How to How To: Demonstrations in Speeches

When you’re expected to give a demonstration during a speech, you’re opening up another dimension in presentation.Demonstration Speech

You have to know what to do with your hands.

We don’t have the option of using a computerized presentation in our classrooms.  We have to make do with what we can do with our hands.  That teaches us the first limit of demonstrations in speeches:

What Can You Do?

Theoretically, you can do almost anything on a stage that you want.

In reality, we have specific constraints that must be recognized.

Time and Space:  Not Just for Theoretical Physicists

You have a specific time limit on this speech.  There are reasons for that:  we have a number of students in the class and we want to get through all of the speeches in a reasonable amount of time.  Therefore, whatever you pick to do, you must be able to demonstrate the entire process in less than 7 minutes, give or take 30 seconds.  That means you can bring in your project in stages.

Let’s suppose you want to demonstrate how to make a pie.  There are probably three major components to making a pie:  making the pie crust, making the filling, and putting the parts together.  You can’t make a pie crust in 7 minutes, much less assemble the whole thing.  (You might be able to open a can of pie filling and dump it into a pre-made pie crust, but then, do you really have a good demonstration speech?  I don’t think so.)

So instead of showing us the process of making and rolling out the pie crust, you might bring in the ingredients and hold them to up show the audience, and then have the crust dough ready to roll out as the demo.  Once you’ve rolled it out and tried to put it into the pie pan, you could have another perfect pie crust in the pan, ready for you to put the filling in.

By breaking the demonstration down into steps that you can manage in your time frame, you then can determine what you need to prepare as props.

The other key has to be how much space you have.  Do you have an eight-foot-long table?  Do you have the room to spread out?  Is spreading out a good idea, or is it going to become unmanageable to have your props so far away when you need them?

Of Course, You Can Move

Using an eight-foot-long table can be a way to have your props all spread out and just move from one end to the other.  But then your audience may be paying more attention to what’s on the table than on you.  This is the challenge that most speakers handle by keeping the props out of sight until they need the props.  But then you have to keep everything organized!

Steps to Successful Demonstrations in Speeches

A demonstration speech shows the steps in a process to a finished product.

My first demonstration speech was Three Things You Can Do With a Bobby Pin.

(I was desperate.)

That’s why my speech did so poorly – I had three things that I could do with a bobby pin:

  1. Mix up nail polish
  2. Pick a lock
  3. Hold papers together

Notice that none of them were related to hair.  So they had no common theme except what I wanted to do with them.

You’ll need to pick a process to dissect and present to us.

Ideally, there will be three distinct steps for you to show us.  In a 7 minute speech, you’ve got to plan for about 1 minute as an intro and 1 minute as a closing.  That gives you 5 minutes to demonstrate the process.  Call it 1.5 minutes per step.

That’s why you can’t actually demonstrate how to do much of anything – you just don’t have time.  You can only really describe the steps while demonstrating a very quick example of what you want the audience to see.  That’s why you use props – a lot of them.

Propping You Up

My other problem with my demo speech Three Things You Can Do With a Bobby Pin was the size of my prop.

I had three things I could demonstrate, but frankly, a hair pin was too small.  My audience couldn’t see my prop.  Poor choice on my part – I should have thought bigger.  I could have made a bigger bobby pin… but then my demonstrations wouldn’t have worked.

(I was very desperate.)

When you’re picking a prop, think about what your audience is going to see.  If you’re going to prepare props for different stages of the demonstration, you need to consider size and difference.

Sizing Up Your Props

You want to make sure whatever you’re holding is big enough to be seen by the whole audience.  This is why so many speakers like PowerPoint:  a small image can easily be enlarged.  But since we don’t have that option, you have to make sure what you’ve got can be easily seen, or easy to pick up and hold up for the audience to see.  In a demonstration speech, that means multiple stages of production, and maybe what you’re making isn’t very stable at one point.

So stabilize it.  If you’re demonstrating gluing pieces together and your pieces won’t stay together until every one of them is in place… then cheat.  You may be using thread to hold things together in the project.  But if that won’t stay together for the demo – use wire.  Or hot glue.  We’re not going to examine the parts later.  We’re just going to look at them when you hold them up.

Here’s a whacky example:  making pizza.  You might bring in a pizza crust and pour on the sauce, but if you hold that up for us to see it, the sauce will run all over the table.  So… and this is a little bit gross… paint the “sauce” on and let it dry.  Yes, use red paint, not tomato sauce, on a demo model.  Then when you want to add the cheese and the toppings, go ahead, but have the finished version handy to show it off, not the painted version.  The point is to show the process, not to eat the final product!

If you need to, you can make your models bigger than they would be in real use.  As long as you can manage them easily, then this is a good option for your speech.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Oh, the things that can go wrong.

You have to practice with your props.  You have to be sure they’re stable enough for all the handling and they can withstand the transportation to and from the site.  That means you have to decide fairly quickly what you’re going to do and get the models done early so you can work with them.

Here’s my secret:  I practice in front of a sliding glass door.  It’s the biggest reflective surface I have in my house.  I want to see all of what I’m doing so I take myself out onto my deck in the summer during the day or stand inside with lots of lights on at night.  (Lights are pretty important to make sure you can see a reflection in a window.  You may have to make some adjustments – talk to Mom before you move the lamps, please!)  I can see when I’m doing something awkward or if a hand gesture isn’t working with my speech.

What should you do with something goes wrong during the demonstrations in your speech?

  1.  Don’t apologize.  But don’t freeze, either.  Just put the broken model down and keep going.  Don’t even look at it again.  Pretend it never happened.  Just forget it.
  2. Move on.  Go to the next step.  This may shorten your speech, but don’t worry about that.  The key is to keep the audience focused on you, not the broken prop.    This is a real challenge if you make a mess.  Don’t make a mess.  Set yourself up that even if you drop something, you don’t have a mess to clean up right away.  This means staying away from liquids as much as possible.  Never ever use eggs.  Let me repeat that.  Never use eggs.
  3. Smile.  Be brave.  If you can laugh a little bit about it without being weird, go ahead.

Here’s another secret.  Don’t let the audience know how much a disaster shakes you up.

It’s a funny thing:  the more emotion you show on the stage, the less the audience will have.  If you cry during a speech, your audience won’t cry along with you – they’ll be embarrassed for you.  Don’t laugh at your own jokes.  The audience won’t laugh if you do.

Your job is to make them feel something, not to feel it for them.

The more you practice, the more accidents you’ll have off stage where it doesn’t matter.  You’ll know what to expect and how to control your props.  You won’t have as much to worry about.