The following is excerpted from an encouragement email our 2013 president, Jesse, sent to members with scheduled speeches. We are publishing it permanently on our website to help anyone who needs a plan for their speech.
Here are some thoughts that might help you get into the right frame of mind to work on it. These are set out as 10 points, from start to finish for your speech, so if you don’t want to read them all now, print this page out and read it in a quiet place– or print this page out and only read the step that you are about to do! These are only suggestions for when you are stuck, so as you get experience writing and giving speeches, you will figure out what methods work best for you.
1. Set Aside Time
Unplanned = less likely to get done. Make a date with yourself. Don’t think of it as “Time to do my Toastmasters Speech.” Rather, let it be a treat where you go out for coffee, or out to the library—find a quiet place that is a change of scenery for you–and just happen to bring your speech manual. Spend the first few minutes just relaxing and letting your mind wander. We do our best, most creative work when we are relaxed and happy. I think of my best speech ideas when I’m in the shower. Gradually think about your speech topic. Don’t have a topic yet? Read on!
2. Find a Topic
So you have this speech coming up and you don’t have a clue what to talk about? It’s okay. That happens a lot. But let it stop you from putting in time to work on the speech. Even if it’s not the “perfect” topic, remember that you have lots of speaking opportunities. That said, the best speech topics fulfill these criteria:
1) They are something that interests you
2) They are something that you KNOW about (or can learn about before the speech)
3) They are interesting to your audience–and for Boston Toastmasters, that means a broad but educated audience from a variety of backgrounds.
4) They are not too “big” for 5-7 minutes. If you like a topic and it looks like it’s full of information, edit mercilessly but consider setting aside part of it for a later speech.
I find it helpful to jot down speech ideas on my smartphone–but I also think of ideas in Toastmasters, so the entire back cover of my CC book is filled with ideas, thoughts, quotations to write on. I look these over before a new speech and decide if any of them fit the project.
Some of the projects lend themselves to a particular type of topic. For example, the Organize Project (#2) almost begs to be a “how-to” speech that explains how to do something. It’s okay to take the path of least resistance with these speeches! Just by writing an original speech, you make it your own. Also, sometimes I would be halfway finished with a speech and realize it was NOT the best speech for the project, so I would set it aside for another speech. That’s totally fine–but a good reason to start preparing early! If you have a couple of “finalist” ideas, try asking another Boston Toastmaster– or your mentor– how you think they will go over. The best thing about our mentoring program is that you have a go-to person to bounce ideas off of.
What is the goal of your speech (see Project #3 for advice on this)? Once you figure that out, figure out what the most important ideas for that are. Organize the ideas in a logical way (see Project #2) and draw up an outline.
4. Write Some Bits — or Talk it out
Start drafting parts of the speech. You can start in the middle if it’s easier. Are there specific ideas of turns-of-phrase that came to you when you were pondering the topic? Sometimes I talk to myself about the speech–what would I say if I were just talking to someone about the topic?
5. Flesh Out the Rest of the Speech
Now is the time to fill in anything missing from your outline. I think this is the most nose-to-the-grindstone part of speechwriting. Just do it!
6. Look over the Draft to see if it Flows Well.
Read over the draft. Do you feel like some parts would be better moved to another section? Do you notice places where you repeat yourself? Clean up those things. Read it aloud to see if it sounds as good as it looks on the page. Are the sentences long or awkward?
7. Time It.
Get a stopwatch and a pencil and a printed copy of the speech. Start the clock and start reading, a little slower than you want to read. At the end of the paragraphs, or at key places in the speech, draw a short dash on the side and write the time it takes you to get to that spot. This technique is great for seeing if your intro, body, and conclusion are too long or too short Revise the speech as necessary until it is balanced and you are consistently ending at 5-6 minutes (or 4-5 if you’re doing an icebreaker!). You want to leave yourself a minute or 90 seconds of buffer in case you lose your place, get interrupted, ad-lib, etc.
8. Start Memorizing!
Okay. The speech is now set in stone! Once you start memorizing, any changes will only confuse you if you have to re-memorize them. Read the first paragraph several times out loud. Start trying to recite it sentence by sentence, thinking about the images and ideas that you see when you are reciting. gradually, add new paragraphs. If you make a mistake, start from the beginning (the goal is to just repeat the content as much as possible. It’s boring but it works).
Prepare notes or notecards with your points. Remember that in the heat of the moment, people are naturally a little panicky because of the adrenaline from getting up in front of an audience. Therefore, keep the notes or cards uncomplicated and use BIG handwriting or type to help you read.
It’s important to recite the speech at least once a day up until the speech date. If too much time passes, it will get slotted into the back of your memory and be harder to suddenly remember.
9. Speech Day
Make every attempt to arrive early. We have a very nice little area outside the room where you can sit and relax or go over your speech a bit more. Visualize yourself standing in front of the group, confidently presenting your ideas. Imagine the people smiling and listening intently. Arriving at the room early is really important. I know that I am notorious for being tardy, so coming from me, it’s hard to take that seriously, but think about all the work you have put into your speech! Why shortchange yourself at the end of all of it?
If you need to do slides and do not have a computer to use, please send the slides to me (Jesse) before the meeting, and I will pre-load them. It’s possible to bring them on a USB memory stick, but they are easy to forget and we have a lot to do in the minutes before the meeting. To keep the meeting flowing well, we generally put all of the slideshow presentations at the beginning of the meeting, so your “punishment” for Powerpoint is having to give one of the first speeches!
As you deliver the speech, speak more slowly than you are inclined to. It is OKAY to deliver your speech slowly and with pauses. If you keep your voice appropriately intense/energetic and vary it (see Project #6), you won’t seem monotonous even if you go slowly. Also, before the speech find your “cheerleader” in the crowd. This is the person you will focus on when you are feeling nervous or in need of positive feedback. It can be a significant other who has come to watch you, or simply another Boston Toastmaster who has a history of giving supportive body language when s/he is listening to you. While you should move your focus around the room as you speak, having a single person as an anchor in the audience has helped me a lot.
10. Remember, We Want You to Succeed
Everyone at Boston Toastmasters is a fellow speechwriter and speaker. You may think that some of us are “better” speakers than you, but the truth is that we all have something we want to get better at. If we thought we were perfect speakers, we wouldn’t have paid to join Toastmasters!
Also, we are a large group, but we are a supportive group. I can’t think of a member of Boston Toastmasters who doesn’t bring some wonderful talent or skill to our group. I count many of our members as my friends and I hope that if you are new to Boston Toastmasters, you will also make friends here over time.
Of course, the officers at Boston Toastmasters are here to help you: Jesse. Leigh, Ashley, Sonu, Ed, and of course Kiera. Let any of us know if you have questions or ideas about your speeches. But also know that many of your peers are great resources, so don’t be shy about getting help from each other.
Thanks for reading through my ideas. Good luck developing your speeches!