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Ask a Speaker: How Should I Plan a Speech?

March 20, 2013

speaker panel

The “ask a speaker series” consists of a series of posts, each one designed to answer a common problem people face when speaking in public. We ask our top speaking experts, with almost a century of public speaking experience between them, how it’s done.

For many speakers starting out, the problem of finding topics, and trimming down their ideas can be as difficult as giving speeches themselves. In this post, we ask our speakers how they plan their speeches.

Jakub Pawlowski (National Speech Competition Runner Up, London Division Governor of Toastmasters International):

Think about your message and the purpose of your speech first. And it has to be ‘message’ (singular) because a  lot of different messages would only confuse your audience. Secondly think about how you could support your message with facts or anecdotes. Sometimes it may be just one story if your speech is short enough. Thirdly think about an enticing, attention-grabbing opening and even more powerful closing. Lastly tie everything together and remove extraneous words so as with all good dishes you’re left with a beautifully roasted meat and no excess fat 🙂

George Jerjian (Marketing Professional, Past President 2001-2):
  • Always try to select a topic that is personal because that is what audiences love and what’s more it adds authenticity.
  • The plan should start with three main points, followed by a conclusion and only after that should you plan the introduction and title.
  • Always look at what the objectives of the speech are and ensure that your main points cover them and you may wish to ensure that you have covered the questions that the evaluator is expected to answer.

Vaughan Evans (Strategy Consultant, Member since 1990):

Find a topic which enthuses you.  Then, no matter how well you structure the speech, or deliver it, the audience will enjoy it – because they will feed on your evident enthusiasm, interest and inspiration.

David West (Retired Benefits Consultant, Toastmaster for over ten years):

Pick a subject and if it’s for a Toastmaster project make sure it is one which will help you meet the objectives in the manual. It should be something you feel strongly about or have expertise in or it may be a funny story or a special occasion speech (wedding etc.)

Secondly do an outline plan with beginning, middle, end. The most important bits are the beginning to grab people’s attention and the ending which may be a call to action, a conclusion, the punchline/twist to a humorous speech,  the moral to a tale… or a wedding a toast!
You are then ready to flesh out your speech –  remember it is going to be spoken not read and ideally without notes so try to imagine what it will sound like as you write and read it out loud to check timing.
Then practice, practice and don’t be afraid to edit it.
If you are a Toastmaster the project outline in the manual will give you a lot of help.

Carol West (Retired Civil Servant and Distinguished Toastmaster):

Because I am a writer and poet I have a vivid imagination and it comes easily to me.  However, for somebody new I would suggest they make a note of their hobbies, favourite things to eat or do and interesting people they admire or know.  Fit it into the criteria.
It is good to have an interesting opening, middle and end rehearse with a mentor when beginning in TMs
I feel it is important to read the speech out loud to yourself in front of a mirror.


Have you got a question to ask our panel. Feel free to post any questions in the comments below, or contact us at with your public speaking related questions.

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