Improve your speech with five minutes prep


FOR those put on the spot at short notice and those too lazy to prepare, decide, and then stick to, what you are trying to achieve with the speech. Do you want to inform or persuade? What defines the speech’s success? Remind yourself that you are not there to fill time with noise – you need to achieve a result.

If persuasion is your goal, compare the unwanted current situation with the desired future situation. Discuss the topic with “we” and “will” to create an impression of collaboration. Paint a picture of the future for the audience. If transfer of information is your goal, use the old “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them” format. It always works a charm.

Use fresh language and examples. Avoid tired metaphors. If you have heard the metaphor before – don’t use it. Use the language you would in a one-to-one situation. The basic rule is to use language your audience can readily understand. That is a maximum of 15 words per sentence and two syllables per word. Narrow your message to three core ideas. The audience won’t remember any more than that anyway. Outline those ideas and then explain them individually, identifying and repeatedly using the words that summarise your message.

Never speak for more than 20 minutes – ten is better. And three to five is even better than that. Try to “de-fluff” your speech by cutting useless words. If a word isn’t actively adding to your message – bin it. Don’t fall in love with the sound of sentences or words. It’s far more important to get your message across.

When delivering the speech, stand with your feet apart and stand strong. Breathe slowly from your belly and speak slowly. Trust me, it is almost impossible to speak too slowly. Smile at the audience or the camera’s lens. Get your blood moving before the speech, perhaps by going for a 20 minute walk. Drink some water – still, not the fizzy stuff.

And finally, if there are going to be questions at the end, write down the top five most likely questions and then note down answers that build on what you’ve communicated in the speech.

1. Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, it’s What People Hear by Frank I. Luntz. Direct, no nonsense – utterly brilliant stuff.

2. Hypnotic Writing: How to Seduce and Persuade Customers with Only Your Words by Joe Vitale. Worth reading and then re-reading every six months.

3. Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte. Read if you ever have to do a PowerPoint presentation and you don’t want to send people into a coma.

4. The Impact Code: Live the Life you Deserve by Nigel Risner This book is more about you and what you are passionate about. Why would you want to talk about things you aren't passionate about?

5. MessageCraft by Peter Botting. Coming out in the New Year.