How can you take the America’s number one fear—public speaking—and make it even scarier? Oh I know! By adding in almost no time to prepare.
And who would do such a thing? Oh, just bosses, clients, the real speaker whose flight was delayed. So, in other words, it happens all the time, when you least expect it.
Let’s assume it’s not a scene in a movie, where the keynote speaker has a last-minute crisis of conscience about the topic, and you have to go on stage right this minute. What’s more likely is someone asks if you can give a presentation later that day—and you agree even though you’ll only have 30 minutes to work on it.
Well, I’m here to tell that that’s all the time you need to prepare a five-minute speech that’s simple, streamlined, and solid. I say five minutes because if it’s any longer than that, you’re realistically going to need more time.
Minutes 1 Through 5: Figure Out Your “Who”
You’re making a speech to a particular audience, and you’ll want to put five minutes of thought into who they are to make sure it’s relevant, related, and relatable. So, start with these questions:
- How big is the group? You want to know if you’re presenting to five, 50, or 500 people.
- What are the basic demographics of this audience? Age, gender, region, and any other details along those lines will impact the kinds of examples you might use in your speech.
- What do they already know or assume about this topic? Are you speaking to experts, or will you want to set aside time to touch on basic terms and ideas?
- What keeps them up at night (related to the topic)? You want to make sure your content addresses what they’re worried about—and how you can help.
- What gets them up in the morning, (also related to the topic)? You want to make sure that you also give them some hope!
- What is this audience empowered to do with the information? You always want your takeaways to be practical.
If you’re at minute four and still stumped, email the person who assigned this to you and ask.
Minutes 5 Through 7: Figure Out the Medium
We’re going to keep building on those points, but you’re going to want to hit the pause button on content and think about medium. If you just kept taking notes in your phone or on a piece of paper, you’d have all of your ideas down, but you wouldn’t have time to then transfer them to notecards or a bare bones PowerPoint.
So, take these two minutes to decide if you’ll be using slides, notecards, or a teleprompter—and make sure you’re writing out your notes in the right place.
Minutes 7 Through 12: Figure Out Your “What”
The next step is to work through what you want your audience to feel, do, and know once they’ve heard your speech. Do you want them to feel inspired? Confident? Ready to take action? Whatever words you choose here will help your tone. Now, do you want them to buy products, invest, make strategic introductions? You should be able to narrow your goal down to a short phrase or sentence.
Next, work on what you want your audience to know. (This is where those questions you answered in minutes one through five come into play.) Think about what your audience assumes and use that to come up with no more than three topics that they would need to understand in order to do the thing you want them to do. You could break the overall message into past, present, and future; your team, the business unit, and the whole company; short-term, medium-term, and long-term plans.
For example, if what you want the audience to increase your department’s headcount, they’ll need to know: what you’ve accomplished with your current team, what you could accomplish if you had more people, and how increasing your headcount would be good for the business overall.
So, you’ve coupled what you want them to do, with the three things you want them to know, and when you add in the overall feeling—let’s say, motivated—you’ll know what kind of tone you want to use as well. Congrats, you now have the overall image of your speech.
Minutes 12 Through 24: Write it Out
Flesh out the three key points (which you’ve already settled on) by giving them a point of view. Using the example above, the first point “Our headcount” becomes “Our current headcount works, but is not great.” Main point two is not “More headcount” but “An increased headcount is critical to strategically manage our department’s increased scope of responsibilities.” And for point three, “The business impact” becomes “Our increased headcount would make our company more competitive in the industry.”
Now that you have your key sentence for each topic, build on it using the PREP formula (Point, Reason, Example/Evidence/Experience, Point):
- Point: Our current headcount works because it has to, but it’s not great.
- Reason: The reason I say that is because we have a smart, strategic, and committed—but very lean—team.
- Example/Evidence/Experience: One example of this is when we had a rush order for Widget Y over the holiday season, and our team was able to increase production without sacrificing quality or cost. It took a toll on our team, of course, because we were operating with a bare minimum of staff.
- Point (recap): And that’s why I say our current headcount works, but could be be improved.
Expert tip: Switch between example, evidence, and a personal experience for your different points.
The nice thing about building out your points one layer at a time is that you’re making the most of your time. First you made sure you had the overall audience and idea. Then you broke your topic into three pieces. Last, you drew out those three parts and added examples. This approach ensures that you don’t run out of time and only have the first third of your speech done: You have a complete speech and then time to make it better.
Minutes 24 Through 29: Practice
If possible, memorize your opening two to three lines so you know that those will come out crisply and confidently, giving you a successful start. Don’t try to memorize anything else, but do practice saying a few of your key lines.
Rehearse slowly and clearly, and if you’re using notes, underline any words worth emphasizing. If you’ve said it once before, you’ll feel better saying it in front of an audience.
Minutes 29 Through 30: Breathe
Seriously. You just sprinted through your prep and you’re going to want to calm down before you address the audience—that way you can give off a composed impression.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s advice about public speaking was “Be sincere; be brief; be seated.” You now have a plan for how to do exactly that in 30 minutes. And keep in mind that if you leave anything out, present a half-designed slide, or forget to ask for questions—no one will know the difference. The people in charge know you had limited time to do this, and the people in the audience came in with very few actual expectations of what the actual presentation would look like. So take a deep breath. You’ve got this!