This week I get to share the third step I use in creating a great speech, even with little to no time for preparation.
The first step is the most important and, when your preparation time is limited, may require most of your attention. You have to make sure you have a subject and purpose, a “thesis,” that resonates with you and your audience–a message you can really speak from your heart with tangible conviction, and one that your audience will really want to hear.
The second step is almost as important and a little more technical: Picking your intro. You need to choose one that will both grab and hold your audience’s attention; one that is very natural for you, so that it won’t require much attention while you prepare mentally to continue your speech; it might be a personal story, a shocking statistic, an audience activity, etc.
Decide What You’re Going to Say
So what are you going to say?
Try approaching it as simply as that. Not “What are my three points?” or “What is my outline?” When you’re trying to figure out your content, the body of your speech, especially if you’re under pressure, it helps to think very naturally and simply: “What do I want to say about this subject?”
If you were just speaking to a friend, what would you want to tell them? Just keep in mind–that friend would have to fit in the audience. If you’re speaking to a convention of doctors, don’t ask “What would I want to tell my accountant friend?”
So what is it that you would like to say? And what is it that your audience would like to hear? Don’t worry about organizing an outline until you’ve got a couple or a few ideas in your head. Those ideas will become your “points.”
Say you picked “Public Speaking” as your subject, and your purpose is to inspire your audience to learn oratory. You move onto your intro, because time is ticking, and when you get up to speak, you’d at least better have an intro that will keep them listening. So you’ve nailed down your speech’s “hook.” Now it’s time to pick the points. “What do I want to say?”
“Oh,” you think, “my life has changed incredibly since I began speaking. What else? I could tell them how much more confident I am. I should tell them how much happier I am, for sure. Lots more self-esteem! Maybe I should assure them once you make yourself try it, it’s not nearly as scary as it seems. I could tell them stories about how nervous I was at first, so they know there’s no reason to be scared.”
How You’ll Say What You’ll Say
Well you’ve thought of lots to say. And if you let the juices flow, and ramble in your mind–instead of trying to construct an outline from the first moment–you can think of quite a few things to say within just a few seconds. Only now do you get to actually organize it into an outline.
What stays? What goes? At this point, you have a number of options. But that’s a good problem to have! Now it’s up to you! The only skill required at this point is decisiveness.
Just make sure your points flow together and accomplish your purpose.
Remember, it’s completely up to you now. There’s no “perfect speech.” There’s just you talking. So ask yourself what you want to say, and then organize it as quickly and decisively as you can.
Here’s an outline that would make a lot of sense given the earlier example:
1. Public speaking is scary at first.
2. It gets much easier with practice.
3. In the end, it changes your life.
Why All You Want is a Bare Outline
Whether your speech is 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or 30 minutes (ugh), all you really need is that bare outline.
Does that sound scary? Here’s why it works:
For one thing, if you have only a minute or two of prep time, trying to figure out exactly what you’ll say under each point is absurd.
For another thing, if you do script a bunch of ideas under your points, one of three things will happen:
a. You’ll have to read or consult your script or notes during your speech.
b. You’ll have to memorize your speech (not an option if it’s an impromptu), and the more rehearsal, the more difficulty you may have being genuine.
c. Or you’ll awkwardly stumble through your speech as you try to remember what you planned.
There’s a much better option–especially if it’s an impromptu:
Once you’ve got your bare outline–intro, 3 points, a conclusion (more on that next week), and you know the purpose of your speech–it shouldn’t be hard, if you approach it like you’d approach speaking to a friend.
Think that’s too much to ask? Think you’d lock up? Then you’ll have to come back in 2 weeks and hear my strategy for turning this quick, bare preparation into a smooth, confident, well-delivered speech.
Takeaway: Choosing your outline shouldn’t take long. Just ask, “What do I want to say about this subject? And what does my audience need to hear?” And then let the juices flow. After a number of things have popped into your head, it’s time to just be decisive. Pick two or three of them and make sure they flow well together. Then just get ready to talk about them like you’d talk to a friend–from your heart!
Any techniques you can share for choosing speech content?