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4 Core Areas to focus when preparing for your speech

Posted by Anand Rajaram

Sep 16, 2013, 4:00 PM

As you progress on your 10-speech journey towards becoming a Competent Communicator, Each speech focuses on a key concept. However, there are certain elements applicable to all speeches. None of these are surprising. In fact they are pretty obvious and kind of boring, Yet, not always followed (sort of like eating your veggies and exercising every day). They tend to make the difference between an average speech and an exceptional.

1. Know thy audience

As illustrated in Six Minutes blog, the best speeches are at the intersection of what you know, what you love and what your audience cares about. This is the most important takeaway (very obvious, yet most commonly ignored). If your audience cannot relate to the topic or doesnt care for it, nothing else matters.

2. Start with an outline

What really helps me is to have a clearly defined outline. Structuring the speech in three key parts (the opening, middle and the end) is a proven approach that gives a clear structure to your speech. I also like to memorize the opening, the end and the key transition phrases between the three parts. I typically spend 40 - 50% of my total preparation time on the outline. A strong outline is key to an engaging speech. Another practical tip, especially if you are a bit nerdy like me: When preparing your outline, opt for a whiteboard or paper. That way you can focus on it (no distracting emails) and you can easily try different approaches without feeling too committed to a single approach early on. 

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

The difference between a good speech and a great speech is practice. Yeah, this is even more obvious than "Know thy Audience" and even less followed. I'd practice in front of a mirror (or a camera) a couple of times before I practice with my mentor (If you havent already signed up for a ToastSpot mentor, you should). I have got great actionable feedback before every one of my speeches and presentations. (Special thanks to Maggie and Sarah who have helped me out on this). Practicing is the best way to weed out crutch words in your speech. If there are specific areas that you are working on, be sure to let your mentor know during the practice. For example, I always feel I dont pause enough, and ask my mentors to specifically look for that in my practice speeches. 

4. Right before the speech

Body language expert Amy says that practicing power poses before your speech could give you a sense of confidence and a "go get 'em" attitude. If you have any pre-speech rituals, go right ahead and follow them. (I tend to take a long walk to the kitchen, fill up some water and take three deliberate sips. No judging!) Make a mental note of how / where you can use the Word of the day in your speech. Look around in the audience and make a mental note of where the familiar faces are sitting. Familiar faces are a great starting point to make eye contact during your speech. 

And here is a bonus point: 

5. After the speech

Congratulations. You just took another strong step towards becoming a great public speaker. Hopefully your speech was very well received by the audience. Be easy on yourself. I often find myself in a position where I focus only on all the things that I forgot to mention or a specific transition that did not come out as I had intended. It is all right. Enjoy the rest of the evening. Be sure to take note of specific areas to work on for the next speech and make the most of the evaluators' feedback. Afterall, Toastmasters is supposed to be (and is) fun. 

What has helped you when preparing for your speech? Practice any rituals? Know any secrets ? Did I miss anything obvious? Let me know in these comments.

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