Speech Preparation: First Things First

speech preparationHave you got a speaking engagement coming up that you need to prepare for? Make sure your speech preparation is in top form.

In my mind there’s three phases to speech preparation.

Phase 1) finding your topic, knowing your audience, and discovering what’s expected of you.

Phase 2) mapping out where you’re going and getting yourself ready.

Phase 3) writing the speech.

Have you ever made a presentation that you thought you had prepared well for, to deliver it and feel like you seriously missed the mark?

I’ve felt this numerous times. I’ve been speaking at work, leadership trainings, seminars, to non-profits and at churches for years. These weekly presentations were for groups of dozens, to hundreds to even a few thousand. Feeling like a failure can be for numerous reasons. Yeah, it might be due to lack of speech preparation. Or you weren’t feeling the most confident and your delivery suffered.

Lack of confidence and misguided speech preparation aren’t traits of people lacking public speaking skills. A lot of times when we start to prepare a presentation we haven’t first gotten clarity of what we’re aiming for. Before we jump into phase 2 and 3, in this article we’re going to focus on how to even prepare to prepare.

Here’s some questions to ask as you are on your way to speech presentation.

What is the content?

Who invited you to speak, and why?

I find it easiest when I’m given a specific subject. Then I know what’s expected. When there are not spoken expectations, there are certainly unspoken ones. If someone doesn’t communicate clearly what exact topic they want you to share on, ask what the audience is gathering for.

Who is your audience?

What are they expecting? What presentations have they heard recently? What’s the culture and growth hunger of this group of people?

Is the group your age, younger or older? A mixed bag? If they are likely to know the subject more than you, be ready to study up!

What is the length?

Are you speaking for 2 minutes, 15 minutes, or an hour?

What’s great about speaking for less than 10 minutes is it forces you to only say the absolutely most important things on your topic. In fact, even when speaking for 90 minutes, if you can’t share the gist of your presentation in 2 minutes you probably shouldn’t be speaking at all. Being able to deliver your content concisely and quickly means that you are knowledgable and potent with your material.

If you’re asked to speak for a greater length of time than you think you can make material for, don’t create filler. If you end 5-10 minutes early, give the mic back to your host. I’m certain the audience won’t mind leaving early!

Remember this: in brevity there is power.

Can I be myself?

Who are you representing? I ask this when I wonder if I can “be myself.” I’m not saying I get up and act phony, but if I’m representing my employer, or a research team, or am sent to make a specific sales pitch, I’m going to be a little more forward and a little less humorous. If I’m speaking on behalf of who’s invited me, and they want Todd to be Todd, then I’m going to let loose a little more. My illustrations are probably going to be more over-the-top, I’m going to use drier humor, and I’m going to get more physically into the presentation.

What’s next in my speech preparation?

In the coming weeks we’re going to cover specifically the speech writing portion of speech preparation. As you’re moving ahead think about this: What are you aiming for with your presentation? Zeroing in on this will help you scope in like a sniper rather spray pellets like you’re wielding a shotgun.


  1. I’m absolutely terrified of speaking; especially if I don’t have a lot of time to prepare and it’s on a topic that I’m not thoroughly educated on. I have to speak at dinner seminars for my current job that can have anywhere from 20-50 attendees, and I’ve done a little better with that as of late. However, my first speech was a train wreck and I was nervous all all get-out. My hands were shaking, my voice would crack…it was just awful.

    Practice makes perfect though and you do become more comfortable with it as time goes by.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      Oh man voice cracking is the worst. And if you start off like that it’s hard to feel like you can recover! Even the best speakers walk away feeling like they delivered something mediocre sometimes.

      There’s a lot of information out there on how to feign confidence and to pump yourself up. I believe that there are really only two ways to truly create confidence before a presentation. And that’s to be absolutely confident that your material is beneficial and life-changing to the audience (I know, that’s a tall order!), and to know your material EXTREMELY well.

      When I present and am not confident that the material is really going to help or benefit the audience, that’s usually when I stumble. When I am confident in it, I can go in there even with a skeleton of an outline and deliver it dynamically.

  2. As a project manager, I have to hold numerous presentations and meetings and I am still not completely comfortable with it. I notice, at least for myself, that when I am thinking about what I am saying and what I am going to say next, it actually causes me to stumble and make my overall confidence worse!

    I agree that being fully prepared helps with your confidence and overall speech so I am looking forward to the additional articles!

    • Todd Mayfield says

      I know that holding meetings and presentations in some vocations aren’t always looked at as the most “fun.” But I would encourage you to try this next time you’re nervous, just before you are about to speak: choose inside that you’re just going to enjoy it. Look at it as an adventure and have a blast.

  3. Very good article!

    One thing that really gave a boost to my public speaking skills was participating in Toastmasters for several years. That’s the training ground for many a good speaker.

    You may cover this in a later post, but a common flaw that I see in many public speakers is that when they don’t know their material well enough to look at the audience while they speak. I see many speakers who lose their potential impact by reading from a printed text.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      Those are great points I’ll make sure to include. I come from a more extemporaneous background, and I forget that many people feel more comfortable, and professional, reading from text.

      • Todd,

        I mentioned that point about reading was because at yesterday church a guy made an announcement about supporting an orphanage that he ran. And he just read a short spiel asking for support, with no emotion.

        My thought was, “why doesn’t this guy look at the audience and just speak from his heart, instead of reading it.” He must believe in what he’s doing. He should be able to talk about this in his sleep, without referring to notes.

        But. the speech really fell flat, when it could have been much more effective.

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