The five stages of speech preparation

speech sanders
Photo: Bernie Sanders

Frequent public speakers know that there are five stages of readiness for giving a speech. The trick is not to reach stage 3 and then imagine that you’re done.

Stage 1: The idea

What you have: A concept of what you what you want to say, and in what order. Some stories to tell. A theme.

What you need: Exactly the right stuff, in exactly the right order.

How to get there: Write it down, share it, or blog it. Get feedback. Tell the story to people informally and see how they react.

Stage 2: The images

What you have: Exactly the right images in exactly the right order.

What you need: The voiceover that goes with the images.

How to get there: Write down a bunch of speaker notes. Rehearse it. See how it goes together.

Stage 3: The confidence

What you have: The script that goes with the images.

What you need: Enough familiarity that you know exactly what’s about to come up each time you press the advance button.

How to get there: Practice. A lot. Preferably with some captive, friendly audiences, like your coworkers.

Stage 4: The emotion

What you have: The ability to give the speech, flawlessly, like a robot.

What you need: The ability to win over an audience.

How to get there: Start figuring out how to modulate your voice to tell the story — when to be fast, when slow, when loud, when soft, when to move and where on stage.

Stage 5: The brilliance

What you have: The ability not just to give the speech, but to perform it.

What you need: To find the soul of the speech and riff on it, constantly improving what’s good to make it incredible.

How to get there: Perform the speech. A lot. Get so comfortable that you can ad-lib.

The cool thing is when you know the content so well that one part of your mind can perform it, while the other observes and determines what moves to make next.

Is this what it’s like to act? To play music? To dance? I don’t know, I don’t do those things, but I’d like to hear from people who do.

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  4. Years ago, when I joined my first Toastmaster’s Club, they handed me a videotape and told me that my first 10 speeches would be recorded for my own use. I would run home after giving a speech, and pop my cassette into the VCR. I’d hit rewind and watch my speech fast- backwards, with no sound. My sweeping gestures weren’t sweeping — I looked like a baby bird trying to fly — elbows glued to my side. When I listened to the video with sound, I caught all the noises one makes to fill silences (ah, um, so, and, then…). We are our own worst critics, but that’s how we improve. I learned to divide a talk into chunks and practice the transitions. I began to keep some segments “in my pocket”– ready to be tossed out or added in as time allowed. I subscribe to Craig Valentine (online speech coach) and enjoy his advanced tips delivered in bite-sized chunks with lots of humor. Learning to speak in front of an audience is a true skill, worthy of honing.