Questions to Ask Yourself
The best speeches and presentations are built around an idea — a single, good idea.
That idea may be simple or complex, sophisticated or homespun, philosophical or down-to-earth practical. It may have far-ranging implications or a very specific application. It may appeal to a broad audience or to a select few. But it has to have the power to change people’s lives in some way — to change how they think or feel or act. (Here’s a post I wrote about changing the way people think.)
Before you do any other preparation — long before you turn on PowerPoint and start generating slides — think through your idea. (I listed most of these questions in a different form and from a different point of view in an earlier post. I’m revisiting them because I think they’re so important and so frequently overlooked.)
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the gist of the idea? How would you sum it up in a single sentence?
- What one thing does the audience need to know more than anything else?
- What surprised you when you were doing your research or investigating? What do you still find intriguing?
- What anecdote or metaphor captures the essence of the idea? What object or action is your idea like?
- Where is the conflict? What conflict (of ideas, events, or people) caused this idea in the first place? What conflict does this idea address? What conflict does or will it generate?
- Can you put a face on the idea? Is some person associated with the idea? Does someone’s life or work or story illustrate the idea? Who is affected, positively or negatively, by the idea?
- Does a quote articulate this idea?
- What are the central elements of this idea and how do they connect or interact?
- What is the shape of the idea? If you were to draw it on a napkin or on a white board, would it look like a flow chart, concentric circles, a stair case, a twisting path, a pyramid, opposing forces?
- What is your point of view? Are you its proponent or opponent? Are you a skeptic or a believer?
- What problem does the idea solve? What problem does it cause? Who is affected by the problem or by its solution?
- What goal does the idea achieve?
- What is the history of the idea? How has it been articulated in the past? How has the idea evolved over time?
- What is the central event of the idea? What occurred that gave rise to the need for the idea or that provided knowledge and insight that led to the idea?
- What is the process of the idea? What led up to the idea? How does the idea unfold? What are the future implications of the idea?
- What questions does the idea raise or leave unanswered?
These are the questions, or some of the questions, to ask yourself as you’re thinking through the idea of your speech. There are other questions, of course, to ask yourself about the audience and the event.
As you’re thinking through the central idea of your speech or presentation, what questions do you ask?
Photo courtesy of Dan Paluska at Flickr.