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Are you laying the foundation?

“I don’t even know what her speech was about.”  This is what my mother said to me about the keynote speaker at the breast cancer survivors’ luncheon she recently attended.  I wasn’t sure if my mother meant that the speech wasn’t memorable, or that she didn’t get it.  I asked her to clarify a bit more.  “It was all over the place.  She would start a sentence, not finish it, and then go into another thought.  I don’t know what her speech was about.  Another woman at my table said the same thing.”

What a shame for all involved!  The speaker came across in an unfortunate, disorganized light and the audience was left confused. It was a lose-lose situation, but one that’s not uncommon.  Right now, somewhere in the world is a well-intentioned speaker giving a speech that no one is able to follow.

What often happens is that someone will sit down to write a speech without laying the foundation for it first.  All they know is they have a story to tell but have not really thought it through from beginning to end.  Or, rather, from end to beginning.  What do I mean by this?

Begin with the end in mind

You’ve probably heard this expression before, from the well-known book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  It basically means to think about where you ultimately want to end up in life, so you can take the actions that will lead you in that direction.  This is the same strategy you should use when creating a speech.  The first question you’ll want to ask yourself: what is the overall message for the audience?  What do you want them to get from your story?  Maybe you want to convince everyone why off the grid retirement is a good idea.  Or maybe you want to communicate the advantages of living in one of those popular tiny houses over a “normal” house once you do move off the grid.  You’re not just speaking to speak.  You have something valuable to share.  But you have to determine what that bottom line message and call to action are first before you even put pen to paper.

Build your support system

Now that you’ve nailed down your message, the next step in the speech-creation process is to come up with your main points.  If your message is the roof of the house, think of the points as the beams that support it.  If your message is about “Three Surefire Ways to Keep Your Weight Down,” your supporting points might focus on: drinking water, exercising regularly, and portion control.  These three points would make up the body of your speech.  One challenge, that can actually be a good problem to have, is having too many points that can support your message.  Since you don’t have an infinite amount of time to speak, you have to decide which points make the strongest case for your message.  For a 5-7 minute speech, that leaves room for three points at the most.  Pick your strongest points.

Connect the dots

When you were a kid, remember the fun of connecting the dots to see the image come together before your eyes?  Using transitions in your speech also helps to connect the dots for the audience.  Transitions are essential because they make your speech flow seamlessly as you go from one section of your speech to the next: the opening to the body, the body to the conclusion, first point to second point, second point to third point…you get the picture. They give your speech a cohesive, unified feeling as they link your ideas together.  A few examples of transitions are: in addition, on the other hand, meanwhile, just as important, next, lastly, and similarly.  Transitions help greatly reduce the chance of you appearing like you’re rambling (which sounds like the case for the luncheon speaker). Repeat after me: transitions are my friend.

I’m willing to bet that if the speaker at my mother’s event had followed these tips, her message would have better hit the mark with the audience. There would have been no room for confusion.  If my mother and another attendee couldn’t follow it, there’s a good chance others couldn’t.  There’s nothing worse than taking the time to prepare a speech, give it, and then finding out later the audience had no idea what you were talking about.

Always lay the foundation first!


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