Preparing a public speech

Written by Yves

May 15, 2016

DSC_3537I am quite used to give public speeches, as multiple times I was speaker at conferences or internal meetings. But, several weeks ago, the speech I gave had mainly 2 objectives : giving an overview of IBIS, and, promoting our internal Toastmasters club. For this occasion, I thought it would be interesting to share how I usually prepare speeches, taking this recent meeting as an example.

To set the context, the primary objective was to promote our internal Toastmaster club, open to all our employees (but not only), during a 45 minutes presentation of what is public speaking, giving examples of Toastmasters activities, and an overview of the Toastmasters clubs. As part of the pure Toastmasters example, there was a prepared speech with its evaluation and a session of table topics. For the prepared speech, the TM group decided to use one of my previous Competent Communication speech, which had an advantage of being a little bit business oriented. Indeed, I used this speech as a teaser and brief overview of IBIS, one of my current favorite topic. I can’t say I am yet fluent in IBIS, but, the advantage of knowing a topic that only few used to practice is that there is a lot to say. On the other side, this advantage can be a problem too.

The main two objectives of all the prepared speeches at Toastmasters (that should apply to all speeches generally too) are that they should be well structured, with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion; to stay within the 5 to 7 minutes length (at least for the CC speeches). I am not going to dive into the details of how the objectives were achieved (or not), but I will rather go in the way I prepared the speech.

I like to put everything on paper, being virtual or real. So, the first step was to split my preparation sheet in three parts : Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. Then, I wrote what I wanted to explain in the introduction, such as why the people in front of be should be interested in the topic and what they would takeaway, introducing the topic. Then, going into the details of the topic, in this case, the IBIS notation and how to use it. Finally, concluding with the main benefits of the notation and an example of how to use it.

At the end of this first step, I ended up with about 5 pages of text, which is obviously too long. As an average, a good speech rate is around 120 words per minute. Having this number in mind, I started removing content that was not absolutely necessary to the understanding of the topic. That is a difficult part, as you have to put yourself in the shoes of the audience and ask yourself whether a piece is required or not. The advantage with this technique is that it helps going “straight to the point???. At the end, I had only 2 A4 pages remaining, which was reasonable.

Obviously, one does not speak like we write, thus, it is not important at all to spend lot of time on the correctness of the text, nevertheless, what I usually do anyway is to read out the text several times. It has the advantage to give a first timing. And, the more I read it, the more I adjust the wording and expressions, whichI write in the text. Though, the speech is not natural. It is still a text read out, not a speech.

After that step, I am able to extract, and write separately from the text, one and only one word, for each smaller part of the speech, such as the intro, the examples, some part of the body, and the conclusion. From that point on, I only use this list of words for my rehearsals. These words are enough for me to remember the background text, which allows me to get free from the original text. Repetition after repetition, the speech becomes natural, some words only used for texts get replaced by oral words. Of course, the speech will not be exactly the same each time. Some variations will occur, but, the essential of the message is kept.

Another advantage of giving speeches of 5 to 7 minutes is that you can repeat a lot of times. I don’t remember how many times I repeated the speech, but, when you start having the speech completely in the head, it means that you are getting fluent with it and you can consider you are ready to give the speech in front of the audience. Additionally, you realized that you no longer need the notes, and that not focusing on the phrases you have to say will help you using other techniques in your speech, such as vocal variety to emphasize some words or phrases, or the eye contact. Lastly, and especially if you are not used to speak in front of people, repetition will help having self-confidence, decreasing drastically the stress on stage. Arriving at this point, I was ready to deliver my speech.

To summarize, here are some key points of what I do to prepare a speech :

  • After documenting the speech’s topic, write down the text of the speech
  • Repeat the text by reading it loud
  • Summarize the speech using one word per part. I would say maximum 10-12 words for a 6 minutes speech
  • Repeat, repeat and….repeat, staying away from the notes more and more.
  • Once comfortable, deliver the speech.
  • A last trick : I usually spend (and I also read something similar) an average of 1 hour per minute of speech. For the speech mentioned in this post, 6 minutes of speech means around 6 hours of preparation.

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