3 Questions You Must Ask (and Answer) BEFORE Writing a Word of Your Speech

person wiriting in notebook

by Terry Wall

If you’ve read any of my articles, or seen me speak, or heard me on a video or webinar, you know that I’m big on writing as a key to delivering a successful speech or presentation.


But I find that many people want to start writing the actual speech immediately, and if they do that, they end up wasting time. Before you EVER write a word, you should answer these 3 questions.

(Obviously you should write the following stuff down-just don’t start writing the text of the speech till you’ve done this exercise.)

1. What is the purpose of my presentation? Most presentations are designed to do at least one of the following:

Inform Motivate Persuade Inspire Teach

So you first identify which one you’re trying to do, and then develop a purpose statement: To persuade the Board of Directors to approve our acquisition of the XYZ company.

This should be quite clear, and will help you deal with subsequent questions.

2. What is the theme? Here we’re looking for the overall theme, or thesis of the presentation. Using the above example, the theme would probably be: Our acquisition of the XYZ company will be good for our company, for our employees and shareholders, for our community.

Your job, once you get to writing, will be to weave this theme throughout the presentation.

3. What ideas might be good for opening the presentation? When delivering your presentation, the opening (the first words out of your mouth) is the most important part, because if you lose them at “Hello,” getting them to listen to your middle or close will be exceedingly difficult.

You opening must be compelling and attention-grabbing, something that makes your audience scream (in their heads), “I WANT TO HEAR MORE!”

“Hello, my name’s Bill Smith, and I’m thrilled to be here” won’t cut it.

And your opening must relate to your purpose and theme. An executive I coached was preparing a speech to open a facility built for a charitable cause, and in his opening he wanted to thank the members of the committee.

I asked, “What does thanking them have to do with your purpose of getting the public to make more financial contributions?” The answer was “nothing,” so we got rid of that.

You’re not finalizing the opening, just generating some ideas that you can choose from later.

Here are some ways to open your presentation:

A quote: When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.

A statistic: Our country’s worst day, when 5000 Americans lost their lives.

A provocative question: When faced with a serious threat to survival, what is the cost of doing nothing?

A provocative statement: I looked into the woman’s striking blue eyes, and knew something was wrong.

A visual image: Imagine! It’s Ireland in 1850, and you’re trudging up the gangway of a large, rickety ship for the treacherous journey to America!

You need several ideas, so that when you get to actually writing the speech, you can choose the best one.

So be sure that you’ve identified the purposetheme, and opening or your presentation, before you start to write the actual text of the speech. This will definitely save time, and make for better writing. That in turn will contribute to better presentation delivery.

About the author

To download a free pdf of the Speech/Presentation Planning Form I use, go to http://www.terrywall.com/killer-presentation-skills-resources/ This page also has other valuable resources for developing Killer Presentation Skills.