The Menu Approach: How to write an effective and memorable speech in 5 minutes

If you have an important presentation coming up, the task of writing a speech may seem daunting. But, if done correctly, the writing part is actually the easiest. Once you are able to quickly write an effective speech, then you can then spend the rest of your time practicing and polishing it. Even if you only have 24 hours of prep time, you will look cool and feel feel professional. Better yet, you may not need to use notes!

Most likely you have been called upon to speak because you have information that the audience needs to learn. This means that you already know everything you need to know – so you do not have to torture yourself by writing out an entire speech word-for-word. The following structure is the quickest and easiest way to build a speech for maximum retention.

The Menu Approach

For those who have rarely or never spoken, you may have heard the old three-part formula, “Tell them what you’re gonna tell them, tell them what you said you’d tell them, tell them what you told them.” This is, indeed, a good place for a fledgling speaker to start with when speaking for an even more inexperienced audience. This is like a recipe for a decent meatloaf. It’s basic, it’s filling, and it can satisfy the general public.

If you are past your first speech, and you are in front of a more refined audience, you may want to use what I call the Menu Approach. It is a little more advanced, but, frankly, it is even easier and far more effective.

A good speech is much like a good meal. If you follow the recipe for a basic speech (meatloaf), the end results are OK. If you follow the formula for a full meal, the results are stellar. Luckily, the Menu Approach for your speech is simple. Like the old tried-and-true recipe above, it only has three parts:

  1. Wow them with why (the appetizer)
  2. Tell them what they need to hear in a way that is interesting, memorable, and fun (the main course)
  3. Tell them a story that illustrates how they can use what they just learned (the dessert)

Now that you know what the whole meal will look like, set a timer for five minutes and begin writing:

Minute 1 – Get to the point in three or fewer examples

Use your first minute to answer the two most important questions: What is my point? Why do does my audience care? Answer these two questions, and you have the mission statement for your speech — IN ONE SENTENCE. It doesn’t matter if your presentation is supposed to be six minutes or six hours, your mission statement should be one sentence. Period. It might even be the title of your speech.

Next, look at that list of points you want to make. Grab your red pen and chop them down to three. No more, no less. Three is a magic number that will help both you and your audience remember your content.

Minute 2 – Start at the end

For this minute, you will start with the dessert, or your conclusion. What do you want them to come away with? What do you want them to remember? What personal story can you tell them that best supports this? Yes, personal. Jot down some notes to help you remember the story.

Minutes 3&4 – Flesh out the middle

Now that you have your three main points, you have everything you need for your main course. Under each point, write five to seven things that are important about it. Now, cross out all but the three most important. Move on to the next point and do the same. Once done, the body of your speech will contain all the meat and no filler.

Minute 5 – Finish with the start

Your speech is ready. Now you will write the introduction. Think of this as the blurb on the menu. Much like its food equivalent, your introduction should whet the audience’s appetite so that they want more. You already know what you are going to tell them; now get them excited about hearing it. Your introduction should include that mission statement you started with as well as something about you that is both interesting and relevant.

Under most circumstances, you will give the person who introduces you all of your credentials, so don’t repeat those. Don’t ruin your audience’s enthusiasm by starting off with something lame like, “Thank you, it’s great to be here…” Give them something new and personal so they will be with you for the rest of the speech. If you can include some humor, you’re golden.

Put it all together

That’s it! You have all you need for cohesive, informative speech. If you have more time, you may go back and write out the entire thing – but you don’t have to. As long as you know what you want to say and the order you want to say it, you will easily be able to remember it and not have to read it, which means that you can engage with your diners…er…audience…and make their meal memorable.

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