6 Basic Questions To Begin To Build A Speech



Snakes. Death. Public Speaking.

According to people who measure such things (we’ll get to citing sources soon), people are more afraid of speaking in public than of spiders or dying.

Or, as Jerry Seinfeld once put it, a person would rather be in the casket than deliver the eulogy.


Now, I’m deeply introverted and have been socially awkward for as long as I can remember.

Yet, I can speak comfortably – and powerfully – in front of more than 1,000 strangers.



I go up on any stage owning the material I’m about to deliver.

And while it’s easy to talk in hypotheticals about tips and tricks – and we’ll give you some of those over the next couple weeks – I thought the anxious (and even the experts) among us might appreciate watching me build a new speech/talk/presentation from the ground up.

On Saturday, April 14th, I’m speaking at TEDxMU – a regional TED talk where great ideas are (hopefully) born and begin to grow into world-changing plans-of-action.

I’m developing a new talk for the occasion.

That’s where we’ll begin, and where you should begin any new presentation – by clearly and simply answering a few simple questions to give the talk a bit of a shape:

When’s the talk?

April 14th

How long is the talk supposed to be?

18 minutes, but I would ultimately like 30, 45 and 60-minute versions as well.

What, specifically, is the talk about?

What my son – with a communications disorder – taught me – a communications professional – about communication.

What’s the one main idea you want the audience to take away?

That we all have special needs. That connecting with others – ironically in the age of social media – is complicated and takes work, but there’s never been a more important time to connect and my son and his therapists can teach us how to do it if we open our eyes and ears.

Oh, and it’s soooooo worth it.

What is it you want the audience to do as a result of your talk?

Stop playing Farmville … so to speak. I want people to begin to question the basic assumptions underlying our faux-social, insular zombie world of noise, self-importance and excess. Can we start to question “How much is enough?” and “What should we begin to do with what’s left over?”

Are you supporting your talk with a slide deck?


Those six basic questions help you begin to make the talk smaller – and more real and less frightening – in your mind.

Strip it down to its basic elements – the wheels and pulleys, if you will. Remove its mystique. It’s just you and some basic material that you happen to know very well and can deliver clearly – as long as you can get out of its way.

Frankly, by using this method, even a 7-year-old can master delivering a speech … even a 7-year-old with a communication disorder.

Tomorrow, I’ll interview one and let him tell you about it.


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As CEO and Head Custodian of Miles & Company, Tim Miles helps owner-operated companies do more with less. He's the author of Good Company: Making It, Keeping It & Being It.

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  • http://www.philsforum.com Phil Wrzesinski

    I think the most critical point most poor speakers fail to do is answer your fourth question, “What’s the one main idea you want the audience to take away?” The speeches that have moved me the most always seem to revolve around one main point, often from a variety of angles, but always returning to that one main point.

    As a public speaker who loves the microphones and crowds, I’m looking forward to the rest of your thoughts on this subject.

  • http://www.thewoodlandswizardofads.com Joshua Stevens

    Tim, when I read your post this afternoon I immediately thought of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends & Influence People” class I took 12 years ago…

    Rule #1 in public speaking that they teach…”The best and first rule to follow is to know your material.”

    Since I doubt you’ve ever been involved w/ Dale Carnegie, and yet he spent many years developing his material talking to America’s best and brightest (as I remember it, at least), while you are starting w/ similar intuitions as you prepare a new talk out of thin air.
    That’s actually a fascinating topic for a series of posts and I will look forward to reading them…

  • Gayle Pesavento

    Totally agree with “owning the material” and keying in on your purpose and audience response. Although implied in your steps, knowing as much as you can about your audience is key too. And that’s where things can really get complicated. We’ve become so quick to punctuate our comments to the masses with :( or :) I think we sometimes forget we’re trying to connect with individuals with full and wonderful and sometimes scary lives. I probably say at least a dozen times a semester “communication is a receiver phenomenon” — know your receivers and ordinary becomes extraordinary!

  • http://www.sprinklejoy.net Liz

    This is very helpful. I just sat through a Dardis Public Speaking class a couple of weekends ago for my Masters. They had a couple of good tips – but I agree, you’ve got to be prepared!