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Last updated on 12/2/21

Define the objective of your speech

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Who asked you to make the presentation? What’s their role? What’s that person’s status and can they give you as much detail as possible about the context?

That’s the first thing you have to check because it’s usually that person who holds the key you need to be able to answer the questions “Who?”, “How?”, “When?”, “What?”, and “Why?”

Take the time to familiarize yourself with the context for the event by answering the following questions: Who? How? When? What? Why?
Take the time to familiarize yourself with the context for the event by answering the following questions: Who? How? When? What? Why?

Familiarize yourself with the context

Ask yourself the question “Who?”

First of all, find out for whom and to whom you’re going to speak. As this is a broad question, you can subdivide it:

How many people are going to hear what you have to say?

An audience can vary in many different ways and, particularly, in its size. For example, you might need to address:

  • A single recruitment person in a job interview;

  • Five colleagues in a company;

  • 40 learners in a classroom or lecture hall;

  • 200 people in a conference hall;

  • Hundreds of listeners of a radio broadcast;

  • Thousands of people for an online course.

Who are the people who will be there when you speak?

If possible, it’s a good thing to have demographic information, such as the age or gender of the participants:

  • What’s the age bracket of the audience?

  • Are there more men or women?

  • What's their socio-economic category?

  • What do they do?

What do they know about the subject you’re going to talk about?

  • What’s their level of understanding of the subject?

  • Are they beginners or experts?

And are you there to:

  • Teach them something new?

  • Explain or show something to them?

  • Give them additional information on a subject they know slightly/poorly/well?

  • Make them laugh? Entertain them? Amuse them?

  • Trigger something off?

Ask yourself the question “How?”

What will be the means/channel for delivering your presentation?

Your presentation can be made:

  • Face-to-face

  • Remotely/online

  • Live

  • Pre-recorded

Sometimes, it can even be all four of the above at once. That would be the case for a videoed conference with a live audience which would be broadcast later, generally on the Internet.

What are the means at your disposal?

  • Will you have a microphone? If so, will it be worn or hand-held?

  • Will you be able to use a PowerPoint presentation? If so, is the room equipped with a video projector? Will there be a remote control available or will you need to get one?

The answer to these questions is essential information because it will determine whether you will have your hands free or not and, according to that, the gestures you can make, your freedom of movement and your body language will be different.

If you have a handheld microphone and a remote control to click through your slides, you must now realise that you won’t be able to hold your notes in your hands.

Ask yourself the question “When?”

Make sure you know the basics:

  • The date of your presentation: how much time do you have to prepare?

  • The duration: will you speak for 15 minutes, an hour, longer?

  • The recurrence: will you make a series of presentations? Will it always be the same? 

Having this information will allow you to determine the tenor of what you need to prepare, according to the length of your presentation, as well as the preparation time you’ll have before the event.

Analyze what’s needed from the outset

Ask yourself the question “What?”

This may seem a bit basic, but make sure that you understand the outline of the subject you’ll be talking about:

  • What are you going to talk about?

  • What is the subject, the position that you are going to defend?

  • Is it part of a larger subject area?

  • Is there a risk of getting off-topic? If so, what is the risk and where is the boundary?

  • Are there constraints to observe, mandatory form or content?

Ask yourself the question “Why?”

This last question is essential, and it implies that you ask questions about yourself, but also about your listeners’ expectations and about the underlying need that gave rise to the request.

  • Why were you asked to do this?

  • What makes you a good person to talk about it? Is it because you’re an expert in the subject? Is it because you have an experience to share? Is it because of a particular other quality (humility, honesty, humour, wisdom …)?

Use the following mantra: There’s always a good reason - I need to find it.

  • To what end? What should the result be?

  • What is expected of you? To astonish? To inform? To teach?

This will be your first draft, the starting point for building your content in a relevant and suitable way. Keep it - you can draw from it the things that will enable you to hook your audience, a way of connecting with them, of finding things you have in common.

Find the angle for your presentation

To find the angle for your presentation, all you need to do is to imagine the bridge between your audience before and after.

To do this (it’s really easy), first draw, on a sheet of paper, a table with three columns.

A

➡️

B

BEFORE →

→ →  DURING → → 

AFTER

What the audience knows:

 

What the audience knows:

What the audience thinks:

 

What the audience thinks:

What the audience wants:

 

What the audience wants:

What the audience feels:

 

What the audience feels:

Then fill in the table.

To fill in column A, simply draw on the information that you have collected in the context of your presentation.

To fill in column B, go back to the replies to the question “Why”, and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What should the audience’s state/situation/emotion be after your presentation?

  • What message do you want to put across?

  • What emotions do you want to arouse?

You can then join the dots between the two columns by specifying, in the middle column, the ideas, anecdotes, references etc. that will enable you to pass from “Before” to “After”.

By doing this, you are, without realizing it, establishing the broad outline of your content.

Let’s recap!

  • To make your speech's content relevant and suitable, answer the following questions in writing: Who? How? When? What? Why?

  • Find an angle filling in a three-column table about what your audience knows, thinks, wants, and feels before, during, and after your speech.

  • Remember to add a personal touch: you have not been asked to deliver a bland speech!

Storytelling is one of the most powerful and age-old ways of communicating and is a cornerstone of public speaking, which we will look at in the next chapter.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement