Step 1: Creating a Strategy
In this step we build a game plan, a process which involves two tasks: understanding the context and setting goals.
To understand the context of the speech means to make sure you know the situation in which you will speak: How much time will you speak? Who will be in the audience? Are there other speakers, and if so who are they? etc.
Based on this information you should determine what can youexpect to achieve and how you expect to achieve it. For instance, if you are a college student that has to present a report you need to show command of the material and analytic skills (after you determined what the professor expects, and how long you will have). If you are going to give a sales presentation we need to decide if we can aim for closing a deal or just to get a meeting with an executive.
Step 2 – Brainstorming
In this step you turn to your creative side and try to generate as many ideas for arguments and examples as you can, so that you will be able subsequently to build your speech from them. In this step it is important to let your associations run freely so that you will have as much material to work with in the next steps. Therefore, I recommend working with a pen and paper and to jot down any thought that occurs to you. This recording is necessary because when you get hit by a burst of ideas, you might forget one while you’re working on the next.
For those of us who are highly self critical I recommend to make a mental note of temporarily turning off of your criticism switch, and to write down even ideas that are clearly weak or deficient. The reason is that critical examination blocks the creative process by expecting every idea to come out fully formed. That stifles half-baked idea that might have been developed into brilliant ones.
By the way, research shows that persistent critical attitude to brainstorming does in fact reduces creativity and induces negative self-image.
Step 3 – Organizing an Outline
In this stage you turn back on the ‘criticism swtich’, and you concentrate all the stray thoughts that we wrote down during brainstorm into a skeleton of a speech that will promote our strategy. We look down on the page with the ideas and perform three actions that will lead to a concise outline:
- Consolidating– In this step we look at all of our arguments and examples and see which ones of them go together. It is quite possible that two of them say the same thing and are thus redundant. Alternatively, two weak ideas can actually merge into one powerful argument. Consolidating and eliminating redundant ideas also reduces clutter.
- Filtering and prioritizing – here you need to decide which arguments should be dropped out because they are not good, period (e.g. they are not convincing, factually wrong, insulting to some in the audience or inconsistent with other arguments), and which are just not good enough (because they take too much time, or are inferior to other arguments.
- Organizing – In this step we should determine the order in which the arguments are going to be presented, in other words, we have an outline.
Step 4 – Developing Arguments
In this stage we take the outline we have produced, and work on expanding each heading into a fully developed argument.
This process involves creating a logical explanation of the heading, and then adding factual evidence such as examples, statistics etc. In this stage it is quite useful to take advantage of scrap notes we used in the brainstorming stage – there are often useful examples or concepts there.
Step 5 – Reviewing and Revising
In this stage we take a step back and view the speech from the audience’s perspective. We present the speech to ourselves – preferably out-loud – and observe the stronger and weaker points. This is a good chance to catch mistakes and errors and fix them. If the changes are substantial it would be necessary to read the speech again. Before reviewing a speech it is important to disengage from the actual writing in order to get a fresh perspective. A good disengagement would be to take a coffee break or make a couple of phone calls, but if time is rushed it may be enough to close your eyes for a few seconds, take a deep breath and let your mind slip – and then review the speech.
Another advantage of this review process is that it is a bit of a rehearsal and will improve your command of the material and the flow of your presentation
A final note
Each of these stages is crucial, and they should be performed in sequence, but it is perfectly legitimate to jump back and forth if the situation requires and the time permits. For instance, it is quite possible that during argument development, a new insight requires re arranging the outline or even revising the strategy.