You’ve perhaps been asked to “say a few words” and deliver a short speech at very short notice, and with only a limited amount of time to prepare. This will be especially the case if you are in a position of responsibility or a leadership position. In my leadership journey, this happened so many times that I lost count. During that time, I developed a few techniques that all of you can use to prepare a speech quickly and make a difference by saying a few words.
Here’s the step-by-step method I used.
Knowledge is the power to speak quickly
The more familiar you are with your organisation and the more things you know. The easier it will be for you to organise your thoughts quickly and to come up with facts to spice up your speech. Be curious, pay attention to the world around you, speak with people at the events you are attending and you will quickly amass a lot of knowledge. I am a numbers guy and being on the top of the numbers in my organisation helped me. Knowing numbers made it easier to create stories that I could share with our members during meetings and events. Think of yourself as a sponge and knowledge as water. The more water a sponge absorbs, the more it will give back and the better it will clean. Become this wet sponge of wisdom, and you will be able to speak on anything quickly.
Get to know your audience
Look around the room and get a feel for the type of people present. Do they belong to the same company or organisation as you? Do you share a field of expertise with them? Are they young or old? Do you know anybody in the audience?
Asking these questions will help you know your audience and may even give you clues as to what they may want to hear. A smaller audience may lead you towards creating a speech more tailored to them. However, a larger audience may benefit from something more generic yet actionable.
Ask yourself why?
Why will you be speaking today?
Why you and not someone else?
Why should the audience listen to you?
These questions will help you define the message and the central idea of your speech. They are even more important if you have limited time to prepare. Why? Because you want to leave your audience with a clear message and make an impact on them. The whole point of using these opportunities to “say a few words”, is to make an impact on your audience. The why will shape your entire message and be the raison d’être of your speech.
Choose an objective for your speech
Preparing a speech without an objective is like shooting a bow in the air, hoping you will strike something. The objective of your speech is what you will be achieving with it. A good speech objective will be specific, action-oriented and must relate to the audience you will be speaking to. If you are seeking to inform the audience, what do you want the audience to know by hearing your speech? If you are looking to persuade them, which action will you trigger in them, and what will you persuade them to do? If you are looking to motivate them, which stories will you use to pump up your audience?
Your speech objective will stem from your why and must be both obvious to you and your audience.
Use a simple structure
My favourite structure to prepare a speech at short notice is to use three salient points only. These salient points support the speech and should complement and support one another. Do not try to include more than three points or three stories in your speech. Your audience will find a shorter and simpler speech easier to follow and understand. Remember that you may also lack time to include extra information and elaborate on things further. Once you have decided what your three points are. You can develop content for them using bullet points and short sentences.
More examples of simple structures include chronological structures and compare/contrast approaches. You could also structure your speech around a single story. It could be a personal story on an experience or an imagined one. Alternatively, it could be someone’s else story that you’re familiar with and support the objective you are seeking to achieve.
Practice makes perfect
It goes without saying that the more often you take up opportunities to speak, the better you will become at it. Preparing a speech quickly is a craft that benefits from regular practice and testing. One way by which you can train yourself to do it at home; is to follow the method above and speak extempore on a topic of your choice. You can even use this method to test out ideas for a speech that you have plenty of time to prepare. Playing with content and ideas via impromptu speaking can produce gems and will make you a more natural and confident speaker too.