What Do I Talk About?
Start by asking yourself three questions:
1. Who is my audience? (What do I know about the
corporate culture or collective personality of the group?)
2. What do they want or need to know from me?
3. How long can or should I talk?
Where Do I Get Material?
If you're going to be addressing a particular group a few
weeks from now, keep a small notebook handy to jot down
ideas and situations related to your topic and audience.
Make a list of what you know that can benefit your them, all
the experiences and situations that could serve as good (or
bad) examples for others, high points and low points,
failures and successes.
Keep adding those sudden and stunning bits of insight that
come to you in the shower or car. Or maybe you said
something on the subject to a friend that was particularly
funny or memorable. Some of these experiences may
become the original stories you use to illustrate a key point
in your speech. When you actually sitdown to write, you'll
have plenty of material.
How Do I Outline My Talk?
There are two basic outlines that work well for both
beginning and advanced speakers alike.
1. The Past-Present Journey Formula
Tell your audience a three-part story:
This is where I was.
This is where I am.
This is how I got here.
It's a simple format that helps you tell the audience who you
are and why you are qualified to speak on the topic you've
Here's an example of how effective the outline can be. A
successful Realtor was asked to deliver a 25-minute
presentation for the local Board of Realtors. I coached her to
open like this: "Twelve years ago, before I went into the real
estate business, I had never sold anything but Girl Scout
cookies, and I hadn't done that well. Last year, I sold $13
million in a slow market, selling homes that averaged
$100,000 each. Today, I'll tell you how I built my business."
Right away, the audience knew exactly what she was going
to talk about, and they were eager to hear her story!
2. The Q&A Outline
The members of your audience probably want to know the
answers to the same kinds of business questions you're
asked at parties or professional functions. You can start
with, "The five questions I'm most frequently asked about
investments (or whatever your product or service is) are--"
Pose the first question to the audience and answer it for
them in a conversational manner, just as you would with a
potential customer or at a party. Even though you'venever
made a speech before, you've certainly had a lot of
experience answering questions in your field.
How Do I Start to Write My Speech?
That's easy. To begin with, don't. Gather and organize your
ideas, plan and polish, but don't write it down word for word.
For now, just jot an outline with key points and ideas on a
The Speech Itself
1. Open with a bang.
The first and last thirty seconds of your speech have the
most impact, so give them extra thought, time, and effort. If
you haven't hooked your audience's interest, their minds are
going to wander off. Whatever you do, don't waste any of
your precious seconds with "Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a
pleasure to be here tonight." Open with an intriguing or
startling statement: "Half the people in this room are going
to," "As a young man, my father gave me this valuable
advice...," "Of all the questions I am most frequently asked..."
I helped a neighbor, Mike Powell, with a speech he was
putting together for the Continental Breakfast Club in San
Francisco. Mike was a senior scientist with Genentech at
the time. I suggested that since most of us don't know what
scientists are like or what they do, he should tell the
audience. Mike captured everyone's attention by saying,
"Being a scientist is like doing a jigsaw puzzle in a
snowstorm at night...you don't have all the pieces...and you
don't have the picture you are trying to create."
2. Develop strong supporting stories.
If you're using the Past-Present outline format, the middle of
your talk is where you expand on your key points and
develop personal stories that support where you were and
where you are now. In the Q&A format, develop one or two
strong anecdotes to support each answer. Personal
anecdotes are best, but you can also insert some of the
ideas and examples you've been gathering in your journal or
3. Close on a high note.
Your close should be the high point of your speech. First,
summarize the key elements of the investment process (or
whatever your topic is). If you're planning to take questions
from the audience, say, "Before my closing remarks, are
there any questions." Answer them then.
The last thirty seconds of your speech must send people
out energized and fulfilled. Finish your talk with something
inspirational that supports your theme. My scientist friend
Mike talked of the frustrations of being a scientist. He closed
by saying, "People often ask, Why should anyone want to be
a scientist?" Then Mike told them about a particularly
information-intensive medical conference he had attended.
The final speaker rose and said, "I am a thirty-two-year-old
wife and mother of two. I have AIDS. Please work fast."
Mike got a standing ovation for his speech. He was telling
his audience what they needed to know.
How Do I Polish My Speech?
Your next step is to make a written draft of your speech. You
can assemble your notes, or you may prefer to talk your
ideas into a tape recorder and transcribe the words. Then
read your draft to confirm that it is:
- Interesting: After every point you make, ask yourself, "Who
cares?" If no one does, edit it out.
- Concise: Delete redundancies and clich?s.
- Effective: Are your supporting examples strong and on
target? If not, replace them.
- Personal: Does it have a high I-You Factor? Be sure you've
connected yourself with your audience by putting them into
- Politically correct: "PC" is sometimes overdone, but it is
essential. You lose listeners if you unintentionally offend
Vigorous polishing makes your talk tighter, more powerful,
and less likely to bore or irritate your audience.
How Do I Rehearse?
You've edited and fine-tuned a written version of your talk.
Now you're going to practice it. (You may think this is too
much trouble, but you'll be glad you did.)
1. Tape your self reading your talk out loud to check on
timing and emphasis.
2. Prepare outline notes. Even though you've just gone to a
great deal of trouble to prepare a written speech, you're NOT
going to read it! Nothing puts an audience to sleep faster.
Instead, you're going to speak directly and spontaneously to
the audience, maintaining essential eye contact. The secret
is to prepare easy-to-read notes. Write your key points on a
pad or card that you'll keep on the lectern or table. Use a
bold felt-tip pen or a large typeface on your printer. As you
speak, you'll follow your road map with quick glances. An
easy-to-read wristwatch or small clock on the lectern lets
you keep track of the time so you can speed up or slow
down, cut or add material, so you finish on time.
3. Tape your "impromptu" talk. Again, check for timing. As
you play it back, notice repetitive phrases and non-words
like "er" and "ah." Try again, minus these distracting irritants,
until you are speaking smoothly and confidently.
4. Practice in front of an audience. Ask one or two perceptive
people for their feedback. Make it clear that you want
constructive criticism, not just praise. Did they understand
the points you were making? Was there a lack of logic or
continuity? Did they think you spoke too quickly or slowly?
Use their feedback to polish your presentation.
5. Write your own introduction, and bring a printed copy!
Even if you're speaking for free, you want the emcee to
pronounce your name right, mention your company's name,
and tell people how to get in touch with you.
The Big Day
If you're speaking from a stage, explain to the introducer that
you'll come on stage from the wings before they leave the
lectern after introducing you. They need to get off the stage
before the audience stops applauding. This way, the
audience looks at you instead of the emcee.
You've taken center stage -- now take it away!
Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE is a San Francisco-based
executive speech coach, sales trainer, and professional
speaker. She is the author of Get What You Want!, Make It,
So You Don't Have to Fake It!, and Past-President of the
National Speakers Association. Meetings and Conventions
Magazine named Fripp "one of the country's most
electrifying speakers!" PFripp@Fripp.com, (800) 634-3035,
We offer this article on a nonexclusive basis. You may
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PFripp@Fripp.com, 1-800 634 3035, http://www.fripp.com