.  Memorized speaking usually leads to the highest levels of anxiety.  Overall, unless there is some sort of specific, extenuating circumstance, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which memorized delivery is appropriate.

Verbal Delivery Factors

Remember verbal and vocal are not the same thing.  The verbal component of the speech refers to language choices.  Vocal factors are part of nonverbal communication, addressed next. Using language effectively in a speech is quite important.  Specific considerations when wording a speech include:

Comfortable Language

Use language comfortable for the speaker and appropriate for the audience.  Do not try to show off and certainly do not obfuscate.   If using jargon, be sure to define the terms for the audience; do not assume they already know what various acronyms and technical terms mean.

Precise Language

Use precise and concrete language.  Vague and abstract language leads to misunderstanding.

Oral Language Style

Use an oral style of language versus a written style.  In developing speeches, it is important we do not write out a speech as we invariably slip into a written style versus the more spontaneous, casual, oral style.

Descriptive Language

Use colorful and vivid language.  Good speakers paint verbal pictures for the audience. Use adjectives, examples, and description.

Avoid Offending

Be cautious of offensive language.  Some language is obviously offensive and easy to avoid.   Some wording may not be as noticeable, however.  For example, addressing a gender-mixed audience of salespeople as “salesmen” will most likely offend women.  Think about the wording to avoid offending the audience.

Be Adaptable

Remain flexible.  The very reason for using an extemporaneous style is the flexibility and adaptability it allows.  During practice, explore various ways to word the speech in order to have more choices from which to select during the presentation.

Nonverbal Delivery Factors

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Strong delivery and solid content must work hand in hand to give the audience a complete and effective package. From vocal factors to posture, delivery determines how engaged the audience becomes with the message. Consider all the lectures students experience. Some instructors pulled them into the material, getting their interest and holding it for a while. Unfortunately, some instructors, even those well versed in their field, had a delivery style that was not very stimulating for students.

In general, think of good delivery as expanded conversation. Speak conversationally to the audience, but in an organized way. The audience should feel the speaker is simply talking with them, not lecturing at them or presenting some sort of artificial persona. Audiences tend to engage more when they feel they are getting some insight into the person by listening to them speak of something important. Like good storytelling, good public speaking is energetic, enthusiastic, and dynamic. For the vast majority of speakers, their natural conversational style will serve as the foundation for their public speaking style, engaging their audiences in an effective manner.

In addition to expanded conversation, some specific nonverbal items to consider include:

Eye Contact

Good speakers make eye contact with the audience which develops a connection between the audience and speaker, and demonstrates confidence. Work to make eye contact with all parts of the audience at some point, working left-to-right and front-to-back.

Facial Expression

Good speakers use their natural expressiveness when in front of audiences to reflect the overall tone of the speech. The rule of thumb is the speaker should display what they want their audience to feel. Audiences are amazingly fast at sensing and responding to the emotional tone the speaker expresses.


Good speakers speak clearly, enunciate well, maintain a good volume and rate, and use vocal variety to emphasize points. The voice is the primary tool of a speaker, so using it well is important.


Disfluencies are sounds such as "uh," "um," and "ah," or words such as "like," "you know," "I mean," or "okay" used to fill pauses and interrupt the smooth flow of the words. A speaker’s goal should be to minimize these, but in using an extemporaneous style of speaking, a few are to be expected.  As disfluencies rise, the audience's perception of credibility drops, but a few are not a significant problem.


Good speakers realize we normally use our hands when we talk, so using hand gestures is important. Comfortable gestures demonstrate confidence, open the speaker's posture, and help push the speaker's message out to the audience. They should, however, be used in the upper area of the body, and they should not be used in distracting ways. For example, avoid fidgeting with a notecard, wringing hands, or playing with jewelry. Ideally, do what comes naturally, but avoid putting hands in the pockets, crossing arms, or clasping hands behind the back.

Body Movement

Good speakers, unless forced to stay at a microphone, will move around to some degree. The movement should not appear to be a sign of anxiety. Instead, movement can add visual variety, aid in the transitions between points, and help the speaker work out some anxiety.

The overall rule for effective delivery is "Once a delivery factor is noticed, it has hurt the speaker." A good speaker's delivery blends into the content as one, unified experience. If the audience is focusing on something such as gesturing, body movement, or eye contact, they are not focusing on the message of the speech.

Speech Anxiety


Glossophobia is the irrational fear of public speaking, far beyond normal speech anxiety.   A glossophobic person would most likely avoid a speech class completely.   Anyone who has ever experienced an intense, phobic reaction to something like heights, water, snakes, or spiders, knows the anxiety is irrational and highly magnified beyond what the situation warrants.   A person with this degree of public speaking fear needs to be assisted by a mental health professional.

To be able to deliver an effective presentation, speakers must understand, appreciate, and cope with speech anxiety. Speech anxiety is a perfectly normal, natural and healthy reaction to a speaking situation. Everyone who is healthy  and understands the dynamics of the speaking situation will experience some degree of speech anxiety. The difference between novice and experienced speakers is experienced speakers do not fear their anxiety and they know how to work with it instead of working against it. Speech anxiety does not go away; it can fade and become a secondary issue, but it is always there, at least for mentally healthy speakers.  We do not address "getting rid" of anxiety; rather, we address understanding and coping with it, not fighting it.

Soldier speaking
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The causes of speech anxiety are numerous, and how they affect a given person will vary.  However, some common ones include:

Lack of Experience

As predictability drops and uncertainty rises, anxiety tends to also rise.   It is normal that we tend to fear those things we do not feel we can predict and anticipate.  Freshman may feel a lot of anxiety about going to college simply because the experience is new, but once settled in on campus and into a routine, the anxiety fades. Speaking is the same way; once a person has given several speeches, they learn what to expect from themselves and their audiences. They now have a much higher level of predictability, leading to a higher level of comfort and a lower level of anxiety.

Lack of Preparation

Another major, and controllable, cause of speech anxiety is the lack of preparation.  If we feel we are unprepared for any situation, our anxiety will increase. Imagine walking into a class totally unprepared for a test; chances are test anxiety will rise. However, if walking into the room adequately prepared for the speech, confidence will increase and anxiety will drop. For this to work, speakers need to prove to themselves they are prepared, not to anyone else.

Fear of Rejection

Most of us do not like rejection, and being placed in situations in which we risk rejection can be nerve wracking. The reality is speakers are being judged and evaluated by the listener.  Accept this reality and have confidence in the message and the delivery.  No speaker will ever be fully accepted by every listener, but if they can bring self-confidence and preparation to the speaking situation, the vast majority of audiences will be polite and respectful.

False Expectations

Because of lack of experience, novice speakers are especially susceptible to false expectations.  Novice speakers tend to have expectations that are either too grandiose or too negative.  Either can be harmful.  If a speaker has expectations set unrealistically high, the speaker has established unreachable standards, increasing his/her anxiety.  On the other hand, if the expectations are too low, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy based on the assumption, "I will do poorly; thus, why bother practicing,” which leads to failure.

Anxiety/Fear Cycle

As we become anxious about speaking, we fear the anxiety will make us fail.  The fear of failure can increase our anxiety in a perpetuating cycle.  The fear is a fear of the anxiety.  We think being nervous is a sign of impending failure, so we become afraid of our anxiety. The more fear we have, the more anxiety we have.  Anxiety cannot make a person fail; however, fear can make the person fail.  Respect the normalcy of being anxious, but do not fear it.

Managing Anxiety

In coping with anxiety, it is important to remember three things:

  1. Having anxiety is a normal, physiological process.  As mentioned before, anxiety is a normal, common reaction to a stressful situation.  When we perceive a situation as threatening in some way, our “fight, flight, or flee” reaction kicks in, fueled by a dump of the hormone, noradrenaline, into our system.  This prepares our bodies to confront the threat.  With the energy boost, our muscles tremble in anticipation of action, so we get shaky knees, hands, and voices. We find it challenging to control these tremors as the effect of the hormone overrides conscious control.  Since, however, this reaction is triggered by how we perceive a situation, a way to manage anxiety is to alter how we think of the situation.  Some suggestions are given below.
  2. Each person handles anxiety in their own way.  There is no single way to manage anxiety that will work for everyone.  For some, prior to the event, eating small meals, avoiding caffeinated products, and engaging in positive visualization can work well.  For others, a large meal of “comfort food” can be relaxing.  Some use mental tricks to view the situation as less threatening, and others use relaxing music to calm themselves.  With experience, speakers find the things having the most positive impact on their anxiety.
  3. The goal is to manage anxiety, not get rid of it.  Experience tells us the more novice speakers try to get rid of anxiety, the worse it actually becomes.  If the goal is to get rid of anxiety, yet it occurs, the speaker may see themselves as failing.  Since it is unrealistic to expect the anxiety to completely go away, a more practical, realistic goal is to learn to work with and manage it.

When managing anxiety, focus on three key areas:  preparation, expectation, and practice.

Preparation: Preparation addresses two areas: preparing the speech and preparing the speaker. First, being confident in the amount and quality of preparation will help moderate anxiety.  If the speaker believes they are adequately prepared and have done what is necessary to get ready, this can help moderate anxiety.

Some other suggestions include:

  • Dress comfortably.  While it is important to dress appropriately for the occasion, be sure to wear comfortable clothes that enhance confidence. Since the anxiety tends to make speakers feel warm, wear "cooler" clothes to avoid overheating. Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Avoid too much caffeine.  Since the noradrenaline is already providing additional energy, adding caffeine may create a very uncomfortable, shaky situation.
  • Even though anxiety can cause stomach upset, it is better to eat something than to leave the stomach empty.  Bland food, such as toast or a bagel, can ward off nausea.
  • Avoid drugs or alcohol.  While it may seem tempting to use things to relax, drugs or alcohol can reduce the speaker’s focus, mental acuity, and overall ability to manage the event.  If an audience perceives the speaker as intoxicated or under the influence, the speaker’s credibility may be ruined.  The chances of doing or saying something embarrassing run high, so it is best to not use alcohol.  Of course, if a physician has prescribed medications for anxiety, follow the doctor’s directions.
  • Avoid inflating the anxiety.  A scene far too common in a public speaking class is students, already anxious for the speech, inflating their anxiety.  Sharing how they feel, how nervous they are, and engaging in a lot of anxious movement tends to magnify anxiety.  Sitting quietly, breathing deeply, and visualizing a successful speech are far more beneficial.

Expectations:  Carefully think through what is likely to happen during the speaking event to have reasonable expectations.  Avoid the extremely positive or negative expectations and anticipate the event as realistically as possible. 

Most audiences will be quiet, attentive, and respectful.  While we see hecklers yelling at politicians, the vast majority of speeches are given to audiences who listen attentively and respond politely and appropriately.  If attempting humor, a smile or a chuckle are excellent signs of success.  Rarely will a speaker have the audience responding with raucous laughter.  Even if the audience contains a few non-attentive members, focus on the ones attending to the speech; give them what they came there for.

As a speaker, the chances of really “bombing” are very low, assuming adequate preparation and practice.  Speakers using an extemporaneous, conversational style will have a few disfluencies, may misstate a word, or have to check their notes to remind them of what to say.  These minor slips are generally non-issues, as long as the speaker does not call attention to them.  The audience determines how to respond to a speaker’s mistakes based on the speaker’s reaction.  If the speaker simply moves past them or quickly corrects themselves, the audience will pay little attention to them.  If the speaker appears flustered or distracted, the audience will begin to anticipate failure. The best thing a speaker can do is have realistic expectations of what will happen during the speech: not perfect and not horrible.  Through some careful self-talk and practice, speakers will have a good, realistic sense of what the speaking experience will be like.

Practice: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, engage in active practice.  Active practice means giving the speech as realistically as possible, not just thinking or mumbling through it.  Speakers have a lot to do, and just as with any complex activity, practice is necessary to train themselves to do the best job.  Through active practice, the speaker gets more comfortable with the physical process of standing, moving, gesturing, all while speaking a well-organized, coherent message.  If visual aids are being used, they become comfortable with when to reveal and when to remove them, and with how to manage them the most effectively. The ideal situation, if possible, is to practice in the actual space in which the speech will be given.  By using good, active practice, the speaker is reducing the unknowns, so there is less to be anxious about.

One caution about practicing: There is a tendency to practice the earlier parts of the speech over and over, yet the later parts receive very little attention.  In practice, the speaker starts, makes an error, and starts over.  After doing this several times, the introduction and early part of the body is getting a lot of attention; however, once a speaker gets through the entire speech, little effort is made to work all parts of the speech equally.  While this stop/restart process is fine initially, at some point the speaker must practice the entire speech, beginning to end, several times.  By doing this, the speaker is learning how to manage slips, making them less significant when they happen in the actual presentation.

Key Concepts

The terms and concepts students should be familiar with from this section include:

Delivery Methods

Verbal Delivery Factors

Nonverbal Delivery Factors

Speech Anxiety