2. How to plan a speech

Planning your speech

- a complete, unabridged guide with multiple examples to help plan a successful speech

By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 05-04-2021

Planning your speech is where your success begins. I do not jest! ☺

In your imagination you may hear yourself being stunning, the audience clapping wildly as they rise 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. Without a plan you are whistling in the wind, dreaming.

Vintage red rose wallpaper, happy woman with thought bubble. Text: Oh my goodness! They love my speech. They're throwing roses. I am absolutely fabulous. I wish.

What's on this page:

How to plan a speech step by step:

  • gathering information using the brainstorming process with examples
  • how to shape material to fit an audience, the speech setting, and time allocation
  • an example speech outline
  • how and why to research
  • how to meet varying learning style needs: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic
  • links to other useful pages

Planning your speech from the start

A note about these notes!

These notes are general guidelines for ALL types of speeches. I know they are long.

(Actually that's an understatement! They are very long.)

I also know if you take the time to go through them they'll give you a solid introduction to thorough speech preparation.

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.

Gathering your information

Once you have information about:

  • WHO you are going to speak to (your audience)
  • WHAT your general or specific subject matter is
  • HOW long the speech is to be
  • and WHEN
  • and WHERE it is...

you are ready to make a rough or draft outline.

This will be your guide for writing.

You may alter the outline as you go along, as better or different ideas occur to you and that’s OK. It shows you’re flexible and thinking but before we can change anything we have to have something to start with.

To get to the outline stage in the speech planning process we first need to collect up all the "who", "what", "when", "how", and "where" information needed. And that begins with a brainstorm*.

What's a *brainstorm?

Brainstorm is the name given to an extensively used technique for generating multiple ideas fast.

Using a heading as a prompt, quickly note everything you can think of relating to it. Do not edit yourself.  Just let the ideas flow until no more arrive. There are no rights or wrongs!

Some ideas will be more useful than others and you will sort through and order them later.

I have several examples on my site. Here is one for a maid of honor speech.

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Brainstorm to begin planning your speech

On a large piece of paper or in a word document write these headings with enough space between them for notes:

  • WHO
  • WHAT
  • HOW
  • WHEN


Write down as much as you know about the audience.

This will give you ideas about 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: the number of people expected to be in your audience, their age group, gender, ethnicity, if appropriate, and the common or uniting factors and specific interests they may have.

Find out more about why understanding your audience is so important. Check out building rapport.

Your notes may read like this:

  • Approximately 25 people (number)
  • Mostly mid to late 30’s (age)
  • All women (gender)
  • Mixed ethnic background but all speak English (ethnicity)
  • City dwellers (uniting factor)
  • Mostly work inside the home (uniting factor)
  • Many have children (uniting factor)
  • Interested in achieving work/life balance for themselves and their families and in particular a better financial situation (interest/uniting factor)
  • All belong to the same church group (uniting factor)

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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're going to talk about can be specifically shaped to meet and serve the interests of your audience.

Let's look at an example

Image: Cartoon drawing of a smiling young woman. Text: Meet Martha Brown, entrepreneur, mother and wife.

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 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.
  • Content - main points
  • I am like you – I get too busy to plan ahead, I have a tendency to deal with what or whoever 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 learned in the process about my family, others and myself … Examples.
  • How I keep myself inspired … goal setting, listening and learning from others
  • The future – a possible 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.

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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 other items if they are suitable to transport.)
  • Could you give a demonstration?

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Learning styles

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 speaker tries to include all three modes in their speech.

(For more on catering for learning styles with examples see the foot of the page.)

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How much time do you have?

Your choices under this 'how' heading will be governed by the time available. If it is short you may have to leave out a 'show and tell' or a 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.

How long?
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 fliers, 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 you deliver a speech can have an impact on what you do and say.

For example:
You can use an early bird start in the middle of winter on a wet Monday morning effectively by acknowledging the efforts people have made to be there, and by 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.

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A word of warning:
Be conscious about 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 notes if I’m using them?
  • 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, leads…)?

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 an electric socket in the right place!

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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 extra RESEARCH required, and then you’re on to the task of WRITING your speech.

Martha's completed outline

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

Introduction (1minute):
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 learned in the process about my family, others and myself … Examples.
How I keep myself inspired … goal setting, listening and learning from others

Summary: (1minute):
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.

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Summary - Core speech planning questions

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?

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Getting from planning to delivery

Here are links on:

  • 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 of 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. Open this link and you'll find more. 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.

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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 example it there seems little need for Martha to do any further research, as this speech is her personal story.

However, there are a number of ways she could strengthen her speech and add real benefits for her audience.

For example: she could bring along fliers 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 reading 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.

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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' learners 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' people, she would provide fliers 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: ' 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 'kinesthetic' folk will appreciate and know what she is talking about.

Additionally, Martha's fliers and food will appeal too. They can hold them, actively read the fliers 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!