Create a Powerful Speech in 2 Minutes (Step 3 of 5)

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:

Just talk.

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?

Create a Powerful Speech in 2 Minutes (Step 2 of 5)

Last week I shared a few tips for deciding what to speak about (quickly when necessary) and why that’s the most important part of the preparation process. It’s important to end up with a very specific point to your speech.

The next step is picking your introduction. Once you know what is the main thing you want to tell your audience, it is time to persuade your audience to listen.

Pick a Catchy Intro

There is one and only one purpose to your introduction: To grab and keep your audience’s attention.

(Just keep in mind, it can’t just grab attention–it has to make sense: If you use Subject A to introduce your speech, and then give a speech that in no way connects to Subject A, your audience will spend the first three minutes thinking “Wait, what?” and the rest of the time daydreaming.)

So how do you grab your audience’s attention? Well, what grabs your interest? Picking an intro isn’t nearly as tough as people think. The options are endless. Here are a few:

• An interesting and memorable personal story.

• A shocking statistic.

• An experience everyone shares and can relate to.

• An activity the audience can participate in.

• A hilarious or dramatic story that engages people emotionally.

Just ask yourself what is the first story or memorable concept your subject reminds you of. And then ask yourself how you can present it in an effective way.

Make Them Want to Keep Listening

As I touched on earlier, your opener can’t just be interesting in and of itself. It has to make sense: It has to end up convincing the audience they should listen to the rest of the speech.

For instance, I can tell a fascinating story, with dramatic flare, about an adopted child. And then I can say, “I want to speak to you about adoption today.” Well the story was great, but why should that mean the audience wants to hear the rest of the speech?

Instead, you might tell the same story about adoption, and then connect it to the audience. Whet their appetite! “Have you ever met an adopted child? Have you ever wondered what memories they might be dealing with? Or how you might be accidentally hurting them? Let’s talk about how adopted children need you to talk to them!”

Make it Memorable

There’s a statistic I don’t remember that says lifeless information like statistics aren’t as easy to remember as stories. When your audience gets home, they probably won’t remember the outline of your speech or all its details. But what they will remember is an awesome story or a shocking revelation.

So it’s absolutely vital to make your introduction not just momentarily amusing, but very memorable. If you want your audience to remember why being thankful is important, give them an incredible story they want to share with others, so that every time they recall the story, they are reminded of all you had to say about it.

Your Intro Matters Almost as Much as Your Subject

When I have to prepare a speech quickly, though I pay the most attention to choosing my subject and purpose, the intro is a close second. There are two reasons:

First, you can have an absolutely fantastic speech prepared, but if your audience isn’t still fascinated by the end of your intro, that fascinating speech will do no good. So your second highest priority in preparing your speech is planning your intro so well that your audience will definitely be listening to the rest of your speech.

Second, when you’re crunched for time, and possibly nervous, you can get away with being unsure of what all you’re going to say, as long as your intro is solidly prepared. At times, my intro is the only clear thing in my head when I actually start speaking. But then I have an extra minute or two of delivering the intro I’m already comfortable with, to think up the rest of my outline, even if I can only think of 1 or 2 quick points.

Takeaway: After you know your subject and purpose, your introduction is the most important part of your preparation. It must be fascinating and engaging in the moment, and it must interest the audience in hearing the rest: e.g: Dramatic story + how it applies to each audience member. It must be memorable. And being sure of your intro ahead of time frees you to use your first minute or two of speaking to decide what you’ll say next. As far as the actual content goes, your introduction is your highest priority–especially when you only have a couple minutes to prepare.

What is the most effectively an introduction has ever drawn you into a speech or presentation?

Create a Powerful Speech in 2 Minutes (Step 1 of 5)

I prefer giving most speeches with relatively little preparation–no scripts and few rehearsals. It is a challenge that stretches me, and it is great practice for life and work. Even more personally important, it helps me speak from the heart instead of falling into mindless performance.

But if I’m going to wing it so much, I’d better have a pretty good system for making it powerful even without the advantage of weeks of preparation.

Well after years of doing it, with preparation times  varying from months to weeks to days to hours to minutes to literally 2 seconds, I’ve figured out how to very quickly come up with a powerful speech.

If you become very familiar with your process or formula (so practice, practice, practice!), you can use it with detail while writing a speech in advance, you can use it quickly when you’re only given a few minutes to throw a speech together, and you can even continue planning your speech while you’re already delivering it!

So here’s the first and most important step in creating a speech:

Choosing Your Topic and Purpose

I spend more time on choosing my topic than you might expect. And even once I know my topic, the exact purpose for which I will use it can take me quite a while to determine. Here are two reasons why:

     1. It is absolutely the most important part of your preparation: If the speech is going to be effective, you have to be speaking on a relevant topic and using the topic in a powerful way. It must fit your audience–their interests and needs. And it must fit you–your recent and current feelings, experiences, and education.

So even when I’m given a very short time for preparation, I spend a large portion on choosing the topic. When I used to compete regularly in impromptu speaking with 2-minute prep times, especially once I had gotten good at it, I often spent the entire first minute just deciding which of the suggested topics I should use and what the point of my speech would be.

     2. The choosing process actually generates some of your best content: If you think “writer’s block” is tough, try “speaker’s block.” It can be incredibly difficult to decide what to say when faced with a direct question: “What should I say about this?” Every ounce of doubt inside you sends you into a panic and keeps you from thinking clearly. This is especially true when you’re faced with a difficult deadline (for instance, you may be given 2 minutes to prepare your speech).

But the good news is, before you throw the content-question at yourself, if instead you focus on the topic-question, content can more easily present itself. When you’re wondering, “Should I speak on that or this?” the pressure, instead of being on the detailed content, is on the general topic. So while you are in the process of coming up with your decision, your mind is free from the “What should I say about it?” pressure, and the “what”-content can start flowing naturally. “If I speak on A I could tell this story. Oh, but what I’ve been studying could fit really well into B! And I could use that quote I heard!”

I have found that, especially when under a time crunch, some of my best content flows very naturally when I’m still focused on weighing the advantages and disadvantages of competing topics.

10 Helpful Questions

So what makes for a good topic and purpose in a speech? It depends on the speaker, audience, context, time, and lots of other variables. But here are a some questions that may help get your mental juices flowing:

• What have I been thinking about most lately?

• What would facilitate a remarkable personal connection or story I can share?

• What would the audience trust me to teach them?

• What are my audience’s interests and goals?

• What are my audience’s problems and needs?

• What is my audience expecting and hoping to hear?

• What would my audience find significant and memorable?

• Do I really care about this topic and believe in this purpose, so that I can speak from my heart?

• Do I really feel comfortable and confident about choosing this topic and purpose?

• And last but not least, will it fit my allotted speaking time and venue well?

Takeaway: Remember that the topic and purpose of your speech is by far the most important part of your preparation. It must fit you, the audience, and your speaking situation. On it hangs the success of your entire speech. So devote plenty of time to choosing it carefully. As a bonus, your choosing-time just might generate great content before you even start on step 2!

What suggestions can you share for coming up with a powerful topic and purpose for a speech?

My Favorite Trick for Mastering Nerves

In a 2012 study done by the National Institute of Mental Health, Glossophobia beat out Necrophobia (death-phobia) as America’s biggest fear: Public speaking.

Trying to speak to an audience, large or small, is absolutely terrifying. To most people.

It’s especially difficult when you’re moving out of your comfort zone, from one level to the next: Maybe you’ve mastered speaking in your rhetoric club, but step onto a stage in front of a crowd of hundreds and you still might freeze.

Personally, after lots and lots of practice (including psychological tricks, mantras, and “imagining my audience naked”–which really didn’t do it for me), I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with public speaking. I actually feel pretty comfortable speaking to an audience–like I’m in my element.

But there are still times and situations where the nerves will kick in. Maybe it’s a bigger group than I’m used to. Maybe a smaller group (actually scarier to me). Maybe I didn’t have time to prepare. Maybe it’s just been a stressful day. Whatever the trigger might be, the most experienced speakers can still get nervous.

So what do I do when I get nervous? I use my all-time favorite technique:

Look at the individuals in the audience!

If you have a chance, study individual attendees before you even get up to speak. Think about them–not as your audience, but as people like you. Look deep into their eyes. Feel their humanity. Realize that they are no different than you.

When you get up to speak, keep looking! Look deep into their eyes. Look at faces, look at clothes, look at their expressions, look at their thoughts–or at least imagine them. They probably think a lot like you.

Seems simple, so why is it important? Because it’s easier said than done. There’s a very natural tendency for speakers to glance around the audience without settling on individuals. It’s hard not to sense the audience as a whole–a grand mass of judgement and criticism. But your audience isn’t one giant judge, it is made up of a bunch of humans who are just like you. In fact, they’re individuals who consider you and your words worth sitting down and shutting up to listen to.

I can’t explain in a short blog post every different reason I have found that this works. And it might not work for everyone. But for me, it changes everything!

There’s something about focusing on and connecting with individual audience members that makes the big scary audience disappear and fills your heart with the warmth of the compassionate human beings surrounding you. You’re speaking to individual people, not some strange and unknown “audience.” They have friends, families, desires, and fears. Remember–they’re just like you. They are not scary!

And the easiest way to prove that to yourself is by sizing them up.

Don’t size your audience up. It’s big and intimidating. Size each individual person up. They’re really not that scary.

So that’s my favorite trick. As I said, I can’t promise it will work for you, but you’ll never know until you try–worth a shot? What I can say is that when I’m feeling nervous in front of an audience or before a speech, nothing calms my nerves, brings me back down to earth, and puts everything in perspective like breaking the big scary audience down into individual fellow-humans. And the easiest way to do that is by looking at them.

Not facing them. Not seeing them. Not speaking towards them. Looking at them.

Just remember: The audience may be big, but each member is as small as you.

Good luck!

How do YOU cope with nerves in front of an audience (big or small)?

3 Big Ways Your Listening Helps Others

“We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.” – Diogenes Laertius

I often get to the end of a conversation only to realize I did all the talking. That’s one of the most disappointing feelings in the world to me. It certainly felt great in the moment to think only about myself, but  I bored my friend half to death. I may have even damaged the relationship.

It’s one thing to have the great friend who occasionally gets you to open up and talk your heart out, get something big off your chest. It’s another thing to be always talking, never listening. I’m afraid I do too much of that in my personal relationships lately.

But one thing that helps is realizing that being a good listener isn’t just for my own sake–it does a few powerful things for the person I’m listening to. So here are 3 reasons why I’m working on listening more and talking less:

   1. It makes the speaker feel personally cared for.

Author Bryant H. McGill explains: “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” People need to feel cared for. To feel that what they think really matters to someone. That someone loves them deeply enough to truly listen and care.

It’s easy to “care” about someone, knowing that taking care of them brings you some satisfaction, some fulfillment–like if you’re their leader, their parent, their counselor. But it’s harder when the “care” doesn’t make you feel like a big deal. The challenge is caring for someone on a completely equal level.

I need to know that someone doesn’t just care about me because they feel good when they do, or because I pay them to. I need to know that someone who doesn’t have to listen to me wants to listen to me, just because on the simplest and most unconditional level, they care about me.

     2. It enables the speaker to listen in return.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood,” says Ralph G. Nichols. “The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”

Have you ever had someone try to convince you of an idea without really listening to you in return? It’s annoying and frustrating. Why would you trust someone to have well-rounded views if they do not show interest in listening carefully to your own views?

On the other hand, when someone listens intently to everything you have to say about a certain subject, it is much more natural to trust their judgement and trust their response. They have demonstrated a willingness to learn, which makes them a more likely source of wisdom. And they have shown that they really understand your own viewpoint, which makes their reply much more likely to actually engage your own ideas in a constructive way.

Listening carefully and thoroughly to someone enables them to trust your wisdom–to listen when you respond, because you understand and appreciate their own thoughts.

     3. It encourages and empowers the speaker.

You have a lot more power over people than you may think. You have the ability to enhance someone’s self esteem and confidence and help them maximize their potential. And you can do it by truly and intently listening to them.

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing,” G.K. Chesterton noted. Have you ever been talking to someone who is acting like they’re listening, but you can tell they’re just waiting for you to finish so that they can have their say? It’s like a silent kind of interruption. That kind of listening doesn’t help boost someone’s confidence or self esteem at all. In fact, it makes the speaker feel pretty lame.

But when someone seems to be hanging on your every word, you feel absolutely incredible. You feel like what you’re saying is important, like you are important, like you make a difference.

There is nothing more discouraging to a speaker than realizing his audience is just waiting for him to finish. But a captive audience is incredibly empowering.

Careful, connected, enthusiastic listening empowers the speaker to greater self-confidence and therefore greater achievement.

This week, I’m going to work on listening. I’m going to consciously approach every conversation I can with the goal of speaking a lot less. And I’m going to ask my girlfriend to keep reminding me (probably going to regret that).

And I’m not just doing it because it’s good for me–I’m going to do it because it helps others.

I’m sure you’ve worked on becoming a better listener before. What did you see it do for your relationships? Please share some ideas! :)