Public Speaking - How to Give an Informative Speech

Toastmasters Competent Communication Manual - Research Your Topic


Toastmasters teaches people how to be better at public speaking. People who participate in the Toastmasters program can learn everything from body language, to vocal variety, to how to use visual aids. One of the later, more interesting projects in the Competent Communication manual (the first manual you get when you join TM) is Project 7 -  Research Your Topic. This is an excellent project, not only because it gives you a chance to talk about something you’re knowledgeable and passionate about, but because it also combines a lot of the other public speaking skills that you’ve used up to this point. The following is a list of tips for those starting out Project 7 in the Toastmasters Competent Communication manual.

Less is More

When you start the Research Your Topic project, you'll certainly want to talk about something you love and know a lot about. You may also want to stuff in a lot of facts and figures in order to make the presentation seem more detailed. This is a big mistake. Like other forms of public speaking, the informative speech is best served simple. At least that's the case when you only have five to seven minutes to present to your Toastmasters audience. Stick with a simple structure - Intro, Point 1, Point 2, Point 3, Conclusion. This helps you get your feet wet with informative speaking. If you want to practice more informative speeches, then Advanced Manuals - such as Speaking to Inform - are a great place to start after you’ve finished your Competent Communication manual. Speaking to Inform contains a lot of great projects where you get a chance to delve into more detail about topics you’re passionate about.


Keep it Relevant to Your Audience

Another mistake Toastmasters make is picking a topic that you love, but the audience doesn’t really know or care about. If you have a passion for classic anime series, and yet your Toastmasters club is mostly older businessmen, your speech isn’t going to do well. If you pick a topic dear to the audience’s heart, but that you don’t care about, then your lack of enthusiasm shows. For the Research your Topic project, it’s best to try to find a middle ground - something you can talk about that’s also relevant to your audience. For example, when I was participating in Toastmasters in South Korea, I gave an informative speech about the quality of Korean language education, which was a big hit. The project struck a chord both with native Koreans and the expats in the audience.

Choose Something You Know and Love

It’s a simple piece of advice that applies to all public speaking, but it’s especially true for informative speeches. Choosing a topic that you’re already familiar with cuts down on research time, and choosing a topic that you love will bring out the passion you have for it and catch on to the audience. People can sense when your heart isn’t in a topic, so it’s best to choose something that you already really care about.


Use Visual Aids

While Project 8 - Get Comfortable with Visual Aids comes after Research Your Topic, it’s still a good idea to use visual aids with this particular Toastmasters presentation. Powerpoints are a great way to show information simply, so long as you keep a few rules in mind. Keep your Powerpoint slides simple, visual, and with a  great emotional impact, and they can be the perfect supplement to your informative speech.

Cite Your Sources

An easy thing for newbie speakers to forget is to say where you got the information from. Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know everything - in fact, citing a professional source can give your speech a lot more credibility. Some people use quotes throughout the speech itself, while others present a brief bibliography at the end of their speech - usually with their visual aids or Powerpoint slides. If you’re presenting on a topic that you’ve already known for a long time and can’t provide a source, it’s not a big deal in Toastmasters, but generally it’s better to state where you got your info if you can. Besides typical resources - such as books and the internet - you can also use more creative ways to get information. For my informative speech, I interviewed several expats in my club about the state of Korean language education, and used their quotes (with permission). I also provided textbook samples to illustrate my points.

Create an Emotional Impact

Most people think of an informative speech as dry, boring, and filled only with facts. This doesn’t have to be the case. Moving your audience’s emotions with this form of public speaking is just as important, if not more so, than statistics and information. Again, visual aids are great for this. If you’re talking about the level of pollution worldwide, or global warming, you can present some photos of smoggy major cities such as New York or Beijing. Not just visuals, but trying to use emotional language - when appropriate - and calls to action can make a great impact on your audience.

Project 7 in your Toastmasters Competent Communication manual brings together a lot of the skills you’ve already learned so far, plus a few new ones. With the tips above, you can avoid dry, boring, Death by Powerpoint style informative speeches and create presentations with the right balance of facts and emotional impact.