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Demonstration speeches

- the essentials of great 'how to' speeches

By: Susan Dugdale  | Last modified: 06-24-2020 | First published: 04-01-2007

What are the characteristics of great demonstration speeches?

In a nutshell, a good demonstration speech teaches. It's a variation of an informative speech with in-built visual aids. Your audience, through listening, watching or participating, learns something new.

As their guide, you will take them through a process of 'show and tell' covering each step from set-up to finish. Think of it as a 'how-to' speech.

Images: mechanic in workshop changing a car tire, a plate of decorated cup cakes.
Text: Typical demonstration speech topics: How to change a car tire, How to decorate cup cakes.

For example, both of the topics in the image above easily fit the requirements.


Choosing your topic

Before you leap enthusiastically on a topic and decide that's the one for you, do go through these considerations. They're here to help.

Who is your audience? What will be of interest to them?

It's much, much harder to persuade a bored audience that you have anything interesting to say or show!

Ask yourself: 'Why does my audience want to listen to my speech on xxx {insert your topic}?' 'What benefit will they gain from it?'

Put yourself in their shoes. If you were them, what angle would make your topic appealing?

Can this topic be broken down into easily followed sequential steps?

If the answer is 'YES' you can go ahead. 
If the answer is 'NO' you'll need to think again.

Can this topic adapt to fit the setting for the speech?

Image: line drawing of a girl riding a horse.
Text: How to adapt your topic to fit. Sensible & smart demonstration speech advice.

For example: My preferred topic is 'How to saddle a horse correctly'.

The setting for my speech is the classroom, or perhaps a hall. Understandably, I won't be bringing my horse along because I don't want to frighten it, or my teachers! ☺

However is there another way to show saddling a horse? Could I use video-clips I shot and edited? Or a sequence of photographs?

Before you get too involved in looking for alternatives to bringing along the real thing ...

Check the assessment guidelines 

If your speech is part of an assessment process, be sure to ask before committing yourself to using media forms like power point or video. It would be really disheartening to find out too late that what you had used was not permitted.


Am I passionate about, or genuinely interested, in the topic?

Your enthusiasm (or lack of it) for what you are speaking about communicates directly with the audience. It bypasses your words and shows in your body language.

Are you committed? Are you interested? Do you really care?

Great demonstration speeches are a combination of confidence and information. You need both to succeed.

Now choose your topic!

Here's a collection of 100+ demonstration speech topics, including that evergreen favorite: 'how to choose a pet'.

Image: cats, dogs and butterflies. Text: How to choose a pet.

There's another selection of good demonstrative speech topics here arranged by theme: business, entertainment, frugal living, caring, public speaking.

And yet another splendid collection here:

Image: drawing of happy couple with 2 happy children. Text:Show and tell about soft skills. They're vital for healthy relationships.

50 how to speech ideas focusing on soft skills. 

When you've chosen come back for delivery suggestions. The success of your demonstration speech, aside from choosing a great topic, lies in your planning, preparation and delivery.


Planning, preparation & delivery of your speech

Planning and Preparation

The goal of any 'how to', or demonstration speech is to successfully teach those listening and watching a process or skill. Your speech's success, or failure, relies on how you teach or show the steps needed to achieve the desired result.

Image: a display of knotted men's ties. Text: How to knot a tie.

For example: if your demonstration speech is about 'how to knot a tie', then the desired result is an audience capable of knotting their own ties or at the very least, inspired to try. ☺

Use a structured format

To give yourself and your audience the best chance of achieving what you want, your show and tell needs a well-thought through 3 part format.

You will have an introduction in which you tell the audience what it is they're going to learn, why they'll benefit from learning it and why you chose the topic.

Next you have the body of the speech. This is the demonstration itself and lastly, you'll have a conclusion summarizing what it is that's been learned and reinforcing its benefits.

Woven throughout each of these segments you'll provide visual aids or props, (either the items themselves or charts, diagrams, photographs, video etc.), and personal stories to illustrate.

You may even actively include the audience if appropriate. For example, if you're tying ties, then having one for everybody to practice with as you're going through the steps would be an excellent idea.

The body of demonstration speeches

In your planning concentrate on the outcome you want and then focus on the logical steps needed to achieve it. This will form the body of your speech.

The easiest way to get this part right is by doing it yourself.

As you go though the process, (baking a pie, tying a tie, changing a tire on your bike, leaving an effective telephone message asking for assistance from a business ...), keep your audience in your mind.

Put yourself in their shoes, hear through their ears, see through their eyes ...

What do they need to know about each step?
What will make it easier for them to understand?
Do they need to see it?
Do they need to do it?
Do you need to include every step or can you safely either miss some out or clump them together?

Talk through the process out loud to yourself making sure your vocabulary is free of jargon or if you do use specialist words, you explain them fully.

This is the heart of your speech and you will want to make sure you have it right by preparing everything as fully as possible.

Getting feedback

When you think you have it flowing smoothly invite a few trusted people to watch. Ask for feedback so you can fine tune the balance between 'showing and telling'.

Questions you'll want answered are:

  • Are the steps in the process logical?
  • Are my instructions or explanations about each step clear?
  • Are my visual aids or props relevant and effective?
    Click to find out more about how to use visual aids effectively.
  • Is it interesting, amusing, effective?
  • What do I need to do to improve?

Once you've integrated the feedback and run it through several more times you're ready to add your introduction and conclusion. The addition of those segments completes the 3-part speech format: introduction, body and conclusion.

Complete a demonstration speech outline

To help you get the structure right here's a blank demonstration speech outline to complete. It takes you through each step of the way from the beginning of your speech to the end.

Image background a row of colorful men's ties. Text:An at-home teaching printable- blank step by step demonstration speech outline. Click to download.

Filling it out carefully after you've had a couple of trial runs will make preparing cue cards* much easier.

*See the FAQs below for more about cue cards.

See a completed demonstration speech outline

Illustration: Wall paper background: blah, blah, blah. Text: Demonstration speech sample outline. How to leave a good voice mail message. Plus video.

If seeing a completed demonstration speech outline would help, do look at this page: demonstration speech sample outline

I've used the same template outline that you can download from the link above. The speech itself covers the steps involved in leaving a good message.

I've also made a video (audio + slides) so that you can hear as well see the flow of information from one point to the next.


FAQs about 'how to' speeches

Do I need to write out my speech 'word for word'?

Answer:
No. In fact, it takes away from your speech considerably. It's very hard, if not impossible, to read a script and demonstrate something at the same time. If you know your topic thoroughly, have rehearsed it, and completed an outline, all you really need are notes on cue cards to keep you on track.

The image below is taken from my page covering why and how to make good cue cards.

Image: a graphic showing how to make cue cards.

Use them, and with practice you will talk fluently and easily about each step.

This has the added advantage of making your speech more spontaneous and therefore 'real' for the audience.

(Of course, a set of cue cards is also very reassuring if you're feeling anxious about remembering the sequence everything comes in and what you want to say about each step.)

Do I really need to rehearse my speech?

Answer:
YES! Demonstration speeches are notorious for going awry. You need to rehearse to eliminate all the possible glitches before you get in front of an audience.

It's only through rehearsal that you find out if your ideas translate well into reality. The smallest of oversights can trip you up. Rehearsal helps you find them before you have a audience watching you fall flat on your face.

Examples: Getting crucial steps muddled through not having thought them through carefully. Forgetting an essential piece of equipment. If your speech is about grooming your dog, not anticipating your normally placid Fido would take fright and run in front of a group of strangers!

Rehearsals let you identify problem areas before they become a public disaster. Check out how to rehearse.

Image:  Young man standing on a bare stage. Text: About rehearsing a speech.

This page walks you step by step through the rehearsal process.

Can I use humor in my speech?

Answer:
Absolutely! Demonstration speeches and humor belong together. When you have your audience laughing with you, you know you're onto a good thing. The trick is to contain and make it relevant. Click here for more about using humor in speeches.

How do I stop feeling anxious about giving my speech?

Answer:
The best way to overcome anxiety is to prepare thoroughly. When you eliminate as many possibilities for failure as you can, you will feel more in control.

Image: graphic - Feel the fear and do it anyway. Text: Actually I can, and I am, starting right now!

Here are some easily implemented and excellent strategies for dealing with fear of public speaking.  (I know they work as I use them myself and, over the years have seen them work for umpteen of my students too.)

In addition to tackling anxiety head on you'll find links to pages to help with every aspect of delivery: pacing your speech, using vocal variety, how to get the power of the pause, breathing correctly, and more.  (Yes, the page is a bit of a blockbuster: Essential tips for overcoming performance anxiety.)

Psst!
Are the words in your speech 'blah, blah, bland'?

Discover the joy of action verbs and make your writing vocally vibrant, succinct and precise.