When I help clients create their speeches and presentations, I find myself spending quite a bit of time helping them think through what they want to say. As far as I’m concerned, a speech is only as good as the idea it sets forth.
If the speech’s idea is feeble, misguided or misleading, illogical, false, or trite, nothing else — words and phrases, visual aids, delivery — nothing can save it. Even if it meets with the audience’s wild approval — a standing ovation and 5′s on the evaluation sheet — it is still a bad speech.
A good speech sets forth one — and only one — idea.
You can develop a complex idea with several interconnected elements, if you have a mind to and if it suits your purpose and the needs of the audience. But it still has to be a single, unified idea. It helps, of course, if the idea is worthy of being talked about, if it is insightful, provocative, helpful, or entertaining.
So how do you come up with such an idea? Or how do you test your idea to make sure it’s a good idea?
You ask questions. Lots and lots of questions.
I always like starting off with the basics: who? what? where? when? why? how? But don’t stop there. (This web page categorizes any number of questions you might want to ask.)
But here’s the thing to keep in mind. The questions you ask shape the answers you get. Ask what the problem is, for example, and you’ll learn about problems. You may not hear about progress that has already been made or about unheralded successes or about people’s attachment to the way things are.
The more questions you ask and the greater variety of questions you ask, the better. They’ll keep you from narrowing the scope of your thinking too early.
It helps, too, to have a variety of people asking questions. Like-minded people tend to ask the same type of questions. Bring in outsiders. Give them permission to ask questions, even if they don’t seem to make sense to you. It’s hard to see your own blind spots and biases.
And question your own questions. What assumptions are you making? Are you assuming, for example, that there is a problem? Why are you making that assumption? Is it a fair assumption to make? What are the questions you most frequently ask? Why? What questions do you shy away from asking? Why?
What are your favorite questions to ask, when you’re thinking through an idea?