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Speeches and public statements

Last edited: January 03, 2012

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Public speaking is important for any campaign that includes public events. Speeches, oral statements and formal declarations can be made at the start or end of rallies and marches, at conferences, and during the sessions of international treaty monitoring bodies (such as CEDAW). Distribute copies of a written version of the statement to any relevant stakeholders. The written version can take different forms – for general tips on the format and content see Policy briefs and Letters and petitions.

A good example is the Third World Congress (WCIII) Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2008 that provided a venue for 137 governments, civil society representatives, UN agencies, international and intergovernmental organisations, the private sector, children and young people as well as new actors, such as representatives from industry, religious leaders, national ombudspersons and First Ladies to review global commitments and galvanize international will and support for the protection of children and adolescents. The result of this Congress was an agreed public statement – the ECPAT Rio de Janeiro Declaration: A Snapshot Summary for Children and Adolescents, 2009, that was made accessible to children and adolescents.

Making a speech – Practical tips

  • Plan your speech. Clarify your objective and express your message in a way that captures the attention of your audience. If you speak to an audience  with little awareness of the causes and consequences of VAW, point out facts which show that VAW is a problem affecting the entire society, and that women and girls, men and boys are likely to benefit from ending such violence. Think of questions your audience may ask, and prepare keywords for the answers.
  • Prepare a written, structured outline. You can use the outline, or a set of cue cards, during the speech. Prepare any visual aids you want to use.
  • Your introduction should explain who you are, present the topic and why it is important. It should engage listeners, e.g. with an anecdote, a friendly comment about the venue, or a striking statistic on violence against women and girls that your audience (including men) can relate to (e.g. “one in three women, i.e. probably a third of the women in this room, has experienced VAW”). In the main body of the speech, you present your argument. You conclude with a call for action or a provocative question. Use short, clear sentences and adapt your style to the audience.
  • Rehearse your speech, possibly with friends or colleagues who can give feed-back. Rehearsing is also a good way to check how much time you will take: a well-structured, inspirational five-minute speech can be more effective than a 30-minute talk.
  • During the speech, follow your outline; avoid “drifting” into other topics.
  • Use visual aids – e.g. images and headlines – to support your argument. If you use slides or digital presentations (e.g. Power Point), keep texts short and graphics simple to avoid distracting the listeners. For a 10-minute presentation, do not use more than 5-10 slides with a maximum of 5 lines of text on them. Images can be more effective than words.
  • During the speech, maintain eye-contact with the listeners and be yourself, even if you feel nervous. Avoid reading your full speech text unless you have no other choice.
  • When answering questions, remain close to your topic and politely decline to get drawn into discussions that are not of central importance to your cause. If you do not know the answer to a question, do not pretend you do. If you are asked aggressive questions or inappropriate comments, stay calm: you do not need to persuade everyone.

If your campaign alliance does not include confident speakers, identify training courses in your region, or run your own course by regularly presenting speeches to each other and giving feed-back.

Bear in mind: Speaking to a crowd on VAW, a deeply entrenched social issue, can be challenging, as hecklers may use “identity-baiting”, i.e. attacks on the grounds of your sex, private life, or nationality. Be prepared for such attacks and decide how you will respond to them – you can choose to simply ignore them, or find an appropriate, calm response which makes it clear that your campaign topic is a legitimate and public issue.