How to Plan a Speech
Why You Should Plan
You are going to give a speech or make a presentation. Maybe you’ve already started to plan some words.
Whoa! Hold on a minute. Before getting excited and rushing into writing notes, pause and think about how you are going to plan your speech.
Consider what you want to achieve when standing in front of the audience.
What is your purpose? Most importantly, what do you want the audience to do as a result of hearing you speak? Apart from not fall asleep that is.
In this article we’ll look at how to plan a speech effectively. We’ll think about the purpose of the speech and then consider how to develop the content to achieve that purpose.
By the way, the difference between a speech and a presentation is simply that a presentation is more likely to utilise visual aids and to feature questions and answers. However, the key components are the same. Here we’ll refer to speeches and presentations interchangeably.
Have a Clear Purpose
When starting to plan your speech, it’s important to be clear about the purpose. If you don’t know where you’re going, you may end up somewhere else!
Most times, the purpose could be grouped into one of three categories: to entertain, to inform or to persuade. Maybe it’s a mix, but what is the key purpose?
Be clear on that before going any further. Having identified the purpose of the speech, how do you achieve it?
Focus On The Audience
First consider what the audience want or need to know. Is the key purpose to entertain? If so, clearly plenty of humour is required. Are you setting out to inform or educate? Then the audience will expect information and facts.
The approach won’t be that different if you are trying to persuade your listeners to take a certain course of action. They will want information. Information that is key to their decision making, not irrelevant padding. Don’t overwhelm them with so much that the important stuff gets lost in a fog of facts.
Sit in the Audience
Focus on the audience to achieve your objectives. This is a cardinal rule when planning a speech. So imagine yourself sitting in the front row. As an audience member, what would you want to hear, to learn?
Our fellow audience members are likely to be more interested in what they’ll get out of the presentation than any peripherals. What’s in it for us? How can the speaker can help us in some way. Can they solve our ‘problem’?
“The hard truth is that nobody is interested in you, your company, or your products. Because people are only interested in themselves.” Henneke Duistermaat
Just think about going in to a shop. Of course, you want it to be a pleasant experience but it’s unlikely you’re greatly bothered about much beyond do they sell what you want to buy and at the right price.
Do we know the mission statement of our favourite supermarket? Do we care whether we’re served by staff, ‘colleagues’ or ‘partners’? Does this corporate gobbledegook matter to us? Of course not.
Your audience is no different, so focus on them.
There’s a spin-off benefit to this approach of focusing on the customer, or potential customer. If you are a nervous speaker, and many of us are, focusing on the audience, rather than yourself, will help to calm your nerves.
The next part of your speech planning is to think about the content. It’s good to start by jotting down all your thoughts. Don’t aim for anything coherent or structured at this point. A large sheet of paper may help you to be more creative.
Usually content creation is better done over time rather than in one go. Sleep on it. Daydream! Take the dog for a walk. More ideas will emerge as your brain processes your thoughts. If it’s an important presentation, involve others if possible. Two or three minds are likely to be better than one.
Once you have a plentiful pile of potential content, start to group it into three main areas if possible. The Power or Rule of Three is a principle that states ideas presented in threes are inherently more memorable.
When you deliver your thoughts, your ideas, your requests to the audience, having a clear speech structure will make it easier, for them to take in what you are saying. You want them to remember the important points, so give them a bit of help.
Group together elements that have some commonality or linkage. Identify key aspects that must be included. You’ll probably end up with a few words or ideas that don’t fit. Bin them. Prune hard; discard what isn’t essential – don’t overcrowd.
Oh no, not another speech planning walk.
In speech planning, try to provide the website equivalent of White Space – space around text that allows focus on the key information.
In this context, ‘white space’ is the use of frequent pauses.
Pauses planned to allow the listener to reflect on what’s been said. Time to take in what you mean. Time for you to draw breath and gather your thoughts before continuing to speak.
Careful planning is particularly important if there is a time limit on your presentation. You don’t want to overrun so we miss our coffee break!
Don’t rush in to creating content. Plan!
First think about the objectives: what do you want to achieve and what do you want your audience to do as a result.
How are you helping them in some way? Don’t say more than is necessary. Focus on the really important stuff so that the audience will be able to do likewise.
Less really is more when trying to achieve an impact with a speech or presentation.
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