Delivery includes all the ways speakers physically present themselves to their audiences. Early in my teaching career, I taught organization and support (research) before tackling “delivery.” However, after constantly being interrupted by questions like, “Do you count off if I say ‘um’?” and “Can we use note cards?” I figured out that “delivery” was what most people obsess about. Indeed, most people who are new to public speaking see delivery skills as the most important factor, if not the whole focus of the speech!
Yes, delivery skills are important, and they certainly should be evaluated. However, having something to say (content) and keeping the speech organized (organization) are equally if not more important.
So, what do I mean by “delivery skills”? Simply, delivery can be divided into three general areas: nonverbals (what speakers do with their bodies), situational control (how speakers use their space and the objects within it), and paralanguage (how words are said). (Note: A lot of people say that paralanguage is part of nonverbals, but I’m old school.)
Here are the categories of delivery that I evaluate:
- Attire: Speakers must walk the line between being showing that they are credible (dressing up) and being approachable. Also, if the speech topic lends itself to a uniform or style of clothing, that should be encouraged. But under no circumstances should the clothing distract the audience from the speech! That’s why words and fancy designs on clothing are a bad idea.
- Eye Contact: One of the hardest techniques for new speakers! The general rule is to look at the audience five times for every one time looking at the notes or visual support. In other words, speakers should be looking at their audiences 80% of the time (at least). Speakers will develop all kinds of bad habits to avoid looking at their audience. Also, speakers should not stare at any one person too much.
- Facial Expressions: Facial expressions should be natural and reflect the emotional quality of the words. Speech anxiety tends to affect facial expressiveness.
- Posture: Unless speakers cannot comfortably stand, speakers should stand confidently in front of their audiences. Legs must be about 12 inches apart, with the body weight equally distributed on both legs. The speaker’s body should face the audience as much as possible. This category overlaps with the next category a little:
- Movement: At the minimum, speakers should stand without movement. Excessive movement is distracting and generates a lot of energy for the audience. However, when speeches are longer than 2-3 minutes, speakers should learn to use “controlled movement”: speakers use movement as a transition between ideas or to show the significance of certain phrasing. Nervous pacing and fidgeting are common for the nervous speaker!
- Gestures: Oh, those appendages! We hardly think of our hands during the normal parts of our days, but, when giving speeches, we tend to over-think hand placement. Like facial expressions, gestures should be natural and reflect the emotional content of the phrasing. Also, some people gesture more, and some less, and that should naturally happen during a speech: Speakers should let gestures be a natural part of their personality. However, gestures should never be distracting!
- Voice: This is a tricky category. After all, “Voice and Diction” is an entire course taught at some colleges! For most classes, the goal should not be to teach students to talk like newscasters. Rather, the goal is to have students speak comfortably, naturally, and without distractions. Speech anxiety plays havoc with vocal qualities. This category overlaps a bit with the next:
- Vocal Fillers: I read a study years ago that said more intelligent people say “um” more. That’s because smart people have large vocabularies, and “um” allows them to choose just the right word. However, in a speech that is supposed to be practiced and smooth, the speaker shouldn’t be searching for the wording. In my opinion, a few “ums” and “ahs” isn’t that big of a deal, but when a speaker’s vocal fillers start to distract the audience, that’s a problem.
- Conversational Quality: Above all, a speaker should be relaxed and natural. Speakers should speak with their audiences, not at them! To that end, simply reading from a text is horrible. Rarer but still annoying is the over-practicing of a speech, which seems more like a scene from a play than a speech.
- Note Use: Nervousness can sometimes make speakers’ brains shut down. That’s where notes of some sort can be a life saver! Whether speakers use a smart phone/tablet, note cards, or the PowerPoint, there should be something that cues speakers as to what to say. However, and this is so important, speakers need only glance at their notes. The speech should be well-practiced. There are very, very few circumstances when speakers need to read their speeches!
In addition, there are other delivery components, like the integration of PowerPoint and the use of the speaking environment, that are a little tricky to deal with.
Learning to evaluate all of these during a speech takes time and practice. For new evaluators, I encourage reviewing video of recordings of speeches in order to be thorough.
Here is an example of an evaluation that I use to evaluate delivery: