How I prepare speeches

Category: Experiments

Before preparing a speech, I ask myself, what is the primary objective? Is it to inspire and profoundly impact the audience? Or is it to practice the ability to inspire and impact? Is it to present state of the art material, or to tinker, to determine what resonates and what doesn’t?

In a public speaking development club like Toastmasters, I deliver speeches for sport, hence my objective always leans towards practice and simulation. Accordingly, the amount of energy and time I’ll invest into each speech comprises but a small, a really small fraction of that necessary in a delivery of actual consequence. You need not peak until the marathon.

With regard to actual rehearsal, exactly how little time do I consider adequate? This too can vary, but I’ve arrived at a heuristic that seems to usually hold water. To attain what I consider adequate preparation, I can limit the rehearsal time to the amount of time I required to compose the outline I’m comfortable with (irrespective of the amount of detail), or three hours, whichever is less.

In the case of a rigorously prepared outline that consumed hours, I still refrain from exhausting the three-hour limit. Rehearsal is draining. I found myself unwilling to execute more than 10 rehearsals before reaching a point of saturation. Now, for 5-8 minute-long speeches, the rehearsal clearly doesn’t warrant three hours, but with more rehearsals come increasing rest intervals, anxiety, ratifications, and general energy waste that thickens the overall milestone.

Historically, I tended to emphasize content of too much philosophy, rhetoric, and descriptive language. This habit naturally led to the memorizing of passages verbatim, which severely extended the rehearsal.

These days, I feel far less eager to compose such elaborate material. In fact, as a listener, I feel more authenticity and investment in speeches that seem half improvised, almost sloppy. This does not mean the sacrificing of quality mechanics. Rather, I prefer content that sounds natural and spontaneous, rather than a verbatim delivery that, unless extremely well crafted, can result superficial and propagandizing.

I’ve further compacted recent outlines to just one side of a 3x5' index card. My entire written delivery need not consume more space, in easily readable handwriting, lest I overcomplicate. The index card should suffice to further improvise during the speech. And frankly, the more familiar you are with the material, the less need there is for written detail. To the contrary, something unfamiliar and heavily researched, in my experience, renders a degree of inauthenticity on game day. Having delivered upwards of a few dozen short speeches in the last 12 months, I can hardly think of one that couldn’t occupy an index card.

If the presentation leverages supplementary slides, they can well serve as the outline - similarly short, simple, and sufficiently indicative of the points to further elaborate/improvise. I tend to compose ‘slides’ (read: very large font plain text) with sent (see my previous post), which directly renders the slides from the plainest of the plane text content. The last such set of slides I’ve prepared in under 30 minutes. Three consecutive rehearsals (~25 minutes) followed right before the Toastmasters meeting. And I delivered what I consider perfectly satisfactory by my standards. Nothing of breaks between rehearsals. Nothing of fatigue.

You can produce and rehearse quality content in a total of under an hour, provided it’s derived from material of substantial familiarity.

When in doubt, always recall the objective. Do you intend to change the world with your delivery, or merely stimulate your falsetto? Invest accordingly.

Questions, comments? Connect.