“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld


Credit: Jeff Kubina

Public speaking is one of the most rewarding things you can take up at any phase in life. Learning to speak well in front of an audience gives you confidence and the ability to handle challenging situations in other aspects of your life.

In this post, I will walk you through a step by step method to prepare the material to deliver a speech. Take what works for you and modify the rest to suit your style of preparation.

1. Choosing the theme

Given the choice, go for a subject you are intimately familiar with. Don’t look at topics related to just your job or area of professional expertise – your life can give you so many themes and angles for your speech. In order to make a powerful impact on the audience, you need to know at least several times as much about the subject as you reveal in the speech. The amount of knowledge you bring to the table, even if you don’t include it in the talk, will have a powerful impact on the audience. It adds indirect impact and makes the speech powerful and authentic.

Also, comfort with the topic doesn’t mean you don’t need to do research. In order to make the speech accurate, you need to fact-check all your material. Its also essential to use supporting tools such as quotations that add impact to your speech. At the end of the day, your comfort level with the theme married to your preparation is what makes a powerful, well delivered speech.

2. Gathering material and working on the theme

It is best to start thinking about and looking out for material for your speech at least 15 days before D-day. Take a notebook around with you to jot down points and observations as and when they occur. In fact, its always a good idea to carry round a notebook with you for capturing ideas. I recently delivered a speech on a topic I thought about 3 months ago. It was very different from what I had in my mind at the time, but was effective nonetheless. This marinating process will bring up enough ideas and associations around your topic to carry you well into the actual speech delivery.

Use the rule of three, people are comfortable if you subdivide your speech and any points you make into groups of 3. Any more than 3 points or “parts” in your structure means the audience will start counting and get distracted from your content and delivery. This is where the famous rule that your speech has to have a beginning, middle and end comes from.

3. Preparing the speech

Just like writing blog posts, stories and novels, you will throw away more than 60% of the material you gather, but don’t worry, the presence of the additional details you are forced to throw away will be felt in the material you retain. Be prepared to write, rewrite and rewrite some more. Setting this mental expectation means that you will be prepared for the process of making your speech polished and also ensure you start early – at least a week early to prepare your close-to-final draft.

The process of writing down your speech gives you comfort and mastery of your material. This will show through on the day you deliver your talk. Once you start giving speeches, you will realize how long you will take to deliver your material but as a thumb rule, an A4 sheet full of single space text (in word or any other word processor) at a readable font level of 10-11 pt will take about 7-9 minutes to deliver depending on your speed.

When gathering material to support a certain position you want to bring out in your speech, try to make sure the points are MECE. MECE is a management consulting rule to make sure your arguments are logically sound. It stands for Mutually Exclusive and Combinatorially Exhaustive, it’s a fancy way of saying you have to cover all the points that make your argument (no holes) and they should not overlap with each other. This is especially important if the intent of your speech is to convince the audience of your viewpoint.

Once you have created an elaborate outline and final draft of your speech, de-construct it once again into the main outline. This will give you the main “signposts” in your speech so that you remember how your speech flows on the day. Once you prepare this “cue-card” outline of your speech, you will find yourself practicing the speech at different times of the day and becoming comfortable with the material.

It helps me if I have a visual reminder of each of the major signposts in my speech. By visual reminders, I mean internal “images” that go with the points I am trying to make. For example, in a speech I gave about three places I remembered from my life, the images of each city helped me flow through the speech. Later on I found out that the images in my mind helped the audience visualize the situations and the places I was describing. This will give your speech a very high impact.

Don’t memorize the entire speech, or the delivery will be stilted. Instead remember the key signposts in your speech so that you are guided through the talk.

If possible, walk through the venue where you are going to give the speech a day in advance, and become comfortable with the stage and props. Make sure you have all your materials handy and the images from your speech clear in your mind. The key to an effective speech is to spread the preparation over a longer period of time rather than one or two bursts of energy and focus. The longer the ideas and points marinate in your mind, the more effective the speech and the overall flow is.

All the best!

Special thanks to Mark Pope, President of Tea House Toastmasters, Melbourne for sharing his technique with me, I have woven the parts of his method that inspired me into this post.


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Credits: Image Source Jeff Kubina

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