Preparing a speech in 10 mins

Imagine your boss comes to you and tells you to get ready to present the strategy of your department, that you had been working on for weeks, in 10 mins from now, to the whole leadership team.

Scary, right?

That is what I used to think, preparing a speech in 10 mins, impossible. Until in May 2018 at toastmasters district conference, I got a chance to talk to International President of Toastmasters, Mr. Balraj Arunasalam. A very humble person, an epitome of servant leadership. During our conversation, he mentioned that in past 10 days alone, he had to give speeches about 30 times during a trip through Australia. Hearing that I asked the obvious question, how do you find the time to prepare for so many speeches. His answer, “Zain, you should learn to prepare any speech in just 10 mins”.

That lit a spark in my mind. He has a point. A lot of us, mistake public speaking as speaking in front of a crowd, when in fact public speaking is any conversation that you have with another person. It could be asking someone for a date, convincing your partner to go to a certain restaurant or asking your boss to give you a raise or promotion. And when that happens, you don’t usually get a week notice to prepare your speech, if you are lucky you get 10 mins.

I almost always used to write my speeches, complete with a script. How closely I followed that script, depended on how much I rehearsed and how important the speech was. But if you have just 10 mins to prepare something, writing the whole script is probably not possible. So, I have been following a different process recently to prepare a speech at short notice, that works for me and it can work for you.

Write your Message:

Regardless of how much time you have, to prepare your speech, the first step is always the same. Identify the message, the purpose, of the speech. Once that is clear, everything else just falls into place. A good message is short, simple and specific. To identify the right message, ask yourself this question, what is the one thing that I want my audience to remember after I am done speaking?

List your Argument(s):

If you have been asked to speak at such a short notice, most likely it is because you are considered an expert in that field. If that is not true, it is better to say NO and resign from speech. As no speech is better than a bad speech. Now since you already have identified the message, coming up with the right arguments is as easy as asking yourself, "why do I believe in this message". The number and type of arguments that you must give, will depend on your audience, occasion and your message.

If the audience is friendly and neutral to your message, even one simple argument will be enough.

If the audience is non-friendly and opposed to your message, you will need few strong arguments. Three is the magic number in public speaking and that is what I usually go with.

Simply list these downs, preferably in the form of a noun on a piece of paper. Keep it with you during your speech for reference. Then talk impromptu for each argument.

Memorize Opening and Conclusion:

A good opening should do two things, it should catch everyone’s attention and it should introduce them to your message.

A good conclusion should do two things, it should once again remind the message and it should have a clear call to action.

If you have 10 mins to prepare, spend about half of that time on writing and memorizing the opening and conclusion, because opening sets the tone of your speech and closing is what everyone is going to remember. Generally, the rule is 10% of your speech length is opening and 10% is conclusion. So, if you are going to speak for 5 mins, devote 30 seconds to each of them and leave 4 mins for your arguments.

Finally, put it in this simple structure when you are on stage. Opening -> Arguments ->  Conclusion

This 3-step process, works like a charm every time. So next time your boss comes to you with a request to speak at a notice of 10 mins, try this process and see the magic happen.

In future posts I will go into more details about each of the above steps.

6 Comments

  1. Kishore
    3 August 2018

    Simple steps and nicely described .

    good Job Zain.

    Reply
    1. Zain
      3 August 2018

      Thank You Kishore.

      Reply
  2. Dawid Dajczak
    5 August 2018

    Great that you adduced to your conversation with of Mr. Arunasalam. In section Memorize Opening and Conclusion I remembered opening should consist of 10% of our speech as well as conclusion also should consist 10% of speech. I try to use it in my next speech

    Reply
    1. Zain
      6 August 2018

      Thanks Dawid. Happy to hear you will use this suggestion in your speeches.

      Reply
  3. Naviin Prabhu S
    9 August 2018

    I remembered these tips when our club speech had a (very) last minute cancellation and our VP-E asked do you want to speak? I said yes for the first time because I had an idea how to prepare in under 10 minutes, It worked like a charm.

    I did have my obstacles on managing time between arguments and ended up rushing to the end. I’d love to know how you manage time in improvised speeches.

    Reply
    1. Zain
      9 August 2018

      Very good question Naviin. Getting the timing right is a tricky thing and having to rush to your conclusion is indeed not an ideal situation.
      I am assuming you had more than one argument. In this case, my suggestion is to list the argument in the increasing order of importance. Which means, the most important, most impact full argument as the last one just before conclusion, it is mainly because audience usually remember the last thing the most.
      If you do this, you should try to get to your third argument as soon as possible, which will force you to make your previous argument to bare minimum.
      In this way, the worst thing that can happen, is you will have equal time for all arguments, best you will have most time for your most important argument and enough room to deliver your conclusion perfectly.

      Reply

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