The Zero-Prep Speech

Using these three simple steps, you’ll never be tongue-tied again

Clink, clink, clink. If I could have everyone’s attention, please. Throughout life we are sometimes surprised by a request to give a speech, and often those requests come at a moment’s notice. It’s the boss’ birthday and they ask you to give the toast? Filling in for the CEO at the weekly all-hands? This will help.

Several years ago, Christer Hanefalk, then Professor of Rhetorics at Stockholm University, taught me this simple and elegant cheat to give a great speech with little to no preparation.

Pick a topic. Any topic. Shoes? OK, here goes.

I remember when I was a little boy, living in the north of Sweden. My dear mother used to buy all my clothes for me. But one day, oh I remember it clear as yesterday, she took me to the shoe store and told me I could have any pair I wanted.
I was overjoyed. Naturally, being the pint-sized rebel I was, I went straight for the Cons. A defining moment, to be certain.
Think about that. The first time I got to make a decision for my own (vain) identity, I chose Cons. And everything that went with it. The punk culture, the music, the rebelliousness. Was it in me to begin with, or did the shoes make the man?
Today, much of that punk rocker is behind me. But on the other hand… maybe not. Looking at who I am now, I doubt I would’ve been the same had it not been for those damn Cons all those years ago. Hell, I’m wearing a pair right now!
It’s funny, the things we remember, and those we forget. I wonder what I’ll remember tomorrow. Speaking of tomorrow, will I still be wearing my Cons in the future? Will I ever find a pair whose tongue doesn’t get all crumpled up? Will I ever find a pair that are more “me“?

There. No prep. I just wrote a short speech about shoes, entirely off the top of my head. Here’s how you do it:

Talk about the past.

This is the introduction. My first pair of shoes. That defining moment.

Talk about the present.

This is the main message. How those shoes made me the man I am today.

Talk about the future.

This is the conclusion. In this example, I pontificate possible future shoes.

It helps to have a personal connection to the subject matter, as it will make you sound more sincere, so wherever possible, try to pick an aspect of the subject that you can relate to.

Try it out! Pick any topic you want, find a personal angle, then talk about the past, the present, and the future. Cue applause.