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You’ll have heard it all before

“Fail to plan. Plan to fail”
“Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance”
“Success is what happens when opportunity meets preparation”

There are lots of pithy pretty quotes that big talking experts like me and others like to trot out to make ourselves seem smart about speech preparation.

In almost ever article or guide on public speaking I’ve read or written, there is always something at some point about the importance of preparation.

It’s all great advice, of course. Preparation is undoubtedly the single most determinative factor in successful public speaking. But there’s one fundamental flaw in all this advice. No one ever tells you how exactly you should go about doing this great preparation.

“What should you do? Where should you start? How long should you spend?”

No one ever breaks it down. We all just operate on the assumption that the process of preparation is obvious. That we just need to say, and it will be done.

But as we all know, when we assume, we make an ass out of u and me, so all assumptions are out.

With apologies for not getting to this sooner, here now is: The Ultimate Speech Preparation Checklist

(It’s a long one so why not DOWNLOAD THE PDF SPEECH PREPARATION CHECKLIST HERE to read later)

  • DON’T PANIC. PREPARE! – public speaking is nothing more than a conversation with your audience. If you can hold a good conversation in private with a good friend, you can give a great speech in public. The techniques are almost identical, which means it’s all doable if you approach it right.
  • DATE OF MY SPEECH: this will make you think about how much time you have for preparation
  • TOPIC OF MY SPEECH: what am I going to speak about?
  • LENGTH OF MY SPEECH: how long will I speak for?
  • LOCATION OF MY SPEECH: where I’ll be speaking?
  • OCCASION: what’s the occasion of my speech? e.g. after dinner speech; presentation to the council; introduction speech at a conference
  • TITLE: what is the title of my speech (even if no one will know it, it’s still useful to think about one so your speech has a focus).
  • TYPE OF SPEECH: what type of speech are you giving? All speeches fall into one (sometimes two) of four categories: Informative (sharing information); Persuasive (seeking to persuade people to a particular point of view); Motivational (to get your audience to do something); Entertaining (to amuse your audience).
  • OBJECTIVE (for your audience): what do you want your audience to get from your speech? What do you want them to know (informative speech), or think (persuasive speech), or do (motivational speech). If you are giving a purely entertainment speech, then your goal is simply to make your audience laugh. or i as a result of your speech (have one clear goal that you can describe in 15 words or less).


  • GOAL (for yourself): what do you want to get out of giving your speech? How do you want it to benefit you personally? e.g. I want to get the respect of the room; I want to be invited to present to the board; I want to be thought of as funny.
  • VENUE: what is the venue like? What’s the layout? How far away from the audience will I be? Will I use a microphone? Are there IT facilities (for a slide presentation)?
  • THEME: what theme can you use to tie your whole speech together? (often this will be the one thing that your audience remembers above everything else). Think Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ theme. As famous as that speech is, that is probably the only part you still remember. Or JFK’s ‘we choose to go to the moon’. A client of mine recently used the ‘marriage’ theme to give a great presentation about company mergers to a lawyers’ conference.
  • AUDIENCE ANALYSIS: who is my audience (age, gender, ethnicity, financial circumstances, industry/profession, personality types etc); what is their attitude (what do they currently think/feel/believe about the topic of my speech); context – how many will be in the audience, how will they be seated, what state of mind will they be in (drowsy after lunch; agitated; uninterested etc).
  • MY IMPRESSION: what kind of impression do I want to make? what tone will I take with my speech? how do I want to come across? (serious, funny, casual, meticulous etc).
  • RESEARCH & BRAINSTORM: identify the points you need to research & brainstorm to make sure you are an expert on your topic; find out everything you can about the topic of your speech. Work on the basis that you will only use the best 10% of what you know about the subject in your speech.
  • STRUCTURE OF MY SPEECH: how will I open my speech? how will I introduce my audience to my speech topic? what are the main points I am going to make? what will my conclusion be? how will I close my speech?
  • NOTES: what notes will I use? (full script; note cards; nothing at all)
  • SLIDES/POWERPOINT: (if using slide presentation) are my slides ready? am I prepared to deliver my speech without them in case of an IT failure? have I practised using the slides?
  • PROBLEMS: what problems could realistically occur? (not enough people show up; microphone failure; IT failure; my time is cut short etc) and how will I deal with this?
  • APPEARANCE: what am I going to wear to help me give the impression I want to give?
  • PRACTICE: how much practice will I do (practise as much and as often as it takes for you to familiarise – not memorise – your speech)

There you go: A step by step blue print of how to go about preparing your speech.

No way you can remember all that, so why not get it as a FREE PDF DOWNLOAD here.

Now, if you’ve got this far but you’re somehow still not convinced about the importance of preparation, I leave you with another pithy quote, this time from good ole honest Abe Lincoln.

There you are. Now you have no reason not to prepare. So go sharpen your axe!

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Kolarele Sonaike

Founder, Elevator Pitch School

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