As Toastmasters, giving speeches is inevitable; which means that learning to prepare your speech is a crucial skill to have. However, I believe that PREPARING SPEECHES is not just a Toastmasters’ skill… it is a Life-skill. It helps us hone other skills like… for instance… WRITING… which is a handy skill to have in everyday life. It also encourages us to READ… especially if our speech is technical in nature or requires research. And… a well prepared speech builds our SELF-CONFIDENCE… and isn’t self-confidence the main ingredient in LEADERSHIP?
In my case, I not only prepare speeches for Toastmasters’ meetings or contests; I also prepare speeches for a living. Allow me to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned when preparing speeches. I certainly hope that what I share will help you in Life… and also in Toastmasters!
Selecting your topic...
I’ve read the manuals. They offer very good and practical advice in selecting a topic for your speech. Let me emphasize just a few of those advice.
Consider your Audience – Sure! We’ve heard this before! Based on experience, however, this is the most ignored advice in the manual! Even a seasoned speaker, like me, sometimes tends to ignore this advice and, at times, it has cost me dearly! Case in point: our most recent Triathlon Speech Contest held during our District’s Mid-Year Conference.
Had I stopped to consider who my audience was, I would have delivered a totally different speech! My speech during this event, “Shriek of the Banshee”, was an attempt at capturing the Fear of my target audience, who happened to be Ilonggo! The natives of Bacolod are fun-loving people. This is why Bacolod is called the “City of Smiles.” Though delivered well, my speech had less appeal to them than if a humorous speech would have had.
There’s a moral side to this too. Considering your Audience when preparing your speech means that you care for them! Isn’t this what it’s all about?
Sometimes, select a Topic you’re NOT comfortable with - Did I shock you? Doesn’t the manual say “Select a topic you’re comfortable with”? Yes… that is what the manual says. And it is very good advice for NEW Toastmasters! Selecting a topic you feel comfortable delivering (mostly these topics come from the speaker’s own experience) is a sure-fire way of getting you started in speaking! But if you already have adequate speaking skills, the tendency is for you to “wing it.” Or to improvise on stage. This does nothing to help you improve since you’re simply doing what you always do. We sometimes need to go out of our comfort zone to see an improvement in ourselves; otherwise, being a Toastmaster will, eventually, have no value for you!
I was recently asked to speak on topics I was NOT comfortable with. Twice. I was getting paid for both those times! The first time was when I was asked to speak about “Cost-Cutting” for Bayantrade. Now, “Cost-Cutting” was probably the most boring topic in the world and my job was to make it exciting. Can you imagine how thrilled I was (sarcastically)? The second time was when I was asked to deliver a speech about “Distinguishing Yourself” for San Miguel Brewery. I had no problem with the topic itself. My concern was my own credibility. How could I sound credible to these people when I had so many problems ranging from the financial to the emotional? It looked like I was due for a rude reception in both occasions!
But despite my initial fears, I did very well in both cases… and more importantly… the people got their money’s worth! My secret: PREPARATION! Since these were very difficult topics to give, I prepared well ahead of time! I racked my head trying to think of ways to overcome my obstacles! I kept thinking that this would be my last professional job if I failed. As JR Ewing (of the old Dallas TV Series) used to say “...If you ever want to work in this town again, you’d better deliver the goods...”! And deliver, I did!
I’m very proud of the work I turned out. If I hadn’t been given challenging assignments, I wouldn’t have grown. These experiences have actually shown me several new ways of preparing. Allow me to emphasize...
Preparing your Speech Content...
Now that you’ve selected your topic, it’s time to prepare the content of your speech. I’ve read many articles on how to prepare a speech topic, but most of them didn’t suit me. Don’t get me wrong! Many of the articles you will find (in the speech manuals or the internet) have some very sound advise on how to prepare a speech. It’s just that they’re not how I prepare my speeches. Here’s how I would do it.
Prepare the END (message) FIRST – Before you even write the Beginning of your speech, write the end first! Ask yourself “What do I want to tell the Audience? What is my MESSAGE for them?” Then prepare a STRONG conclusion!
This is good advice for writing as well. When I started typing this article, I typed my conclusion first. Then I typed the beginning and the body on top of my conclusion, pushing down the conclusion each time I pressed the “enter” key. By doing this, I kept my perspective. This technique helps me not to stray from my message.
When preparing your message, keep in mind what world renowned speaker and author, Dianna Booher, has to say, “If you can’t write your message in one sentence, you can’t say it in an hour.”
Prepare an ATTENTION-GRABBING OPENING next – This is probably the easiest to do. Once you’ve established your conclusion, simply ask yourself “How do I make the Audience Interested in my Message?”
There are a number of techniques you can use for this purpose. You may immediately state your message, or you may ask a question that is answerable by your message or you may relate a story or an experience that will emphasize the need for your message. On this point, you can consider using the internet searches for more techniques on how to create a “killer” opening for your speech.
Write the BODY as if you were writing an ARTICLE, NOT a SPEECH – Shocked you again, didn’t I? I promise to explain this more as the article progresses. But, for now, trust me on this one!
When writing an article or any form of literature, the only tool you have is the written word. Without voice or gestures to help you, it is difficult to express emotion! Your words have to be very descriptive! Your words have to be able to convey EMOTION! Remember that your Audience does not relate to mere facts or figures; they relate to emotions! Without emotions, your facts and figures will have no impact!
When I was preparing my speech, “Shriek of the Banshee”, I wrote down a five page manuscript first. More than half of what I wrote down was never said on stage, but they were equally as important as what I had actually said! Here’s why.
Preparing the Delivery of your Speech...
When I wrote down “Shriek of the Banshee”, I had to be very descriptive with my words. I had to make my readers see what I was seeing, hear what I was hearing, and feel what I was feeling! This meant that I had to use a wide array of words to bring my readers with me… on a journey… into the “dark realm of Arthur’s life”! - See how that worked? This is why I said, in the beginning, that you learn the skill of writing when you prepare a speech.
But when delivering a speech, words aren’t our only tools! The difference between writing and speaking is that we have three (3) more tool sets we can use. They are Voice, Gestures and… the Pause! With this in mind, let’s prepare our delivery.
Use your Manuscript to Prepare your Voice and Gestures – Remember the BODY of your Speech that I just asked you to write down like you were writing an article? Well, here’s how you use it...
Scan through the manuscript and underline all the descriptive words you can turn into a Voice Inflection or a Gesture. Going back to my “Shriek of the Banshee” speech - I had to describe in words the fear I felt when I came “face to face with a dark cloaked creature whose stare could melt your heart and cause you to stop breathing.” I underlined these words and showed it in my facial expression when I was on stage. I kept the image of those words in mind as I stared at the Audience in shock and awe! I never used those words, but those words came through!
SIMPLIFY the WORDS you will use in your Speech – After you’ve selected the words and phrases that you intend to deliver as Gestures or Vocal Inflection, you will be left with the Words you will actually use for your Speech. Ask yourself “Are these Words simple enough for the Audience to catch quickly?” The disadvantage of speaking (as compared to writing) is that after you’ve said something, you can’t go back! Make sure that the Audience doesn’t have to struggle with the words you are using in your actual speech!
Prepare your PAUSES – Mark Twain said “The right word may be effective, but No Word was ever as effective as a Rightly Timed PAUSE.”
The Pause is a very powerful tool when delivering your speech! If used effectively, it could spell the difference between a good speech and a great speech! Here’s a tip.
Plan your Pauses just BEFORE you make a Point! For example: “…So what have we learned from all this? (PAUSE and look around a bit) We are what we believe ourselves to be…” or “…in so doing (PAUSE and look around) Peter proved he was the better man…”
Practice, Practice, Practice...
My final advice would be these three words above… Practice, Practice, Practice… ‘nuf said!
As I’ve mentioned earlier… Preparing for your speech isn’t only about Toastmastering! IT IS A LIFE-SKILL!! For when you prepare for it, you prepare to be something more than who you are. YOU PREPARE TO BECOME THE BEST THAT YOU CAN BE!!!
By: Enrique Salvador E. San Agustin
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