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?