17 tips for preparing and delivering a polished speech

Though drafting and delivering a strong speech may seem daunting, these tips break down the process to make you look like a seasoned pro.

A few weeks ago, I spoke at BlogWorld. I was excited about the opportunity, but also very nervous. I needed to write and deliver an hourlong speech. Even with my experience, speaking at BlogWorld pushed me to break boundaries in speech preparation.

After countless hours of writing and practicing, I feel compelled to share the highlights with you. Here are my 17 tips for speechwriting and preparation:

1. Know your motive for speaking

Why are you speaking? There is always one compelling reason above all others. Do you want to share a message? Influence opinions? Solve a problem? Do you want name and brand recognition? Do you want to practice your public speaking skills? Lock in your main motive, and then align the rest of your speech to it.

2. Understand the venue requirements and the audience

If it is a conference, the organizers will provide this information to you. You need to know who is in your audience, what their interests and desires are, and to what type of messaging they best respond. Make sure that the audience will receive your delivery style and message well. Also find out how long the speech should be.

3. Decide on your overall message

You want your audience to walk away with your overall message, so it has to be crystal clear. If the audience forgets everything you said yet remembers this overarching message, you did your job well.

4. Record your ideas

Now that you have a core message, you can start building the speech. The easiest way to get started is to record your flow of ideas, stories and thoughts into your smartphone or a small audio recorder when you are on the go, and then transcribe your recording into a Word document. This will give you some content. Start this preparation phase at least three to four weeks prior to your presentation date.

5. Create the speech outline

The outline is the bare bones of your speech—the body without clothes. It is the foundation, and includes the high-level components of your speech.

How is the talk going to go? Go over it in your mind. It could go something like this: Open with a great story, then inject some humor and include a delayed introduction. Next state the main objective, impart your experience as it relates to the core message to build some credibility with your listeners, and then move on to cover the main sections that support your overall message. Last, finish with a powerful closing.

This is just an example, and you can change it as you please. Also, this phase is a good time to gather some quick feedback. Does the general layout of your outline make sense to a close friend or a peer?

6. Write the speech sections

Now you can create the heart of your speech, and add details to each section in your outline. These details are the knowledge, expertise, belief and ideas that compel you to talk on this topic. It does not have to be perfect just yet—it will likely change many times—but you need to make sure your content in each section is relevant to your core message, and supports your overall purpose and goal of the speech.

Make sure the order in which you present the ideas is logical and intuitive to your audience. Always remember to put yourself in your listeners’ shoes. Assume they know little about the topic and will consider you the expert.

7. Use a visual map to create the speech

You can do steps five and six above in a Word document and stop there, but I highly encourage you to draw out the speech using a visual map. I remember my speeches better when I put them in a visual context, because I go over the different parts of the map in my mind and check them off as I say them.

Seriously, mind maps rock. The greatest reason is this: They add hierarchy to the thoughts and help your mind better organize and remember them. See the sample mind map I created for you:

8. Build good content into your speech

How do you write the actual content? You can use a powerful combination of:

  • Strong points
  • Supporting material
  • Proof and evidence (if need be)
  • Personal experience
  • Stories
  • Quotes
  • Social proof and humor (preferably the self-deprecating kind)

Varying the content of the speech like this actually makes it easier to memorize and remember. This is, of course, just the content that you build into the speech—it’s only half the story. The other half is in the effective delivery. Keep reading.

9. Review your speech

By now you have your dressed up outline (See, I was going to put clothes on it eventually), with all the sections and details filled in and, ideally, a visual map. Now, review it over and over again. Read it to yourself or read it out loud. Read the high-level sections first to familiarize yourself with the order of the speech, and then read the whole thing to make sure it flows and is not dull or weak in the middle. If it is, rewrite the weak section.

10. Determine your delivery style

Your delivery style is unique to you, and what you bring to the table as a speaker. Your style is both how you deliver the speech and how you use visual aids and presentation slides. At BlogWorld, I chose to go without PowerPoint slides because I believe PowerPoint limits me as a speaker, and takes my focus and attention away from the audience. Your style may very well include slides or a creative visual aid. Define your style and stay loyal to it. You want your style to leave a lasting impression on your audience.

11. Practice your speech

At first, think of your speech in chunks. Divide it into three or four main chunks and practice each chunk separately until you feel confident about it. Time the speech and make sure that it fits within your time requirements. Do this several times. Build confidence, and practice over the course of at least two weeks to really gain mastery of your speech, especially if the speech is over 30 minutes long.

12. Record yourself on audio and listen

You may be self-conscious, shy or have a grand excuse not to record your own voice. Too bad! I urge you to set those feelings aside and record yourself as you recite your speech on your favorite recorder. Listen to yourself afterward and see what you like and do not like. Repeat this until you feel good about the overall message.

13. Record yourself on video and watch

When you are ready to record yourself on video, make sure to dress up and pretend you’re at the event. In fact, create a mental stage and decide exactly where your imaginary audience is sitting. Give the speech, and watch yourself on video later. Make sure you like how you come across. Watch your gestures, eye contact and pacing. Exude confidence. Practice a lot.

14. Memorize your opening and ending

This may sound radical, but it comes from years of Toastmasters training: If need be, memorize your opening and your ending word for word and pause for pause. When you captivate your audience with a great opening, you have their attention for a while.

Furthermore, you have a chance to redeem yourself at the end of the speech with a killer closing if you stumbled or lost some listeners along the way. Even if you haven’t lost them, you can still use a great closing—everyone can. Just memorize the opening and ending, no questions asked. You’ll thank me for this one someday!

15. Give the speech to family or friends

I recommend giving the speech at a Toastmasters club if you belong to one, and if the length is sufficient to meet your club standards. If not, ask a friend or family member to sit through the whole speech and pretend that you are actually at the event. It doesn’t matter how badly you mess up; it is show time, and there is no restarting. Go through it, recover and push through. If you take your rehearsals seriously, the speech will be fun when you are up on the stage.

16. Prepare your slides or speaker notes

If you are preparing slides, I beg you to not go the corporate route and fill them with text or images. Put two or three thoughts on one slide. Remember that your audience is there to listen, not read. Because I didn’t use slides for my presentation, I brought speaking notes with me. I don’t care for note cards, so I used standard printer paper with my high-level sections highlighted in a large font to cue what sections were next. Be sure to practice with the same notes and slides before the big day.

17. Choose a mantra

In yoga, a mantra is a thought, notion or good phrase that you repeat over and over to yourself until you believe it. It is natural to be nervous before a speech, but you need a grand reason to push through. What is your compelling reason to deliver a smashing speech? Repeat it to yourself. Maybe it is to show that you can do it, or to spread your message. Repeat the words over and over. Chase away those seeds of doubt and drops of nervous sweat. Fill your mind with positive thoughts and self-confidence. If you have practiced and prepared, you are ready.

Farnoosh Brock left a career at a Fortune 500 company to pursue writing, public speaking, coaching, podcasting, blogging and social media. She talks about smart habits for rich living with a focus on communications, travel and entrepreneurship on her blog, Prolific Living , where this article originally ran.

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