Everything You Need to Know about Preparing a Speech

The Fripp Speech Structure
All great speeches begin with good structure.

Congratulations! You’ve been chosen (or drafted) to deliver a speech.

Don’t panic. Because executive speech coach Patricia Fripp is here to answer your questions. Here is everything you need to know about preparing your speech or presentation:

Preparing Your Speech

What Do I Talk About?

Begin by asking yourself these three questions:

  1. Who is my audience? (What do I know about the corporate culture or collective personality of the group?)
  2. What do they want or need to know from me?
  3. How long can I or should I talk?

Where Do I Find Content?

If you’re going to be addressing a particular group a few weeks from now, keep a yellow pad handy to jot down ideas and situations related to your topic and audience. Make a list of what you know that can benefit them, all the experiences and situations that could serve as good (or bad) examples for others, high points and low points, failures, and successes.

Keep adding those sudden and stunning bits of insight that come to you in the shower or car. Or maybe you said something on the subject to a friend that was particularly funny or memorable. Some of these experiences may become the original stories you use to illustrate a key point in your speech. When you actually sit down to write, you’ll have plenty of material.

How Do I Outline My Talk?

There are two basic outlines that work well for both beginning and advanced speakers.

  1. The Past-Present Journey Formula

    Create a colorful keynote
    There are many ways to add color to your presentation.

Tell your audience a three-part story:

  • This is where I was.
  • This is where I am.
  • This is how I got here.

It’s a simple format that helps you tell the audience who you are and why you are qualified to speak on the topic you’ve chosen.

Here’s an example of how effective the outline can be. A successful realtor was asked to deliver a 25-minute presentation for the local Board of Realtors. I coached her to open like this: “Twelve years ago, before I went into the real estate business, I had never sold anything but Girl Scout cookies, and I hadn’t done that well. Last year, I sold $38 million in a slow market, selling homes that averaged $200,000 each. Today,  you will hear how I built my business.” Right away the audience knew exactly what she was going to talk about, and they were eager to hear her story!

  1. The Q&A Outline

The members of your audience probably want to know the answers to the same kinds of business questions you’re asked at parties or professional functions. You can start with, “The five questions I’m most frequently asked about investments (or whatever your product or service is) are . . .”

Pose the first question to the audience and answer it for them in a conversational manner, just as you would with a potential customer or at a party. Even though you’ve never made a speech before, you’ve certainly had a lot of experience answering questions in your field.

An outline is essential to preparing your speech. This is because an outline gives you the structure you need to organize your talking points and make them accessible to your audience.

How Do I Write My Speech?

That’s easy. To begin with, don’t. Gather and organize your ideas, plan, and polish, but don’t write it down word for word. For now, just jot down an outline with key points and ideas on a notepad.

The Presentation Model

  1. Open with a Bang.

    Killer Keynote Content

The first and last thirty seconds of your speech will have the most impact, so give them extra thought, time, and effort. If you haven’t hooked your audience’s interest, their minds are going to wander off. Whatever you do, don’t waste any of your precious seconds with “Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here tonight.” Instead, open with an intriguing or startling statement: “Would it surprise you to know, half the people in this room are going to . . .?” “As a young man, my father gave me this valuable advice . . .” “Of all the questions I am most frequently asked . . .”

I helped a neighbor, Mike Powell, with a speech he was putting together for a group of successful women in business, the Continental Breakfast Club in San Francisco. At the time, Mike was a senior scientist with Genentech. I suggested that since most of us don’t know what scientists are like or what they do, he should tell the audience. Mike captured everyone’s attention by saying, “Being a scientist is like doing a jigsaw puzzle… in a snowstorm …at night …when you don’t have all the pieces and you don’t have the picture you are trying to create.” Everyone sat forward!

  1. Develop Strong Supporting Stories.

If you’re using the Past-Present outline format, the middle of your talk is where you expand on your key points and develop personal stories that support where you were and where you are now. In the Q&A format, develop one or two strong anecdotes to support each answer. Personal anecdotes are best, but you can also insert some of the ideas and examples you’ve gathered in your earlier thinking.

  1. Close on a High Point.

Ideally, your close will be the high point of your speech. First, summarize the key elements of the investment process (or whatever your topic is). If you’re planning to take questions from the audience, say, “Before my closing remarks, are there any questions?” Answer them.

The last thirty seconds of your speech must send people out energized and fulfilled. This means, you need to finish your talk with something inspirational that supports your theme. My scientist friend Mike talked about the frustrations of being a scientist. He closed by saying, “People often ask, ‘Why should anyone want to be a scientist?’” Then, Mike told them about a particularly information-intensive medical conference he had attended. The final speaker walked from the back of the room and said, “I am a 32-year-old wife and mother of two. I have AIDS. Please work fast.”

Mike received a standing ovation for his first speech to a lay audience. His presentation was successful because he had simplified the complexity of his job and made it a human interest story, both from his point of view and from the patients they were dedicated to helping.

How Do I Polish My Speech?

Your next step is to make a written draft of your speech. You can assemble your notes, or you may prefer to record your ideas and transcribe the words. Then, read your draft to confirm that it has the following qualities:

  • Interest – After every point you make, ask yourself, “Who cares?” If no one does, edit it out.
  • Conciseness – Delete redundancies and clichés.
  • Effectiveness – Are your supporting examples strong and on target? If not, replace them.
  • Personal – Does it have a high I-You Factor? Be sure you’ve connected yourself with your audience by putting them into your speech.
  • Political correctness – PC is sometimes regarded as unnecessary or overdone, but it is essential. You lose listeners if you unintentionally offend them.

Vigorous polishing in preparing a speech makes your talk tighter, more powerful, and less likely to bore or irritate your audience.

Preparing to Deliver Your Speech

How Do I Rehearse?

Open your presentation with impact

Once you’ve edited and fine-tuned a written version, or strong outline of your talk you’re going to practice it. (You may think this is too much trouble, but you’ll be glad you did.) Oscar-winner  Michael Caine says, “Rehearsal is the work, performance is the relaxation.”

1. Record Yourself

Record yourself delivering your talk out loud to check on timing and emphasis.

2. Prepare Outline Notes

Prepare outline notes. Even if you’ve just gone to a great deal of trouble to prepare a written speech, you’re NOT going to read it! Nothing puts an audience to sleep faster. Instead, you’re going to speak directly and spontaneously to the audience, maintaining essential eye contact.

The secret is to prepare easy-to-read notes. Write your key points on a pad or card that you’ll keep on the lectern or table. Use a bold felt-tip pen or a large typeface on your printer. As you speak, you’ll follow your road map with quick glances. An easy-to-read wristwatch or small clock on the lectern lets you keep track of the time so you can speed up or slow down, cut or add material, in order to finish on time.

3. Listen for Non-Words

Record your impromptu talk. Again, check for timing. As you play it back, notice repetitive phrases and non-words like “er” and “ah.” Try again, minus these distracting irritants, until you are speaking smoothly and confidently.

4. Practice & Get Feedback

In preparing to deliver your speech, practice in front of a safe and friendly audience. Ask one or two perceptive people for their feedback. Make it clear that you want specific suggestions, not just praise. Did they understand the points you were making? Was there a lack of logic or continuity? Did they think you spoke too quickly or slowly? Use their feedback to polish your presentation.

5. Write Your Own Introduction

Write your own introduction, send in advance, and bring a printed copy! Even if you’re speaking gratis, you want the emcee to pronounce your name right, mention your company’s name, and tell people how to get in touch with you.

The Big Day

If you’re speaking from a stage, explain to the person introducing you that you’ll come on stage from the wings before they leave the lectern after introducing you. They need to get off the stage before the audience stops applauding. This way, the audience looks at you instead of at the emcee.

You’ve taken center stage. Now, take it away!

Follow these guidelines in preparing your speech and guarantee it is a success.


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FrippVT is a state-of-the-art, web-based training platform that emulates live training and coaching. It is almost as if Presentation Expert and Executive Speech Coach, Patricia Fripp were sitting in front of you. FrippVT is designed to be immediately engaging and makes it fun to learn. If you are a novice presenter or a seasoned professional, you will find the content both practical and relevant.

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FrippVT is the BEST investment in my speaking career. After 2 months instead of the $300 I paid I would have paid $3,000. For the first time in my career, I really know what I’m doing when I take the stage. My clients and audience members tell me, “Your presentations are easier to follow and your presentation skills have vastly improved.”  From your training in FrippVT, I learned a customizing technique that resulted in being hired to deliver a speech internationally.”

– Mitzi Perdue, Speaker, Businesswoman, Author of How to Make Your Family Business Last: Techniques for Keeping the Family Business in the Family, and Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Business and Life Lessons from Frank Perdue

About Presentation Expert, Patricia Fripp

Companies that want to drive sales and gain a competitive edge hire Patricia Fripp to help them improve their important conversations and presentations. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance wrote, “One of the best ways to invest in success is to learn presentation skills from Patricia Fripp.” Fripp was named one of the “Top 25 Women in Sales” and is among the “Top 30 Coaching Gurus.”