Preparation is one of the most important elements in a successful presentation, and also the best way to reduce any nerves and develop confidence as a novice speaker. My aim with the speech preparation series is to deconstruct the entire process, which begins by defining the audience, and concludes with last minute guidelines for the day of the speech itself. In this article, 1 of 2 in the series, you will read about the initial preparation phase – creating an outline, deciding on content, and putting it all together to produce a well structured speech. Let’s get started!
1) Define the Audience
The initial research for ay speech should begin by defining a target audience – the group of people who you will be seeking to influence or inform during your speech. The benefits of this are two-fold:
- Being aware of your audience helps you to select a relevant topic for your speech
- It also increases the probability of speaking to a group of captivated listeners
Define the audience in 3 steps:
- Identify demographics (age, gender, profession and area of residence etc.)
- Contemplate needs and wants – what do they want to get from the presentation?
- Determine any obstacles in the audience coming to your point of view
2) Select a Topic
After you have defined your target audience and identified their needs and wants, it’s time to select a suitable topic. Knowing the audience is just one factor when choosing a topic. The other factors are your knowledge and passion for the topic in question.
You need to know more about the topic than your audience to be seen as a credible speaker. Your knowledge must cover not only what you plan to say, but go beyond that, so that you are comfortably able to handle questions. Why is it so important to understand the topic? If you don’t understand the topic it is very hard to deliver a fluid, engaging presentation because you will always be focused on trying to remember information. You’ll always be focused on your notes.
Passion for spreading knowledge about a topic is the fuel that will power speech delivery. Without passion for the topic you may come across as uninterested and disengaged – and the audience is likely to follow your lead. Be passionate, be authentic, be real!
3) Plan the Outline
Moving next to the outline. The basic structure of an effective speech consists of an introduction, body and conclusion. Similarly, the basic logic of an effective speech goes along the lines of:
Tell them what you’re going to say, tell them, tell them what you’ve said.
Combining the structural and logical elements, we get the following speech outline:
- Introduction — establish topic and message; outline supporting points
- Body — consisting of supporting points 1, 2 and 3
- Conclusion — recap supporting points; summarise message; call-to-action
You will see this basic formula used time and time again, in speeches, stories, movies, reports, and many other forms of communication. The body of the speech makes use of the well known Rule of Three.
4) Plan the Material
Now that you’ve defined your audience, decided on a topic and given some thought to the outline or structure, it’s time to start putting pen to paper. My advice is to begin by brainstorming a couple of ideas for the 3 main points. Don’t elaborate. Just write a few words for each. Your points should be a blend of the message you want to get across, what you need the audience to do, and how it will benefit them.
Conduct research on each of these points, separately. If you want to successfully substantiate any idea in your speech, you’ll need to make sure you back it up with credible sources (this is called the proof of concept). You need to become familiar with the background information on any point you plan to raise.
BONUS: While searching for content it can also be worthwhile trying to anticipate likely questions the audience may ask. Make a note of any quotes, statistics or other information to include in your speech, plus the relevant sources of the material.
5) Do a First Rehearsal
For the next stage of preparation I suggest taking a copy of the initial outline/structure and begin practicing the presentation based on that outline. Essentially you will be rehearsing without having planned a script so that you are able to “talk” about the presentation material rather than “recite” it.
You will (hopefully) notice that as you continue to rehearse the initial content you will begin to rely on the outline template less and less.
6) Fine-tune the Content
In parallel with step 5, your speech should undergo the editing phase. This is a highly iterative process, with each iteration leaving your speech a little better than the previous version.
The ultimate aim of the editing phase is to produce a speech that has clarity, structure and impact. You aim with fine-tuning is to ensure that the introduction, main body points and transitions, stories and conclusion combine to produce a well organised speech.
“The speaker just went on and on and on…”
Organising your speech logically is one of the best ways to ensure clarity. Start with one point, and build out from there, as if adding one LEGO block to another over time. It is important to keep the structure of the speech tight. For each element ask “Is this essential?” If the answer is no, cut it.
7) Add Vocal Variety
Also in parallel with step 5, you should consider the tone of delivery and try to add elements of pace, pitch, power and pause to enhance your speech. It is useful to think in terms of the 4 Ps: Pace, Pitch, Power, and Pauses. Let’s work through each of these in turn:
- Pace: simply the rate you are speaking, usually measured in words per minute. Varying pace throughout the speech adds great interest. The most common ways of varying pace are to speed up or slow down
- Pitch: the frequency of the sound you emit. A simple way to hit different pitch points in a speech is to play with different emotions. An excited voice will sound completely different from a sad one
- Power: essentially volume. At a minimum, you must ensure that the entire audience can easily hear you without straining. Power and pitch go hand in hand. An angry sounding voice will be louder, a sad sounding voice will be quieter and so on. Turning your volume up or down adds interest
- Pauses: there are many opportunities in any speech to introduce a couple of pauses. A simply way to include them is to add short pauses at the end of each sentence and longer pauses at the end of each section
The most important thing to remember is that you should deliver your speech in a way that feels comfortable for you. If something doesn’t feel natural, don’t force it because it won’t look natural and the audience will know that you’re not being your authentic self.
If you have followed the steps up until now you will have developed a speech outline that addresses your audience’s needs, based on a topic you are knowledgeable and passionate about. You will have prepared a clear and effective structure, researched ideas and decided on the points you plan on covering. You will have done some initial practice and sought opportunities to enhance your message by fine-tuning the content and varying pace, pitch, power, and pause.
In part 2 you will ensure that your speech makes an impact on the target audience. Continue reading here.