One of the biggest obstacles to writing a speech is time. Again and again, clients will tell me, “I simply don’t have the time to prepare. From the moment I get into the office, I have back-to-back calls all day. How do I find the time?”
There is no alternative to preparation. However, given time constraints, I’ve devised a system of helping you write a speech – when necessary – in 30 minutes.
Don’t have 30 minutes? Take one minute and think about the potential of your speech. If your speech is effective, could it change the behaviors of your employees, your volunteers, your neighbors? Could it have a direct, positive impact on the success of your business or nonprofit? On your reputation? If so, isn’t it worth it to spend 30 minutes on the speech instead of another meeting or phone call? Let your sense of purpose help you prioritize.
Here is my advice on how to write a speech when you only have 30 minutes.
- Find a quiet room, close the door, and turn off your digital devices. If you are writing on a computer, turn off email notifications. It’s important to give yourself a clear head to think. Personally, I start this process in the morning before I even check the day’s emails. Take 3 deep breaths before you begin, in order to focus your mind (See my article in the Harvard Business Review on breathing).
- Ask yourself the 3 Questions: Who is your audience? What is your goal? Why you? It’s essential that you know who will be in the room during your speech, what you want them to do as a result of hearing you speak, and why this subject is important to you. This strategic preparation will help you think of material to use in the speech itself.
- Think of one main message. What is the main message you want to get across? Which examples, data, and stories can you use to illustrate that message? Try to include both numbers and stories to make an impact on everyone in your audience.
- Draft your speech in bullet points, not word-for-word. With only 30 minutes to prepare, you don’t have time to write a script. Simply outline your main points – you’ll fill in the rest as you practice. Think about unique ways to engage your audience (see my blog post on the topic).
- Write out your first and last sentences. The first and last sentences are the most important parts of any speech (see my blog posts about unique ways to open and close your speech).
- Keep it simple. With limited time to prepare a speech, avoid using slides. You are better off focusing on the content of your speech rather than the design of your slides.
- Print out your bullet points in large font. It’s OK to bring notes with you to a speech. Print out the bullet points in large enough font, on single-sided paper, and write page numbers at the top.
At this point, your first draft of the speech is finished. Now, here are 3 ways to practice the speech.
- Read the speech out loud and time yourself. Make sure the language sounds like your own words as opposed to your organization’s jargon. Make sure you are keeping to the allotted time – we tend to underestimate the length of our speech until we read it out loud.
- Practice and record yourself with your smart phone. It is so important to see how you look on camera before you stand in front of an audience. Think about your body language and your vocal tone – do your movements and tone match your words?
- Close your eyes. Envision yourself giving a powerful speech from start to finish. Picture the standing ovation at the end and let yourself feel that sense of accomplishment. Research shows that we remember visualizations in the same part of our brain as actual memories, so imagining a speech helps us feel like we’ve actually delivered it.
While I always recommend spending at least a week preparing your speech, reality sometimes dictates otherwise. In only 30 minutes, you can write a clear and concise speech. Spend a little more time on practice and delivery, and you will give a more confident, authentic, and impactful speech.