Staring at an empty computer screen when you sit down to start writing a speech can be daunting, and not just because every blank page is scary. Many people believe that being a great speaker is a natural gift and that some of us are just more talented at it than others. But if you think that you don’t have what it takes before you even begin, you’ll find it extremely difficult to get started.
But thanks to my years of experience as the founder and CEO of Advance Your Reach–a company that helps people grow their businesses and spread their messages through the stage–I know for a fact that just about anybody can write a great speech. Talent is overrated, and structures and techniques are underrated. These fundamental questions can get anyone on the right track.
1. What problem am I solving?
The number-one thing I recommend to the speakers I coach is to have a note card that reminds them of two things: who their audience is, and what problem they’re solving for them. Why is this so essential? The key to captivating your audience is to provide a solution to their problems.
When you know what problem your speech is trying to solve, it becomes easier to manage your stage fright. Focusing on the audience’s issues will lift a giant weight off of your shoulders because you don’t have to be the smartest or most experienced person in the room. You’re just there to solve one clearly defined problem.
2. For whom am I solving this problem?
Now, identifying solutions to a problem becomes much easier when you know who your listeners are. But understanding your audience is also crucial when you’re in the process of pitching yourself. You can’t go to a meeting planner (someone who directly or indirectly controls a stage) and say, “I’m really smart. I’ve got funny stories.” That doesn’t tell them anything about you, and won’t probably get you onstage.
To find the right meeting planners (and impress them), you need to be clear on who you’re targeting. If your audience is every living human being in the world, you’re not going to know which stage to apply for. And even if you did start randomly approaching meeting planners, they’re not going to be impressed.
Maybe you want to help teachers have fewer behavior problems in their classrooms, tell plumbers how they can grow their businesses, or advise entrepreneurs on how to spend less money on online advertising. Having an audience with a problem that you can solve is what will get you booked.
3. If I only had two minutes and not 20 (or more) what would I teach the audience?
Most speakers know a lot about their subject matter. That can be a double-edged sword. At Advance Your Reach, we find that most speakers try to teach too much. Much of what we do is help them cut things from their presentations. The fewer words you say, the more the audience will hear what you do have to say. The person who teaches the most does not win. You want to be the person who teaches the right amount in a way people can retain.
How do you narrow down all the content in your head to focus on the best parts for your audience? One trick is to give yourself less time to explain your material to discover what’s truly essential. Ask yourself, if I only had two minutes or five minutes, what would I teach?
Your presentation should be your very best stuff. Give that away onstage, and your audience will want to work with you. Mentally forcing yourself to boil down your content to only a few minutes will help you identify the most valuable lessons that you have to share.
4. How do I want the audience to engage with me after the presentation?
Speeches can change lives, but that usually doesn’t happen in a 45-minute keynote or a 20-minute TED talk. Your talk is an introduction, and the goal of that introduction should be to get to some future engagement. What that looks like is for you to decide. What do you want the audience to do next? Do you want them to call you? Buy something? Do something different in their lives? Sign up for a program?
If you haven’t thought about this, your presentation will be a meandering mess. But if you have a clear goal in mind, you’ll find it much easier to organize your speech–it becomes like a sidewalk that leads to your intended destination.
Preparing a speech can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Start by asking yourself these questions, and you’ll be able to get the inspiration you need to fill that blank page.
Pete Vargas is the founder and CEO of Advance Your Reach. Since 2003, he and his team have directly booked over 25,000 stages and generated tens of millions in revenue from those stages. You can download his “15 Components of a High-Converting Signature Talk” here.