Planning Your Speech
Planning your speech is where the fun begins!
In your imagination you may hear yourself being stunning, the audience clapping wildly...
... then rising to their feet to give you a standing ovation. You may see yourself being deluged in red roses and offered several speaking contracts. Obviously they are all lucrative but you choose the one with optional extras: an extended holiday in the South of France …
But first you have to begin at the beginning: planning your speech.
Planning Your Speech
NB.These notes are general guidelines for ALL types of speeches.
They cover the basics of good presentation planning, research, writing and rehearsal: aspects you’ll want to consider regardless of the type of speech you’re giving.
If you're looking for a simple 'no frills' planning template, check out this sample speech outline
It has all the headings you need arranged in 4 logical steps.
Armed with information about:
- WHO you are going to speak for
- WHAT the general or specific subject matter is
- HOW long the speech is to be
- and WHEN
- and WHERE it is...
are ready to make a rough outline.
This will be your beginning guide. You will probably alter it as you go along, as better or different ideas occur to you. That’s good. It shows you’re flexible and thinking. But what is important is to start the process. And that begins with a brainstorm*.
(* Brainstorm – using a heading as a prompt, quickly note everything you can think of relating to it. There are no rights or wrongs. Some ideas will be more useful than others and you will sort through and order them later. This technique of generating ideas is used extensively to kick start thinking creatively.)
Brainstorm to start planning your speech
On a piece of paper or in a word document on your computer write these headings with enough space between them for notes:
Write down as much as you know about the audience. This will give you ideas of what they will want to hear and be interested in. It will also be your guide when it comes to shaping your material. (More about this later!)
For now make notes covering: number, age group, gender, ethnicity, if appropriate, common or uniting factors and specific interests they may have, if you know them.
Do you need to more about why understanding your audience is so important?
Check out building rapport.
Your notes may read like this:
- Approximately 25 people
- Mostly mid to late 30’s
- All women
- Mixed ethnic background but all speak English
- City dwellers
- Mostly work inside the home
- Many have children
- Interested in achieving work/life balance for themselves and their families and in particular a better financial situation
- All belong to the same church group
Write down the title and/or type of speech you have been asked to prepare. Now using your notes from the WHO section of your brainstorm begin another set.
This time you are looking to see how what you know or have been asked to talk about can be specifically shaped to meet and serve the interests of your audience.
Let’s look at an example.
Meet Martha Brown.
She’s been asked to give a motivational speech to the group identified above. The organizer wants her to share her life story as a guide or inspiration.
Martha’s background is similar to many of the women she will be speaking to. She came from a family who struggled financially and is one of the few amongst her relatives who has maintained a good marriage, raised children and now runs a successful business.
She developed a small catering firm specializing in delivering beautifully presented gourmet meals and finger food on demand. Martha is conscious of her good fortune but also knows the starting point, or the seed, lay within her. She desired the change of circumstances so much she enabled them to happen
So how does Martha shape her life story to fit her audience?
She doesn’t want to overwhelm them with information so they can’t think straight or digest it. That will turn them off. They will think it’s too difficult and beyond them. They may listen, be interested but they won’t identify with it. She wants them to feel they can take from her experience and use it to enrich their own lives.
Her notes may look like this:
- Speech Title:
How to win a future for your family when the kids need feeding and the bills want paying.
- I am like you – I get too busy to plan ahead, I have a tendency to deal with whatever squeals loudest, I get tired …
- Before and after – life before I made the decision to start my own business – life after I made the decision. Comparisons – several examples.
- The hardest part of making the decision and acting on it was … Examples.
- The best part of making the decision … Examples. People who inspired me to act.
- What I’ve learnt in the process about my family, others and myself … Examples.
- How I keep myself inspired … goal setting, listening and learning from others
- The future – the way forward for you, the women in the audience listening.
It’s not a speech yet but you can see the beginnings of its shape and how she’s used her knowledge of the audience to ensure giving them something they’ll enjoy listening to and identify with.
There are two important ‘hows’.
The first is how long the speech is to be.
The time you have been given will determine what you put into your speech and what you will leave out. If you have a relatively short time, 3-5 minutes, you will need to either focus on one major topic with examples to illustrate or settle for covering a maximum of three lightly.
The purpose of your speech and your audience will help you make the most relevant choice. A longer time gives you more freedom to develop several themes fully.
The second how relates to the method of presentation.
For example: Will this be a speech told with humor? Will you have a ‘show and tell’? (This is when you take objects relevant to your speech to illustrate your points. It could be photographs or items if they are suitable to transport.) Could you give a demonstration?
When you consider this ‘how’ bear in mind the different needs of your audience. Most people have a preferred mode for receiving information.
Some people understand well through listening. They are called ‘auditory’.
Some people get most of their understanding through looking. They are called ‘visual’.
Others receive and understand information best when they can touch, feel or do what is being explained to them. These are the ‘kinesthetics'.
A considerate and effective speaker tries to include all three modes in their speech.
Your choices under the ‘how’ heading will be governed by the time available. If it is short you may have to leave out a ‘show and tell’ or demonstration but you will always be able to include something to meet all three modes satisfactorily.
Let’s return to Martha’s Notes to see what she does with the ‘how’ segment of her brainstorm.
Time available = 10 minutes. (Maybe some more but that depends on the rest of the agenda of the meeting and how well it flows. Could be some space for questions from the audience and answer.)
How to present?
Definitely with humor! Also take some flyers, business cards and samples of finger food along. These can be available for people to pick up at the end of the presentation.
The time, day and season of the speech have an impact on what you do and say.
For example: You can use the early bird start in the middle of winter on a wet Monday morning effectively by acknowledging the efforts people have made to be there, making sure the heaters are on and there's hot coffee available.
With a little bit of thinking you’ll always find ways of tying in what is happening in the ‘here and now’ with your content.
A word of warning: Be conscious of presenting difficult or challenging material when people are either both tired and hungry (just before lunch or dinner) or when they’ve just eaten! Concentration spans are not at their best in either situation. If possible save this type of content for a mid-morning or afternoon slot.
Martha’s Notes: 2.45pm, Wednesday, 2nd August – Summer heat
The environment you are to speak in can have a huge part to play in shaping the final presentation of your speech.
Points to consider are:
- Where will I be in relation to the audience?
- Will they see me easily?
- Will they hear me easily?
- Do I need a microphone?
- Is there a place to put my notes if I’m using some?
- Are there power points if I want to use any electronic devices?
- Do I have to provide everything I want to use (e.g.: computer, screen…)?
Many fully prepared, beautifully rehearsed speeches fail because insufficient thought has gone into where they are to take place.
It’s no fun when people can neither see nor hear you or the carefully thought through demonstration is stymied through lack of a power point in the right place!
Martha’s Notes: Church meeting room.
It can seat everybody comfortably and there’s room for a table to put out a display of fliers and trays of food, paper napkins etc. Arrange the chairs in a horseshoe or semi-circle so everybody can see clearly.
Putting the Planning Together
OK. You’ve got all the notes ready; so let’s mix ‘n match and re-write until the outline is clear.
After you’ve completed this part of planning your speech you’ll be ready to do any RESEARCH required and then you’re on to the task of WRITING your speech.
We’ll use Martha’s Finished Outline to give you the idea of how it could go:
Speech length: 10 minutes
Speech title: How to win a future for your family when the kids need feeding and the bills want paying
Thanks for coming today … Summer heat, we’d all rather be at beach reading a book under a sun umbrella ….etc. But I’ve got something for you that’ll more than make up for it. I look around the hall and I see a lot of women just like me: women, who work hard, love their families, etc … want the best for them.
(Insert anecdotal humor, perhaps a small personal story about the checkbook … The only way I could manage it was to banish it the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. Likewise I used my credit cards to test how sharp my scissors were.)
Main Idea 1 (3 minutes):
Introduce business and what it is.
Explain how it functions on a daily basis. Briefly outline long-term goals. (Quick show-and-tell with flyers and food. Invite people to sample at end and ask questions.)
Main idea 2 (2 minutes):
My life before the business (tie to women in audience). My life after business started. What I have achieved. The hardest part about starting, staying in business. The best part about starting, staying in business. People who have inspired me.
Main idea 3 (3 minutes):
What I’ve learnt in the process about my family, others and myself … Examples.
How I keep myself inspired … goal setting, listening and learning from others
Very quick round up of principal points.The future – the way forward for you, the women in the audience listening.Invite questions if time. Remind them about the fliers and the food! Thank organizers.
That’s it! Very short, sweet and simple. There’s nothing magical about planning your speech. It's just methodical one-step-after-another. If you find yourself flustered go back to the core brainstorm headings and ask yourself the key questions once more.
- WHO is this speech for?
- WHAT am I going to tell them that’s relevant and interesting?
- HOW long is the speech expected to be?
- HOW am I going to present it?
- WHEN is the speech for? (Date, day, time, season)
- WHERE is the speech going to happen? (Hall, outdoors, stadium…)
Write your answers down and let them be your guide.
Remember this is not your finished speech. It’s your outline – a map of what you’re going to cover. Don’t spend too much time trying to get it perfect. You’ll want that energy for researching, writing and rehearsing!
And guess what is coming up next?
Here are your links to:
- how to research your speech. The reasons for research are discussed under the heading below -'When and What to Research'
- how to write your speech
- how to prepare and use cue cards. The benefits are using cue cards over reading from a word-for-word script are enormous. Because you are freed from having to focus on your notes you can interact with your audience directly. Your speech becomes more spontaneous and 'in-the-moment'.
- how to use story telling to enrich your speech
Do consider weaving your personal stories into your speech. They add tremendous audience appeal. You'll find three links. Follow each to learn how to use story telling well.
- how to use props. If you're planning a 'show and tell' type speech, this page is essential reading.
- how to rehearse. Rehearsal will lift your speech from ordinary to extraordinary. It will show you where any potential glitches are. Rehearsal is an essential part of good speech making.
When and What to Research
If you already know your subject thoroughly, inside out, back to front and sideways, there will be no need to research and you can skip this part of planning your speech.
BUT if you don’t, the outline should point up the gaps needing to be filled with specific information.
In our Martha example it appears as if she’s got it all under control. There seems little need for her to do any research, as this speech is her personal story. However if she wanted to there are a number of ways she could strengthen and add real benefits for her audience.
For example: she could bring along flyers from local training institutions providing courses especially geared for women setting up business on their own or she could provide a list of business women in the community willing to mentor and advise women in start-ups. A book list would be helpful, as would an on-line resource list.
All of these ideas need researching before presenting.
Careful research adds authority to your work. It shows care, thought and dedication to getting it right. Your audience will appreciate and respect you for it.
NB. If you are presenting material as fact rather than as opinion, check it! Make sure you know rather than think you know. If you can’t find out, then say so.
Unsure how to research?
Don’t let it bamboozle you! Get your user-friendly research guide-lines now.
PS. Remember those modes or preferred learning styles?
Did you pick how Martha planned to meet each of them in her outline?
For the 'auditory' she would tell her story using her voice in a lively, interesting-to-listen-to way! Nothing turns an auditory focused person's ears off faster than a monotone drawl.
For the 'visual', she would provide flyers and food to see. Plus her appearance and body language would 'say' to them, this is a vibrant, purpose-filled person who loves what she does. And lastly, she would use 'word pictures' to illustrate the points she made in her speech. The 'visual' would literally 'see' where she was coming from by using their imagination to recreate her images in their own minds!
For the ‘kinesthetics', Martha planned to actively tell her story. She would use vivid 'action' words describing how she did things. Example: 'I started a business.' is bland. It doesn't communicate any of the effort or feelings involved. By contrast: 'I started my own business. What a journey!I know you've watched your children learning to walk. Well, that was me! I fell. I bruised my self. I got up, took two steps and crashed again...' You get the idea. This is action, living and real.
The 'kinesthetics' will appreciate and know what she is talking about.
Additionally, Martha's flyers and food will appeal too. They can hold them, actively read the flyers and taste the food.
Lastly, they will be aware of what Martha does while she's talking to them. Is she conveying energy, excitement and action in her body language? If so, she'll have them with her!
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