Professional public speakers are generally called upon to address a topic on which they are considered an expert. You may not feel like an expert in the area of your speech at this time, but you should consider whether you have any preexisting knowledge of the topic that might assist in crafting your speech. Do not be afraid to draw on your own experience to enhance the message.
Walter Fisher (1984) argues that humans are natural storytellers. Through stories people make sense of their experiences, and they invite others to understand their lived reality as part of a community. One compelling story that you can offer is your personal testimony. Although you are not a recognized authority on the topic, you can invite the audience to understand your first hand experience. Offering your testimony within a speech provides an example of your point, and it enhances your credibility by demonstrating that you have experience regarding the topic. Additionally, personal testimony can enhance your speech by conveying your insight and emotion regarding the topic, making your speech more memorable (Beebe & Beebe, 2003 & Parse, 2008). For example, if you are giving a speech on the importance of hunting to the local culture, you might explain how the last buck you shot fed your family for an entire season.
Since personal testimony refers to your experience, it is easy to assume that you can offer it with little preparation, but that is not always the case. If you plan to use personal testimony in your speech, practice the story to make sure that it makes the appropriate point in the time you have.
If you do not have personal experience with the topic, you may seek out other forms of lay testimony to support your point. Lay testimony is any testimony based on witnesses’ opinions or perceptions in a given case (Federal Rules of Evidence, 2012). For example, if you are giving a speech about Occupy Wall Street, but you have not experienced one of their protests, you may choose to include statements from a protestor or someone who identifies with the goals of the movement.
Expert testimony comes from a recognized authority who has conducted extensive research on an issue. Experts regularly publish their research findings in books and journals, which we will discuss later in this chapter, but you may need more information from the expert in order to substantiate your point. For example, if you were giving a speech about how to prepare for a natural disaster, you might interview someone from the Red Cross. They could tell you what supplies might be necessary for the specific types of disasters that are likely in your region. Interviews give people the chance to expand on their published research and offer their informed perspective on the specific point you are trying to make.
My basic approach to interviewing is to ask the basic questions that might even sound naive, or not intellectual. Sometimes when you ask the simple questions like “Who are you?” or “What do you do?” you learn the most.
~ Brian Lamb
If you are seeking an interview with an expert, it is best to arrange a time and place that works for them. Begin the process with a respectful phone call or email explaining who you are and why you are contacting them. Be forthcoming regarding the information you are seeking and the timeline in which you are working. Also be flexible about the format for your interview. If you can meet in person, that is often ideal because it gives you the chance to get to know the person and to ask follow up questions if necessary. A good alternative to an in person interview is a video call using a service such as Skype. These services are often free to both callers and allow you to see and hear the person that you are interviewing. If neither of these options will work, a phone call or email will do. Keep in mind that while an email may seem convenient to you, it will likely require much more time from the expert as they have to type every answer, and they may not be as forthcoming with information in that format.