Making a really great speech or presentation requires a great deal of preparation and practice. In an ideal world, you would always have time to plan, rehearse and perfect your words of wisdom. However, sometimes things don’t work out that way.

A number of times in my speaking career I have had to pull something together at very short notice, either because another presenter dropped out, or because I was visiting an office where the local manager unexpectedly asked me to make a speech to all of the local staff. Here is a simple process to enable you to prepare a speech at very, very short notice (or presentation – its a presentation tip too)…

Getting Started on the Speech

Ideally you will need eight post it notes. If you haven’t got them, just grab a sheet of paper and fold it in half. Fold it in half again. And once more. Quickly, there’s no time to waste! Now, tear along the folds. Either way, you now have eight pieces of paper, and hopefully a pen. You’re ready to star(t).

Who is the Speech for…

Always begin with the audience. What do you know about them? What do they know about you? Write down a few bullet points on the first piece of paper. Who you are, in the context of how it is relevant to the audience.

What is the Speech for…

Does the audience or the person who invited you have an expectation of what you will talk about? Be sure to meet it, or cover it as best you can. Failing to do so will definitely cause angst.

Now think about what will be in the speech. Let your brain free wheel for a minute. Write each of your main ideas on one of the remaining pieces of paper. You don’t want more than seven. Research suggests that we can deal with 7 things in our head at once, plus or minus two. This isn’t the time to go stretching your cognitive abilities, so stick with 5-7 main ideas.

If you come up with more than seven, look through your earlier ideas, then find the weakest one and cross it out, replacing it with the better new one. It is a neat way to refine your speech.

Think back to what you were expected to cover and sanity check what you have written. That clock is still ticking, so…

When and Where

Check how long the speech should be. 7-15 minutes is a great length. It will seem substantial, but shouldn’t drag on. Check where you are. Can you link your speech in to the location? Perhaps based on a piece of local news you have read.

Now, to the when and where of each of your main points. Lay out the pieces of paper. They should fit one of three structures: topical, chronological or spatial. That will give you a natural order for them. In a topical structure you will see that some things must be covered before you touch on the other topics, or that some link together. In a chronological structure you probably want to start at the beginning and more forwards from there. In a spatial one there will also be a natural flow too. You now have your main points arranged in order.


Now you have the sequence, think about how you will make each point, and how you will bridge between each point. Jot down your proof points, or for a longer speech your sub-points, on the relevant piece of paper. At the end of the piece of paper for each point, make a note of your bridge to the next point. The bridges should help to create the story, and will make your points more memorable if done well. If you can’t think of a bridge, the next step may help…

Why is the Speech Relevant

Why are you giving the speech? Look back to your first piece of paper where you wrote about the audience. Why are you making the speech, and why are you the right person to give it? This should constitute your introduction. For example,

“As I have started and sold a number of high value companies, Dave has asked me to say a few words about how to create a valuable business, now that you have secured your funding.”

Well, you get the idea. It should establish your ethos (in Aristotle’s Rhetoric this is your expertise and knowledge).

Check back over the pieces of paper with your main points. The ‘why’ should tie them together. You might need to make a quick adjustment if it doesn’t. In the introduction to a longer speech you can also briefly run through the points you will cover in it, if not, just a summary in a couple of sentences. Remember:

“Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em. Tell ’em. Then tell ’em again.”

You now have your introduction and your middle (main points). Finally, think about your conclusion. Ideally it should draw on your key points, without introducing any new ones. It should also provide some sort of call to action: a response or a commitment. You aren’t speaking just to generate warm air, you are there to make something happen. Make it so. Note it down.

Say it!

You now have your completed speech, and read through the points a few times. Congratulations. If you have time between now and speaking, then practice your speech. Nothing beats a rehearsal for finding problems (it also helps with memory). Practice on the taxi driver on the way if you have to, but speak it out loud. The physical process of ‘out loud’ rehearsal is much more effective than just running it through in your head. If you need slides and have time, try this:

  • Slide 1 – Your speech title and name.
  • Slide 2 – x. One bullet point in the middle of one slide, with that one point in bullet form. But without the bullet.
  • Last slide – Copy and paste slide 1. Save it. Done.

If you know of an image that will effectively support your point, it is to hand, then add it. Otherwise, you’re done. Who, What, When, Where, How and Why – a speech in 5 minutes.