Five Questions to Ask As You Prepare Your Speech

Andy Stanley is the founder and senior pastor of Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also one of the best communicators I have ever heard. His “Leadership Podcast” is designed “to help leaders go further faster.” I can attest to the fact that it delivers on its promise.

Man Writing on a Legal Pad - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #666501

Photo courtesy of ©

Today, while on my morning run, I listened to his episode on Effective Communication for the second time. I have read many, many books on public speaking. However, this is the simplest, most elegant advice I have ever heard on this topic. In the podcast, he provides five questions he asks himself while preparing a speech. These sit on his desk to remind him of the basic structure every talk should follow.

  1. Information: “What do they need to know?” He forces himself to boil this down to the one thing. He is a proponent of preaching and teaching one-point messages. People won’t remember more than this, and it is a fool’s errand to shoot for more. It’s better to focus on one key take-away that people won’t forget. He provides several examples:
    • “Your friends will determine the direction and quality of your life.”
    • “Purity paves the way to intimacy.”
    • “When you see as God sees, you’ll do as God says.”
    • “Submission is an invitation for someone to lead.”
    • “Choose the hard right over the easy wrong.”
    • “Everybody lives forever somewhere.”
    • “Acceptance fuels influence.”
    • “Good people don’t go to heaven; forgiven people do.”
    • “God takes full responsibility for the life fully devoted to Him.”
  2. Motivation: “Why do they need to know it?” This is the key, Andy says, to developing tension in your introduction. If people don’t believe they need to know what you are about to tell them, they perceive it as irrelevant—whether it is or not. On the other hand, if they believe it is relevant, it makes them hungry to hear what you have to say.
  3. Application: “What do they need to do?” Andy talks about boiling the message down to something your listeners can do with what you are telling them. He even assigns homework and provides several real-world examples that are both creative and fun. He encourages communicators to be highly specific with their call-to-action.
  4. Inspiration: “Why do they need to do it?” It’s not just enough to tell people what they need to know, why they need to know it, and what they need to do about it. They also need to know why they need to do what you are asking them to do. This is the missing ingredient in so many messages. This is an opportunity to cast vision. “Imagine what our company/church/organizaton/world be like if everyone did what I am asking you to do this evening?” The key is to get people to envision a different future and motivate them to act.
  5. Reiteration: “What can I do to help them remember?” Andy is a big believer in sending something home with his audience that will serve as a visual reminder. For example, instead of just telling parents that the time with their children will pass before they know it, Reggie Joiner, one of Andy’s colleagues, gave bottles of beads to them with the number of weekends they had left before they graduated from high school. That’s a much more powerful reminder than closing a message with “Our kids are growing up fast. Let’s close in prayer and ask God to help us redeem the time.”

This just scratches the surface. If you are a leader, I highly recommend that you listen to this particular podcast as well as subscribe to Andy’s ongoing episodes. It is one of the best investments you can make in your own leadership. You may also wish to follow Andy on Twitter.

Question: If you are a speaker, what else have you found helpful in your preparation?
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  • human3rror

    this is epic!

  • Daniel Decker

    Great advice. I think these apply to more than just speech prep but communication overall.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think you are right. It definitely applies to writing.

  • DerKleineDude

    Thanks for your recommendations. I try to use them next time soon.

  • MonikaM

    It helps to be practicing what I'm teaching or to tell my story of why I personally need what I'm talking about.

  • Julie

    Thank you for this insight. It also applies to writing "tight" too.

  • Cheryl

    I agree with Julie and have also linked to this on my writing/publishing blog. Even if they don't plan to speak, if writers use these principles on a chapter by chapter basis, or as they are putting together just about any kind of promotional material, they can't go wrong. Thank you very much for this great resource.

  • Michael Hyatt

    You're welcome. I think they apply equally well to writing as well. Thanks for linking!

  • Rhett Smith

    So timely…I'm teaching a parenting class this summer, and I have a marriage class I'm teaching on Saturday night…had just finished my notes…now going back and reviewing my stuff.


  • patriciazell

    As an English teacher, I insist that my students write three major points in their essays. As a result, many of these papers are sparse. I'm going to try to have the students make one major point in their essays and see if their papers become richer in detail.

    As for me, when the Lord opens the door to speaking, I'll keep these pointers as markers for me. Since I'll probably be tempted to tell people everything I know, this structure will help me maintain boundaries for my words.

  • Rebecca Stuhlmiller

    As a speaker, I keep in mind my audience when I prepare. I start by asking God, “What do these women need to hear from you at this time?” Then I ask God how to package it to be most effective to the listener. I speak to young moms, empty-nesters, and women in leadership. My content stays basically the same, but the “how” I present it changes slightly.

    Andy Stanley's books "VIsioneering" and "Communicating for Change" are on my "keep forever"shelf. I especially appreciated his "me, we, God, you, and we" approach to message formation.

  • Peter_P


    You REALLY need to write a book.

    I'm printing almost every other post of yours for offline reference. It would be so much easier if I had them in book form.

    Maybe with perforated pages so I can tear them out and stick them to my wall as reminders.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your kind words.

      Actually, I am writing a book on “The How of Wow.“ It is scheduled to be out this fall.

      • Peter_P

        "The How of Wow" sounds intriguing….

  • Fokke

    Hi Michael,

    I had somewhat the same experience when I listened to this podcast. Wantend to blog about it but your post is just great. Thnxs. Fokke

  • slow cheetah

    I can't listen to the podcast because i dont have itunes?! Is there any other way if not itunes?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I'm sorry, but I don't know. You might search the Northpoint Community Church web site.

  • Martin

    This is good, pretty much sums up an entire semester of public speaking. I think the only other things I like to focus on when preparing for a speech is energy/tone and the audience. These can probably be summed up into delivery, whether I'm going to speak in a way to grab the group's attention or focus on certain key points. Like the reiteration portion, but without necessarily reiterating.

  • Mary

    Great stuff – thanks for sharing!

  • Jim

    good call

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  • Myrna

    Thank you Deacon Michael! Maybe one day..I'll be able to speak.

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  • Joseph Sanchez

    I’m a big fan of Andy Stanley. Such a great communicator and the leadership podcast is practical and relevant. Great post.

  • Mark McDonald

    Andy Stanley is a great communicator. I had the chance to hear him in Australia at the Hillsong Conference. Even though I knew his method of public speaking, the style is so good that it draws you in. Even though I knew where he was up to and what was coming next from a speaker point of view, from a topic point of view I wanted to hear what he had to say.

    The best tip is has is “the One thing”, what is the one thing the audience needs to know. That has saved me many times.

    Michael you perspective on his style was insightful too.

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