You need more than 24 hours to write a speech.

Before we begin, this is totally my fault. I signed up for a speech at Toastmasters 4 weeks ago, hot on the heels of my last one.

That is more than enough time, even allowing a week for the holiday I took in the meantime.

My plan was (as recommended by someone at my club):

Week 1-2 – brain storm

Week 3 – write the speech

Week 4 – rehearse the speech

But you can see where my time has gone recently. That’s it – into my writing. So I discounted weeks 1-3 because I had plenty of content and figured I could quickly refine a post into a speech and rehearse it in, say, 2 weeks.

And then more important things came up: my wife was unwell and I wanted to apply for the LinkedIn creator programme application.

And before I knew it, I was 24 hours away from giving my speech and hadn’t even started it.

Eeek! Squeaky bum time.

I’ve committed to this learning journey at TM, so I was damn well going to go and talk, however bad it was. I’m not quitting on this. I’d rather face the embarrassment of the speech not being any good, than let down the other club members by cancelling at the last minute.

So, with that in mind, and the clock ticking Kiefer Sutherland style, I got to work.

Here’s the high level process I followed.

  1. I brainstormed what I wanted to talk about and what I wanted the talk to do, e.g. educate, inspire and so on. ~30 mins
  2. I worked out the main structure of the talk ~30 mins
  3. I wrote the talk out word for word, reading it out loud and refining it as I went (which helps remember the speech later) ~2 hours, ~30 mins for first draft for a 5-7 minute speech and ~90 mins to edit
  4. I found pulled out key words from the talk and made summary notes, in line with the structure ~30 mins
  5. Rehearsed the talk 4 times
  6. Once I was happy with the talk and summary, I wrote out the summary notes to keep close to hand on the evening ~15 mins

This was for a 5-7 minute speech.

NB when you time yourself, allow an extra minute for pauses, audience reaction and the witty things you think of when you’re ‘live’

Here’s a more detailed look at what I did

  1. I brainstormed what I wanted to talk about and what I wanted the talk to do, e.g. educate, inspire and so on. ~30 mins

I had a clear brief from TM, I could talk about whatever I wanted, but needed to focus on vocal variety and varied body language. So I decided to tell a story with some ups and downs, some emotion, some disappointment, some fear.

I decided to write about writing this blog and the journey to get here. I included being inspired by my high school English teacher and gaining enough confidence after a month of writing to submit an application for the LinkedIn creators programme.

It helped that this was so recent, and I could build a story around it. Choosing something recent also helps you remember the talk when you stand up to deliver it and see people staring at you in anticipation!

2. I worked out the main structure of the talk ~30 mins

A nice simple structure to use is:

Beginning | Point 1 | Point 2 | Point 3 | End, usually a summary/repeat

This time I chose the story telling approach, to better bring out the highs and lows.

I used ‘the man in the hole’ structure and learned the key stages (below) from Pipdecks

The key stages are:

Thanks to
  • Comfort zone: this is not a bad place but something is missing, some potential is going to waste.
  • Trigger: something knocks you down. Either you were unlucky or you weren’t paying attention.
  • Crisis: you’re down in a hole, but in stories we find treasure in the dark. This is where you find or learn something valuable.
  • Recovery: you put what you’ve learned to good use and start climbing back.
  • Better place: you are older and wiser, you won’t get knocked down so easily next time.

3. I wrote the talk out word for word, reading it out loud and refining it as I went ~2 hours, ~30 mins for first draft for a 5-7 minute speech and ~90 mins to edit

In reality, this step is optional. If you’re confident enough to give a speech with some bullet points, then feel free to skip this. But if you like to script at least some of it, then I can’t highlight how important it is to read it out loud and check the words flow properly in spoken format.

Even if you don’t want to script your talk, I think it helps to write it out, so you can see the flow of the story or talk laid out in front of you and check it makes sense. Do you have enough material for each point? Is one a sub-point or a repeat of another?

4. I found pulled out key words from the talk and made summary notes, in line with the structure ~30 mins

This is cross-check time. Does your prose align to your structure? Do 2 and 3 agree?

For me, today they didn’t. So I adjusted the man in the hole structure to fit what I wanted to say. This was an error – in my evaluation (in TM all speeches are evaluated) it was pointed out that my talk meandered, like I was heading off down the Yellow Brick Road…ouch! Fair feedback though.

5. Rehearsed the talk 4 times

Do this until you’re comfortable. For a 5-7 minute speech, following this process, talking about something you know well, you shouldn’t need to rehearse 10+ times.

The more you run over your lines, the more you’ll recognise them and remember how they link together. But it depends on how word perfect you want it. If you have less than 24 hours to prepare, I’ll assume you’re not fussy. You’ll find your rhythm.

6. Once I was happy with the talk and summary, I wrote out the summary notes to keep close to hand on the evening ~15 mins

Get an index card, or a piece of paper and write out your summary notes. Write one or two words per point if you can help it. Write more text if you want more comfort.

Whatever you do, DON’T put your notes on your phone! I tried this approach at a friend’s wedding when I was giving a best man’s speech. I couldn’t navigate the phone properly, the screen was small, I lost my place, the text expanded, then the window disappeared and I didn’t know my speech. It was a complete, embarrassing failure.

So don’t do it!

An alternative

I tried something different tonight. I copied what Seth Godin says he does in this interview with Every

I sometimes have to scrap the slides because there’s only one screen. Now, it takes a lot of preparation to give a talk with no slides. It’s much harder. But I invented something three emergencies ago that makes it much easier. I take a water bottle or a Starbucks cup on stage, and I stick my story list on the back. No one knows. They can’t see it. 

It worked. I didn’t need the prompt in the end, but it was great backup to have, and I built it into my speech. Love you Seth. Thank you Every.


And that’s it. In total, this is no more than 4 hours total work. But if you spread it over 24 hours, you allow more time for creativity in picking your topic, revising what you want to say and, of course, practice.

But there’s nothing to say this couldn’t be done in an afternoon.

Maybe that’s my next challenge?

Try this approach and let me know how you get on.

Best wishes,


Here’s the full speech and summary notes


Toastmasters speech 3 – vocal variety and body language

Idea: to build up from softly spoken and creeping around

To big and bold and marching, moving around, sitting on a chair next to someone, posing with my leg up on the chair, power posing

Talk about my journey since I signed up for this speech

From can’t get around to writing, to can’t stop!

Structure – storytelling – man in the hole

Thanks to

My talk, word for word

I’d like to tell you a story.

I was an enthusiastic student at school. My school report always scored me higher for effort than achievement. Not that I was a dim wit.

I enjoyed all subjects, but had a natural affinity for languages, including English.

When I was 15, I was completely inspired by the arrival of my English teacher, Mr Muggeridge. He was a 30 something white journalist who’d been kicked out of South Africa for being pro-ANC.

He taught us Chinua Achebe and about morals and was a great role model.

He was a cool guy and much loved.

I continued to A-Level, but found there was too much of a contrast between this Mr Muggeridge and the old lady who now taught me, and I quit the course in the first few weeks.

But a flicker of this inspiration stayed with me

At university I submitted some articles for the student newspaper.

Occasionally I’d write a funny email for friends.

Then one day in 2020, inspiration struck for the first time in years, and I wrote an article on linkedin. People engaged and applauded. They loved the subject matter and my honesty and vulnerability. I was genuinely surprised at how well I’d written. And inspired to do more.

But I quickly lost momentum.

I suffered from perfectionism. I waited for the inspiration to strike me again, but it never did.

Life took over. The pandemic, my work, family life, social life, looking after my health. I kept thinking about writing, but it was something for ‘one day in the future’.

The next year I volunteered for a local charity and wrote a blog post for them about ‘being your own recruiter’. Then I spoke for them. And I loved it so the chair put me in touch with Toastmasters. And I loved speaking.

Recently my boss, who I got on with, left work, and that forced me to reassess things.

After my last speech I went away saying to myself:

Jonny, it’s time to put on your big boy pants and actually do something about your writing and speaking.

A week later I had an introductory call with Akimbo, the organisation set up by my favourite author, Seth Godin, about their Creatives Workshop.

The next session starts in September they said. What? September?! Are you kidding me?

The person I spoke to said: You’ll get a head start on everyone if you can start publishing something every day. It doesn’t have to be big. Just post something.

So that’s what I did. I committed to posting something every day.

I started on 17th May and lasted a week.

Then I got to 10 days.

Then I went on holiday and thought it would end. But somehow I managed it. Even late at night after one too many glasses of wine, I would lie in the dark, falling asleep every couple of minutes, but making myself write to the point where I’d publish.

And though that might sound like a challenge, that was the easy part.

What was really scary was telling people about it. People I knew. Real people. Not my 10 followers on WordPress.

Because, whilst at work I have confidence and know what I’m doing, when I write I’m a total beginner.

If you took up the guitar, would you put a video of you on YouTube to compete with Brian May?

If you took up a new language, would you release a podcast for native speakers of that language?

Well that’s how I felt about writing. Huge imposter syndrome.

But after 3 weeks of making content, I told my friends on Facebook about it.

And the support I got was huge. People cheering me on. People giving me constructive criticism. I was improving.

And this gave me a massive boost!

And then LinkedIn did that thing that LinkedIn does. Just before I went to bed it flashed up a notification: Submit your application for the Creator’s Programme

A 6 week sponsored programme to create content and build an audience online.

And I thought…no I can’t do this

Then I thought…hang on, maybe I can. They want writing about work and life and vulnerability and someone who can speak and is prepared to make videos.

Then I thought…WAIT THIS IS A SIGN! (big booming voice) and I was looking around for the big blue finger from the national lottery advert and the voice of god saying: IT’S YOU.

So I wrote my submission and I thought – yeah I’ve got this. And I recorded a 90 second video and I thought HA THAT’S NOTHING! At least I know the subject and have time to prepare!

I submitted today. Even if I’m not accepted, the journey I’ve come on and the demons I’ve slayed in just a month, has been incredible.

I’ll let you know how I get on later this year.

I’d like to finish with 3 things I learned

Doing something small every day is easier than big pushes, and the best way to establish a habit

Put things out to your network – they’ll support you and you’ll learn

Finally, if you want to take notes up on stage with you, you can stick them to the back of your bottle, like this:

See my amended man in the hole structure, with 2x comfort zone – trigger transitions before the crisis.

Join the Conversation


      1. I can’t see, but I get nervous when a crowd is seeing me, and I know it. I get a voice at the back of my head, which starts its toxic commentary in the back of my head.

        Body feels heavy. I start to sweat, words don’t come to me.


      2. Tanish, thank you for sharing. Two things you might like:

        1) In Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, Jamie Foxx, the actor, is quoted as having said “What’s on the other side of fear?” His answer: “Nothing”. P606,

        2) Tim himself uses a technique regularly called fear-setting. He’s written about it and given a TED talk on it, which you can find a link to here:

        For me the quote is a useful, quick pattern-interrupt for negative thinking, and the fear-setting exercise a great way to get your worries out, look at them in the cold light of day and start to question how valid they are.

        Let me know if you find these helpful at all!


        Liked by 1 person

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: