How to Plan a Speech
1. Define Your Purpose
Identify your specific purpose: What do want your audience to do as a result of hearing you speak? Be as precise as possible.
Is your purpose realistic? timely? acceptable to organization? Are you the right person to present it to this specific audience?
Why do you care about it? How deeply do you care about it? (If you don’t care, why are talking about it and how can you expect your audience to care?)
2. Analyze Your Audience
Learn as much as you can about your audience.
Determine the audience’s size:
Big League—Over 1000
Determine the audience’s composition:
Know why they’re gathering:
Find out what they know (or think they know) and feel about
Your subject matter
By this point in your preparation, you should know:
- What you want your audience to do
- Why they would want to do it
- What they need need to know and feel to do it
3. Establish Your Main Claim and Supporting Material
Your claim (also called a thesis statement) is a clear and focused proposition about a more general topic.
Don’t say, “Today I’m going to talk about legislation that can have a great impact on our community.” (That’s your topic.) Say, instead, “Today I’m going to tell you why passing this school bond is necessary and financially prudent, and I’ll show you how we can make sure it wins approval.”
Limit the scope of your presentation by choosing three supporting points.
- Explain the school bond, how much it will raise, how it will be spent, what safeguards it will put in place
- Show why it is necessary (run-down school buildings, unsafe conditions, lack of text books) and financially prudent (improvements now will save future, more costly repairs and will provide for a better educated work force)
- Explain what your audience can do about it (vote, talk to neighbors, volunteer to get voters to the polls on election day)
“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time — a tremendous whack.”
– Winston Churchill
4. Assemble Your Evidence
You’ve made an assertion (your main claim) and several supporting assertions. Now you need to back up each assertion with evidence — material that explains or establishes the validity of your claims.
The most commonly used forms of evidence are:
- Facts and figures, statistical evidence
- Stories and descriptions
- Examples: typical cases that illustrate point
- References to authority: quotations or informed opinions
- Visual aids: graphs, charts, tables
Cite evidence that your audience will find credible
5. Choose a Simple Structure
If your audience is receptive to your ideas:
- Begin with main idea/request
- Provide necessary details
- Close with statement of desired action
If your audience is resistant to your ideas:
- Begin with evidence
- Lead up to your main idea
A commonly used — and simple — structure has three main parts:
- Introduction (roughly 10% of presentation)
A. Gains the audience’s attention and interest
B. States your main claim
C. Orients your audience
D. Previews your main points
- Body (roughly 80% of presentation)
A. Organizes two to five (preferably three) points which explain, clarify, or affirm your one main point.
B. Clarifies the relationship between your ideas by using as much parallelism as possible.
C. Highlights the organization of the main ideas to help the audience remember them by:
2. Making explicit transitions between main points;
3. Using parallel structure; and
4. Using mnemonic devices.
- Conclusion (roughly 10% of presentation)
A. Helps the audience retain your message by:
1. Reviewing your main ideas;
2. Restating your claim; and
3. Summarizing the overall point of your speech.
B. Reinforces the audience’s interest by:
1. Issuing a challenge or appeal;
2. Visualizing the effects of your solution;
3. Adding another inducement to action; or
4. Offering the audience an immediate opportunity to act.
C. Provides a note of finality. End on a high point!
D. Ties the end of a speech back into the beginning, if possible.
“Because of the speech Chris wrote for me I received two long ovations and a standing ovation at the end.”
-Bob Hunt, President, Stepping Stones
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See also “How to Give a Speech.”
If you want help making your next speech as powerful and professional as possible, consider having us help. Contact us for a free exploratory conversation.