3 Essential Questions to Ask Yourself When Writing A Speech

At the District 30 (Chicagoland) Toastmaster Leadership Institute for Winter 2013-2014, the 2004 World Champion of Public Speaking, Randy J. Harvey, PhD., J.D., was invited to be the keynote speaker for the event.

In his presentation, he outlined the three essential questions you need to ask yourself when you are considering writing a speech.    This post is a summary of that presentation.

1.   Who are you?

Everything you do is an outward manifestation of your inward philosophy of life.    You may not have formulated it in concrete terms, or even know what those terms are, but it is the foundation of your actions.    You need to ask yourself “what do I believe?”  “What are the essential characteristics that would describe me?”

The reason why you need to ask this question is because those people who are aware of their philosophy of life, and do speeches based on that knowledge, are those that come across as more authentic to an audience because they are not just parroting something they have read, they are talking about something which comes out of their LIFE.

2.  What are you about?

A belief is something that can change, but a core value is something which is relatively constant in one’s life, and is something even more fundamental to who you are than a belief.     If you were to place a narrow board across two of the highest buildings in Chicago on an icy, windy day, would you be willing to cross that for a $1 million?    Probably not, because you would be risking your life, and your life is worth more than that.

But if you saw your child in danger on the other building, you might indeed be willing to make that sacrifice.    That is because the love of your child is a core value that is so important that you would be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of your own life if it meant saving that child’s life.

3.  Where did you learn that?

There are both people and events which have clarified for us those beliefs and core values which were discussed in the previous two paragraphs.    If you relive an event which taught you a moral value, or describe a person that taught you that moral value, then you are recreating the wellspring of your moral existence.

If you ask yourself these three questions, you will be able to find your own voice that is authentic, meaning that it is primarily created out of your own experiences, and not derived from the thoughts or ideas of others.    When you speak from this voice, you will find yourself speaking at a level of authenticity that you need to become a world-class speaker, whether you enter the International Speech Contest or not.

Dr. Harvey’s talk reminded me of the time when I lost my first speech contest.   I tried really hard but only got as far as the Area Contest, but didn’t go on to the Division Contest.    Part of me was disappointed, although I put on a brave, smiling face to all the others in the room.    One of the judges came up to me after the end of the contest and said, “I just wanted to encourage you to compete again in the future, because you’ve got ‘the fire’.”    “What do you mean, ‘the fire’?”  The judge went on to explain that what she meant was that I spoke from a sincere conviction, and that came across in the passion of my speech.    She said, “Toastmasters can teach you technique, but they can’t teach you to have conviction.   You’ve got to find that out for yourself, and it looks like you’ve already found that.    Come back next year, and you’ll see how far you’ve progressed.”

On the way home, I started to think, “well maybe I should join the next contest.    I wonder what I can talk about?”  And then I caught myself coming home from one contest and thinking already about what I was going to do in the next contest, and I laughed.   “I’m hooked!”    But it took someone to recognize that conviction, that “voice” inside the unpolished speaker, and I am so grateful she spoke up and decided to encourage me.    That conviction is what Dr. Harvey was talking about uncovering in his speech, and I’m so glad I went to have these important lessons reinforced.

I now have a club to go back to and inspire for the Spring Speech Contest!


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