The 5-minute speech: Why it can take days of diligent preparation

For a conscientious speechwriter, the ‘quick’ presentation is anything but.

When a prospective client calls and opens with “we only need a five-minute speech,” often the implication behind the “only” is that that I could just bang it off in not much more time than that. And that my invoice would be commensurately small. Luckily most discerning clients (and to my clients who read this newsletter, you are all discerning!) understand the very tricky matters of short speeches.

I define “short” somewhere in the range of three to five minutes. Anything shorter, and you truly can’t get into much detail where a lot of raw research work is required. Anything longer, you are getting much closer to a classical keynote—in terms of research, beginnings, middles and ends, storytelling and the like.

They can be maddeningly difficult to write. It has been my experience that the five-minute speech can be as almost as time-challenging as a full-blown, 20-minute keynote.

Let’s say you are asked to write a short speech for an awards ceremony for a professional association that is honoring members who have performed with great distinction. In the audience are not just award-winners, but politicians, family members, media and industry stakeholders.

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