Preparing Your Speech

One of the great things about Toastmasters is that the organisation (and your mentor, if you have requested one) holds your hand at every stage: from the moment you sign up to give your speech, until you get up on stage…and then, when safely back in your comfy chair, a fellow club member gives helpful feedback.

The Competent Communication manual (your starting point on your Toastmasters journey) consists of ten projects, each of which addresses a particular aspect of speech making (like body language, persuasion, using visual aids). The first step is to read the manual so you understand what you are intending to achieve with a particular project. Then it’s time to think of a subject that allows you to achieve your objective and begin planning your speech. Here are some guidelines that apply to all speeches.


I’d suggest that the “high level” components include:

  1. Relevance – choose a topic that will be of interest to everyone in the room. It could be something in the news, maybe an issue we’re all familiar with. Equally important, think carefully about your audience and be careful not to include material that could offend.
  2. Clarity – your message must be clear and easily understood. You only have five to seven minutes, so don’t try to make lots of points…make one!
  3. Passion – pick a topic that excites you!
  4. Interaction – passive listening can be boring and experienced public speakers know an audience gets more from a speech when people are involved. So look to incorporate feedback by inviting opinions. A powerful device is to pose a question at the beginning and build towards the answer…drawing your audience along until you cross the “question answered” finishing line together.
  5. Memorable – your message should confirm or reinforce a deeply held conviction or, (better still), get your audience thinking for the first time or differently about a subject. 

With those points in mind, we need to look at the structure, or “middle level”, of your speech. In a short speech, you should divide it into three sections: introduction (say, 20%), body (say, 70%) and conclusion (say, 10%).

  1. Introduction – grab people’s attention with a thought-provoking opening that states your premise (e.g. “School children should meditate for ten minutes every day”). Asking a powerful question also works well here (“What is the most important thing missing form a child’s school day?”), then answer this question and explain that you intend to convince the room of your viewpoint. You could ask for a show of hands at the start and finish to gauge your success.
  2. Body of speech – here you will build your case with supporting evidence. Pick three or four examples that support your premise from different perspectives. You might (a) describe a personal experience with your own child, (b) quote a research study by child psychologists, (c) pick a school in which, following the introduction of meditation, bullying went down and exam results improved and (d) quote feedback from delighted parents.  
  3. Ending – you can now restate your thesis and “prove” your premise by reminding the audience of your supporting evidence: “So child psychologists, teachers and parents all agree that…” Finally, end on a memorable thought that could, for example, suggest that society as a whole (and perhaps the economy too) would benefit if the present generation of children left school less stressed. 

Finally, have you ever wondered why Winston Churchill and Barak Obama’s speeches are enjoyable and powerful? It’s because they increase impact through the use of rhetorical devices. Skilfully employed, these devices will lift (and make memorable) any speech. You can explore a number of them here: I’ll be blogging soon about using rhetorical devices in your speeches.


Ben Starling