Top three challenges when preparing for a speech


Sally Maier

Outside work, I love public speaking and have been an active Toastmasters member for 3 and a half years.

For those who don’t know Toastmasters, it’s a public speaking association founded in US with an international footprint in almost every city in the world.

Earlier this week I gave a talk about the preparation and practise of giving a speech to some 30 people in the room and would like to share part of my talk here, as it could also easily be applied to the public relations and business world.

As part of the preparation for my talk, I asked Toastmasters with backgrounds ranging from professional coaching to IT gurus: “What is your biggest challenge when preparing for a speech?”


Challenge 1:

From the responses, one of the top three most common challenges is finding an interesting topic that fits the objectives set by the Toastmasters manual.

Likewise, at work, when preparing a speech or a presentation, we may sometimes find it difficult to find a topic that appeals to our target audience – whether they are the media, consumers, NGOs or governments.

When selecting a topic, try out the C-E-O formula. It has worked for my last 15 speeches at Toastmasters, as well as at work.

  • Connection: Ensure that the topic you select connects with every single individual in the room. This applies to any speech for any situation.
  • Evaluation: What are the things that you will be judged on? Ask for the criteria before you craft your speech or presentation.
  • Objectives: What do you want to achieve from the speech or presentation? Is it about selling a product or changing a behaviour?

Now you may ask, how will I get inspiration for the topic idea itself? Here are three ideas for you:

  • Carry a notebook with you every day. Jot down your ideas as and when you stumble across them. Brilliant ideas often spring to mind when outside familiar office environments.
  • Talk to the people around you. they are your inspiration. Last time I was due to give a demonstration talk at Toastmasters, I was struggling to come up with a topic. Gilly Cutts, my most inspiring mentor, then gave me the brilliant idea of talking about my quarterly e-journal for my family and friends and that’s how I came up with the speech topic “How to keep your global connections”. Likewise, at work, you are not alone. Brainstorm ideas with your colleagues, or even as a group if you are really stuck.
  • Think about your recent life events or the news in the media. Don’t underestimate the power of personal stories. None of us live the very same life. People love hearing true personal stories. Likewise, when drafting a speech or presentation for clients, think about what could make your piece of work stand out. Very often it is about small human touches or an emotional connection.


Challenge 2:

“I have too much to say. I am not sure what to leave out.”

If you face the same problem, try out the A-R-M formula.

  • Audience: It is about the audience, not you. Cross out anything that you think will bore your audience to death!
  • Revision: Revise your speech again and again until you are totally satisfied with it. On average, I revise a speech at least 10 times. As a general rule, five to seven minutes of speech is around 700 to 800 words, and no more than 900 words.
  • Message: Have one main, powerful message. Even two messages are too many. Keep it really simple and easy to remember.


Challenge 3:

“Learning my speech doesn’t come easily or naturally. I always feel unprepared.”

Try out the P-P-P formula if you face the same issue.

  • Plan well ahead. So you know you are not in a rush and you are in control, if the timeline is going to be tight for you, try to reschedule it for a later date.
  • Practise by yourself. Once you have drafted the speech, practise it at least 20 times – practise it whenever you can, e.g. when you are taking a shower, queuing or walking in the park. Also try to:

–          Time your speech and use a recorder if you have one so that you can watch your pace and pronunciation.

–          Practise in front of a mirror so that you can watch your movements and body language.

–          Practise your visual aids. Sometimes they can be a distraction so be sure to integrate your visual aids with your speech and use them to illustrate or emphasise your point.

  • Practise with others such as your colleagues, friends or partner so that you are used to speaking in front of an audience. At Toastmasters, for example, I find practising with my mentor is incredibly useful. Before each speech, I have a couple of practices with my mentor on Skype, either on a Sunday evening or early Monday morning, when we are still in our pyjamas! Likewise at work, if you can, practise your presentation with your colleagues before presenting to your clients.

If I need to give you one single piece of advice for preparing and practising for a speech or any piece of work, I would like to quote Stephen Covey:

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!”