How to Plan a Speech
Top Tips For Speech Planning
Why We Should Plan
We are going to give a speech or make a presentation. We’ve already starting to plan some words.
Whoa! Hold on a minute. Before getting excited and rushing into writing notes, let’s pause and think about how we are going to plan our speech.
Let’s consider what we want to achieve when standing in front of the audience.
What is our purpose? Most importantly, what do we want the audience to do as a result of hearing us 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. Then consider how to develop the content to achieve that purpose. In future posts we’ll look at the components that go into an effective speech.
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 our speech, it’s important to be clear about the purpose. If we don’t know where we’re going, we’ll probably end up somewhere else!
Most times our 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?
Let’s be clear on that before going any further. Having identified the purpose of the speech, how do we 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 we setting out to inform or educate? Then the audience will expect information and facts.
The approach won’t be that different if we are trying to persuade our listeners to take a certain course of action. They will want information.
Information that is key to their decision making, not irrelevant padding. We don’t want to overwhelm them with so much that the important stuff gets lost in a fog of facts.
Sit in the Audience
We should focus on the audience to achieve our objectives. This is a cardinal rule when planning a speech. So let’s imagine ourselves sitting in the front row. As an audience member, what do we want out of this?
We and our fellow audience members are likely to be more interested in what we’ll get out of the presentation than any peripherals. What’s in it for us? How the speaker can help us in some way. Can they help 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, we want it to be a pleasant experience but we’re not greatly bothered about much beyond do they sell what we 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.
Our audience is no different, so let’s 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 ourselves, will help to calm our nerves.
The next part of our speech planning is to think about the content. It’s good to start by jotting down all our thoughts. Don’t aim for anything coherent or structured at this point. A large sheet of paper may help 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 our brain processes our thoughts. If it’s an important presentation, involve others if possible. Two or three minds are likely to be better than one.
Once we have a plentiful pile of potential content, we need to try grouping 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 delivering our thoughts, our ideas, our requests to our listeners, we want to make it easy for them to take in what we are saying. And to remember the important points.
Group together elements that have some commonality or linkage. Identify key elements that must be included. We’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.
In speech planning we need to provide the website equivalent of White Space – space around text that allows us to 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 we mean. Time for us to draw breath and gather our thoughts before continuing to speak.
Careful planning is particularly important if there is a time limit on our presentation. We don’t want to overrun and miss our coffee break!
Don’t rush in to creating content. Plan!
First think about the objectives: what do we want to achieve and what do we want our audience to do as a result.
How are we 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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