Advice for preparing your first speech

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Sharon asked,

“What is your best advice for someone preparing for their first keynote speech?
Should they keep it at a specific length? How much practicing should they do before the speech itself?”

The best advice for someone preparing their first keynote speech, regular speech, or any talk of importance is to have something worth saying. A well-designed presentation tells a clear story and provides significant benefit to the audience. This will make you a far more memorable speaker than nearly any other factor.

I’m a big fan and advocate of the Oratium presentation design method. Part of the method requires us to write out our entire talk in advance. I speak at a pace between 150 and 175 words per minute. If I have 45 minutes to speak, I need to draft approximately 7000 words. Measure your speaking pace and count how many words you say per minute. Calculate how many words you need to say to fit the time you have been given.

Far more important than how much I say is what I say with the 7000 words. For that, I follow a method taught to me by my developmental editor, Peta Abdul, called the PEER methodology. PEER stands for Point, Explain, Example, Recap:

peer methodology.jpg

My most successful, well-received talks follow this outline. I start with a strong point, a reason why the audience should listen to what I have to say by addressing the problems they’re having. I explain why the problem exists, what solutions are available, and how to implement those solutions. I walk through an example of my explanation. Finally, I recap the talk.

Practice as many times as you need to deliver your talk in the window of time allotted, with a 5 minute margin of error in case someone is running over or the event is off schedule. Rehearse until you no longer have to reach for words or refer to an outline/speaker notes. Some people may need only a few rehearsals. Others may need dozens.

As speakers, what we say matters far more than how we say it. Choose your words wisely, then practice until you feel comfortable saying your words.

Good luck with your talk!

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