The late, great motivational author and speaker, Dale Carnegie, said there are always three speeches for every one you actually give.
The one you practiced
The one you gave
The one you wish you gave
Our goal should be to get these three speeches to align as closely as possible with one another. We may never do it perfectly, but we can get as close as possible.
This won’t happen by accident or coincidence. It will only happen by following a reliable set of guidelines.
If we follow the guidelines, the result should be an excellent speech that accomplishes its purpose.
There’s No Substitute For Preparation
There’s just no substitute for preparation. Even the best speakers must prepare.
In fact, preparation is the primary reason they’re good speakers. It doesn’t just happen – even when you’re especially talented or gifted.
Never cheat on preparation. You’ll only regret it later.
Preparation begins long before speech day. We can divide the preparation process into 6 phases.
Even the Evaluation phase is a form of preparation, as it prepares you for your next speech.
You should begin by considering why you’ve been chosen to make this particular speech.
What knowledge do you have that others lack? What expertise that needs to be shared? What experiences that others may benefit from knowing? What skills that need imparting to your audience?
Asking these kinds of questions will help you think through what you want to say and how you want to say it.
Where will the speech be made? Will there be stadium seating? Tables with clanging silverware? Will the room have ambient noise? Will you be able to move around or must you remain in one spot?
Will your audience have general knowledge about your subject, or will this be brand new content for them? Will the audience be older or younger? Men or women? One profession or a mixture? Does this matter?
Content is key. Nobody is impacted or moved by a fine delivery of a bad speech.
A good speech is not only delivered well – it has substance and solid content. Speeches with weak content accomplish nothing except to irritate the audience.
You’ll want to devote plenty of time to what you intend to say and how you intend to say it. Here are some things to keep in mind as you work on the content of your speech.
Determine the purpose or objective of your speech.
What do you want to accomplish by your speech? Nearly all speeches fall into one of 2 categories. A speech is intended to either:
That is, the speech is meant to persuade the audience to do something. To take action of some kind. Or at least to consider taking action.
Or the speech is designed to enable or equip the audience. To equip the audience for some specific task, duty, or project.
To help focus the speech and clarify its purpose, it’s a good idea to state the purpose of the speech in a simple proposition. The speech to persuade has a proposition like this:
– Every citizen should vote in the election for the following 5 reasons.
– Every person should exercise daily for these 10 health benefits.
The equipping speech is different. Its purpose is not to persuade the audience to take an action they might not have considered – it’s to enable the audience to take an action they’re already persuaded to take.
Here are two examples of the equipping kind of proposition:
– You can become financially free through the following 6 steps.
– Anyone can bake a perfect apple pie by following these 8 steps.
Unless you know what you want to accomplish by your speech, it’s unlikely you’ll accomplish it. As the quip goes: “If you aim at nothing, you’re certain to hit it.” So aim at something. Don’t aim at nothing.
You’ll know your target by expressing the goal of your speech in a simple and clear propositional statement. Do you want your speech to persuade? Do you want your speech to equip? That’s where you need to start.
Make the subject compelling.
You’ll want to create a need that the speech addresses. Some needs are obvious. Other needs you’ll need to bring out so your audience knows they have them.
You’ll want them to feel they can’t afford not to listen to what you’re about to share. You might pose a question like:
– How do you maintain optimum health when you have so little time to devote to it?
– How can you get ahead financially when inflation eats up your meager raises?
– Why should you devote time to reading when you barely have time to eat and sleep?
Do your research.
Even if you know your topic very well, you’ll need to do some research. Make sure that what you “know” is what really is. Be sure you’re current. Nothing creates a lack of credibility like outdated information.
Even if you’re an expert on your subject, you’ll need to figure out how to present what you know. Never confuse “know how” with “show how.”
Use good illustrations to illuminate and clarify your points. Incorporate stories that give life to the concepts you introduce. Share personal experiences that reinforce the truth you’re trying to convey.
Find great quotations that verify the reality of what you’re claiming. Use analogies that teach the unknown by way of the known.
Write out your speech word for word.
Once you’ve narrowed down the subject, written your propositional statement that clarifies the purpose of your speech, and given thought to what you want to say and how you want to say it – you’ll be ready to put your speech on paper.
Or, more likely, on your computer.
Write down every word you intend to say.
As a rule, it’s better to start with an outline. Write down your main points, and then fill in the sub-points accordingly. This will help ensure that you stay on message. It also helps ensure a logical flow to your thoughts and points.
Review your written speech.
When you finish writing your speech, go back over it carefully. Look for ways to better say what you said. Is there a better word? Is there a way you can say it more clearly? With more punch?
Keep in mind that a speech is similar to written communication, but it’s not identical. There are things that work well on paper that don’t work at all when spoken. The reverse is also true.
Keep it simple. The audience will appreciate simple. As Albert Einstein pointed out, it should be as simple as possible – but not simpler.
When you’re convinced that your speech can’t be improved in the time you have remaining for preparation, run through it by reading it aloud.
Try to read it the same way you will speak it. This will help settle in your mind the best way to say it.
You should not aim for perfection. Perfection is not only extremely difficult to achieve, it’s unnecessary. Your speech can be great without being perfect.
You’ll also need to allow time to polish your delivery – so don’t use all the time you have just writing the speech. It’s an important part, but it’s just one part.
At some point you’ll need to stop working on the content of your speech, and move to the Delivery phase. You don’t have forever to prepare.
It doesn’t really matter how good your speech is on paper – what matters is how it comes across when spoken. A speech rises or falls on the delivery. Some important things to keep in mind:
Start with a good introduction that connects with the audience and invites them to listen further. You can win or lose an audience in the first 60 seconds – so make your first impression a good one. Be personable so they’ll like you, which will make them more inclined to listen.
There are a number of ways you can begin. But please don’t begin with a laborious description of the traffic jam you encountered on the way to the venue. Or how you’re fighting a cold. Or how you didn’t get much sleep last night. Blah, blah, blah. You’ll make your audience want to take a nap or head for the exits. Don’t do it. Start right in.
You might want to start with something humorous. Probably not a joke, unless you’re a skillful joke teller. Just go with something humorous – it’s easier and usually more effective.
Your goal here is to give your audience a reason to listen to what you’re about to share. Establish your credibility early so they know you can be trusted. Smile. Use a non-theatrical voice. This isn’t the theatre – it’s a speech.
Prepare your audience for what’s coming without stealing your own thunder. Give them just enough so they want to hear more. Not too little. Not too much.
Leave them longing, not loathing. Say enough, but not too much. Leave the audience wishing you would say more. Don’t leave them wishing you had stopped 10 minutes earlier. Leave them wanting more than you can give them, but give them enough to meet the objective of your speech.
Practice what you’re going to preach. Rehearse your speech until you get it right. Speak aloud. Don’t just read your speech silently. Remember, your speech is going to be heard – not read. You want to know how it sounds – not how it reads.
Use notes. Prepare simple, clear, and brief notes from your manuscript. Don’t try to memorize your speech. It will only sound memorized. And it will be far more stressful to deliver.
Don’t read your manuscript either. Rather, use well prepared notes that only cover your main points. You already know what you want to say because you wrote it out word for word. The notes are only to refresh in your mind what you already determined was the best way to say it.
Notes will free you up from the tyranny of memorizing your speech or reading your speech. Notes will help you be more relaxed, less stressed, and more natural. Practice your speech with only your notes.
Use natural, unforced gestures that communicate rather than distract.
Watch great speech makers on the internet and learn from them. Don’t attempt to copy them exactly, but learn the principles by watching them and studying them. Learn from the masters. Watch some Ted Talks. Most of them are excellent. You’ll learn by studying effective speeches.
Practice your speech in front of a mirror. Use a digital recorder to record your speech. You can learn a lot by listening to your own delivery. You can spot habits you’ll want to eliminate. Practice your speech in front of a friend and invite their feedback. The best tool is video. Video yourself practicing your speech. It’s a wealth of information you can use.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. But practice will get you closer to perfection. Very few speeches are perfect. The good news is that many speeches are excellent. Excellence is your goal, not perfection.
Time your speech so you’re certain not to exceed the time you’ve been given. Everyone will be grateful.
Your speech should have a conclusion. You don’t need to say, “In Conclusion.” Even the slowest audience will figure it out. Give a clear summary of what you’ve shared. The summary should clarify and reiterate the main points.
Remind your audience of what they should now believe, or what they should now know how to do – because they’ve engaged with your speech. They may not do what you’ve encouraged them to do, but they should at least consider it if your speech hit the mark. Or they should be confident that they’ve been equipped to tackle some new challenge.
Make sure you give your audience some practical takeaways. A suitable challenge is usually appropriate. Don’t berate them. Just confidently invite them. A final appeal is usually helpful and appreciated.
It’s not likely you’ll deliver a perfect speech – so don’t expect to. You’ll want to deliver an excellent speech – so plan to. When your speech is over, be sure to take some time to evaluate it. It will help you improve, and your future speeches should get better and better.
Watch a video or listen to a recording of your speech and make a note of things you could have done better and do them better next time. Look for speech patterns that distract, annoy, or mislead. Eliminate them next time.
Look for places you weren’t clear and learn how to speak with more clarity next time. Give a copy of your speech to someone who can give you valuable feedback.
If you want your speech to persuade, equip, impact, motivate… even inspire – follow these guidelines.
I was born and raised in northern Virginia near Washington, D.C. My dream as a child was to play professional baseball. I made it as far as a baseball scholarship to a Division 1 college. I’m a teacher at heart, and love to teach anything and anybody who wants to learn. I started out as a public school teacher. But within a few years, felt called to the ministry, where I spent 32 years as a pastor. I love the outdoors. I love to read. I love people. I love to learn. I try to take a long walk every day year-round. I’ve done that for more than 40 years. It’s where I do some of my best thinking. It also clears the cobwebs from my head and the nonsense that tries to take root there. My blog is Quotation Celebration, where I discuss the meaning and lessons contained within great quotes.