If you have to give a keynote speech, an after-dinner talk, or an address to a group of customers or colleagues then preparation leads to success. Here are some key tips:
1. Investigate the audience
Find out as much as you can about your audience, their interests and their likely mood. What is it that they will want from your session – information, entertainment, tips, ideas, guidance? What will they have heard or done just before you come on? Will they be impatient to eat? Will they have had something to drink? The better you understand their needs and attitude the more suitable you can make your speech.
2. Talk to the organiser
If you are giving a talk at someone else’s event then find out what outcomes they want from your session. What are their expectations? What would represent success for them?
3. Investigate the logistics
What is the room layout – theatre style, cabaret style etc? Will you have a podium, a stage or a microphone? Ask for the things that you might need – e.g. a microphone, a projector and even a glass of water. Understand the programme and exactly how much time you have. Look at what comes before and after you and make sure that your talk fits in appropriately.
4. Select the theme of your talk and the key message
What is the main purpose of your communication? What is the single most important thing you are trying to achieve with this talk? Focus on that. It is easier for people to understand and remember a short clear message rather than a long rambling collection of different points.
5. Write down various ideas that support your message
Collect different ideas, stories, quotations, jokes (if appropriate) that relate to and support your theme. You can do this on separate pieces of paper or on your computer. Move them around and consider how to construct your story.
6. Build a structure
Your talk should have a simple and clear structure to it. For example, you might start by stating a problem that affects the listeners. You might explain what causes the problem and why it is serious. You might then introduce your proposal for solving the problem. Then you might finish with a summary and a call to action that lucidly states what you want them to do. Whatever the topic, your talk should build in a logical way so that your audience can easily follow your train of thought.
7. Add some light and shade
Variety is the spice of life. Think about how you can make your talk really engaging by mixing the approach a little. You do not want dry facts and serious admonitions all the way through. If appropriate add in some humour to lighten the mood. Include some stories if possible – preferably about real people or even yourself. The personal touch can really help to give the talk authenticity and interest.
8. Practice, practice, practice
Put your material together in the best way you can and then try it. Practice the talk – preferably out loud. Move things around and drop the less effective points so that the talk really fits together well and communicates the most important points effectively. If possible, get someone to listen to your rehearsal and give you some constructive feedback. Check your timing and ensure that you will not over-run.
9. Memorize and use prompt cards
You should not try to memorize the whole talk – just the key headings so that you can remember the main points. The subsidiary material will come to you in a natural way if you know the key topics. If you feel unsure on this then have some prompt cards just in case.
If you follow these steps you are half way there. Now all you have to do is to deliver the talk really well and we will cover that next.