A Dozen Ideas for Last Minute Speeches

You’ve signed up to speak and now you’re too busy to prepare. Or maybe you’ve arrived at a meeting and a speaker drops out. Here are12 speeches that can be done with little or no preparation.

1. What are you expert at? Jot down several things you might want to say about your subject and flesh those out with several anecdotes. Or save time for Q&A. Let your audience know at the beginning you’ll take questions, so they’ll be ready. After a brief commentary on your expertise, let the audience shape the rest. You’re an expert, so you don’t need to prepare answers ahead. When the light turns to yellow, you say, “Time for one more question.”  Answer that and wrap up.

2. What happened today and what did you learn from it? It’s a rare day when something doesn’t happen that’s challenging, enlightening, or interesting…something that provides food for thought. We often tell these stories to friends about the difficult person at work, the person who said something in the grocery line, the cop who stops you for speeding, the people on the golf course who were complete idiots. Tell the story and then say what you learned from it. In this same vein, you might think of something that happened to you long ago that makes for a story with a moral.

3. Jot down a list of things. Like three reasons you love living in Santa Barbara.  Five reasons that everyone should do yoga. Seven tips on healthier eating. A speech can quickly be created with your own ideas or from something you just read or heard.  Flesh each one out with commentary or an anecdote according to how much time you have. If you come up with a longer list, pick the 3-5 items that are most relevant or interesting and save the others for another time.

4. The offbeat news can be great fodder for speeches. There is a reason that the “Sheriff’s Blotter” is so popular. Pick three quirky news events, and comment on them. Or if you want to be more serious, what has happened in the regular news that has captured your interest? Talk about that from your perspective.

5. Show and tell: Look around your home or office and pick 3-5 items that mean something to you. Put them in a bag. Tell the audience about each and why it is meaningful to you. If the objects have some theme in common, you can build on that. If they are completely distinct, then what they have in common is they’re all meaningful to you. The audience will have learned something about you via the objects.

6. Have you recently read a good book, seen a good movie or gone to a good performance of some kind…or a horrible one? Tell the audience about it, why you liked it, what you learned.

7. Complain about something. Sounds negative, but it’s cathartic both for you and your audience to get something off your chest…even something as simple as the challenges of getting toothpaste out of a tube without dripping it on your shoe. Complaints usually come out funny, but they can be serious, too.

8. Take your audience on a trip. Travel stories tend to capture interest, especially if there were challenges you overcame. This can be a recent journey or a memory from long ago.

9. Something you believe strongly in. Think of a life principle you really care about. “Just do it.” “Never give up.” “Always say please and thank you.” Doesn’t matter what, as long as this is an idea you really believe in. Think of incidents that illustrate the truth of the principle.

10. Theme speech…what is the theme for the meeting? Think of a speech that’s about the theme.

11. Crazy friends or relatives…tell funny stories about people you know.

12. Holidays…if you are giving a speech around the time of a holiday, think of a story or several memories about that holiday. You might combine holidays with crazy relatives.

Don’t be afraid to be extemporaneous. Many real-world speaking opportunities come with little notice.  Practice off-the-cuff skills at Toastmasters.

Writing and Rehearsing a Speech

If you ask several Toastmasters how they write their speeches, you will get several different answers.

Some like to write their entire speech out.  If you do this, try not to get too attached to the words on the page, because writing and speaking are not quite the same, and trying to memorize and recite a speech can take you out of the present moment when you give your presentation.

Some people like to “speak” their speech and “write” it as they say it out loud. Others like to make outlines and work from that. Others just think about their ideas and give the speech without any actual writing.

All of these these methods work, and all speakers should go with the creative process that fits them best.

Perhaps the most important part of shaping a speech is deciding what the opening and closing lines will be. People remember a good opening and closing more than any other aspect of a speech.

To open you want to capture attention. A simple question is often enough to do that: “Have you ever been to Texas?” Most speeches lend themselves to some kind of opening question. On the other hand, you can begin with some kind of bold statement, such as “I think ping pong is the best sport ever invented, and I’d like to tell you why.”

The closing line is equally important…because you are summing up and leaving your audience with something to think about. You might have a call to action, such as “So I hope to see you at the ping pong tournament week!” or “I think you will agree, you’ve not really lived until you’ve been to Texas.”

If you plan your opening and closing lines well, your middle will be easier to create. The number one suggestion for middles is to think about things in threes: three principles, three ideas, or three anecdotes. Sometimes five is a good number as well. Sometimes one is enough. But for some reason two and four don’t go over so well.

Ten items are too many to remember. If you have a ten-item speech, use a flip chart! Or, better yet, condense.

It is always wise to be a little on the short side as opposed to going overtime. This is a lesson many speakers don’t learn for a long time. You want to have enough content, of course, but keeping it simple and focused will make for a stronger speech.

You can rehearse your speech a few times until you are very comfortable with the content and delivery, but avoid rehearsing to the point where you take the life out of your words.

Some people like to rehearse in front of a mirror. Others like to record their speech and listen to that. Some like to give their speeches to their dogs. A sympathetic human might also give good feedback.

If you have little or no time to rehearse, a simple and well-structured speech can be delivered effectively without much rehearsal.

If you have a great opening and closing, and you chose three good things for the middle, you can remember that much without notes.

If you think about having good eye contact with your audience and deliver your speech while being in the present moment, your speech should come out well.

What to Expect at a Toastmasters Humorous Contest

At the briefing at the beginning of the contest, humorous contestants will draw for speaking order and engage with the contest toastmaster about details of the contest:

1. The introduction for a Humorous speech is “Speech Title, Speaker Name…Speech Title, Speaker Name.”
2. Each humorous contestant will be introduced in drawn speaking order to give a 5-7 minute speech.
3. There is a 1-minute period of silence between speakers for the judges to mark their ballots.
4. After all the speeches have been given, there’ll be continued silence until all ballots are collected.
5. There may be brief interviews of contestants by the contest toastmaster while the ballots are being counted.

Tips on Giving a Winning Humorous Speech
Length: 5-7 minutes.
Humor makes any speech more enjoyable and memorable. However it can be intimidating to approach writing a speech with the primary purpose of being humorous. Nevertheless, it is well worth the effort.

Winning humorous speeches tend to be stories or a series of anecdotes that are connected by a single theme.

A winning humorous speech is NOT a series of unrelated jokes or one-liners.

Making a story funnier requires good timing and delivery. Some people seem to naturally say things in hilarious ways, but everyone can put humor in their speeches with these specific techniques:

  • Exaggeration
  • Understatement
  • Surprise
  • A twist or unexpected switch in viewpoint
  • Odd or silly combinations of things, words or ideas
  • Puns
  • Not letting the truth get in the way of a good story
  • Telling the unvarnished truth
  • Poking fun at yourself

Your speech must be substantially original and written by you. Any quoted material should be identified during the body of the speech. (As George Burns once said…)

Avoid crude language and objectionable material.

One way to get started with an original humorous speech idea is to think of a funny story or incident from real life where two people don’t agree — husband and wife, two roommates, parent and child, human and dog, etc. Funny things often result from conflict.
Note absurd or silly things that happened to you or someone you know, and take off.

Or begin with a complaint or pet peeve…sounds negative, but in the context of a good story, it will be funny.

Add humor with lines of direct dialogue. Speak in the voices of your characters. Imitate your mother, your boss, or even your dog.

Gestures, facial expressions and body language can add humor to a speech.

As with any speech, funny ones should start with a bang, continue at a lively pace, and end with a punch.

While writing your speech, it’s good to remember brevity is the soul of wit (Shakespeare) and aim at a speech length of about 5 minutes. That will give you space to add a line or two you might think of later.

When your audience laughs, pause or they won’t hear your next line.

Put the rest of your extra seconds into dynamic delivery. Give yourself room to get to your strong ending without rushing. There’s a 30-second leeway on both ends of the 5-7 minute limit, but if you go under or over, you’ll be disqualified.

Once you know the content of your humorous speech, create a funny title. If your title is especially good, your audience will be primed to laugh as you approach the speaking area.

A winning humorous speech typically requires a certain amount of rehearsal, but take care to not wear out your pizzazz by over-rehearsing. Keep it fresh. Have fun and your audience will, too.

What to Expect at Toastmasters Evaluation Contest

At the briefing at the beginning of the contest, the evaluation contestants will draw for speaking order and engage with the contest toastmaster about details of the contest:

1. A guest speaker is introduced and gives a 5-7 minute speech. A guest speaker typically is a person who is early in their Toastmasters career, but it could be a very experienced speaker, so be prepared for the range.
2. The contestants may take notes during the speech. After the speech is over the contestants are escorted to a separate room where they will have 5 minutes to work on their notes. (During this time in the main room the guest speaker is being interviewed for those 5 minutes.)
3. Then the notes must be surrendered to the sergeant at arms…but they will be returned to each contestant as his or her turn comes to speak.
4. The first evaluator reenters the main room and is introduced to give a 2-3-minute evaluation, and all the others wait where they cannot hear the evaluators that go before. There is a 1-minute period of silence between evaluators for the judges to mark their ballots.
5. The second evaluator then reenters the main room, and so on, through all the evaluation contestants. After all the evaluations have been given, there’ll be more silence while all ballots are collected.
6. There may be brief interviews of the contestants by the toastmaster while the ballots are being counted.

Tips on Giving a Winning Competitive Evaluation
Length: 2-3 minutes
A skilled evaluation is not only helpful to the speaker, but focused practice of analytical listening translates into improved skills for the evaluator as well.

A competitive evaluation differs from evaluations given at club meetings in that staying within the time limit (with a 30-second leeway on either side) is critical to avoid disqualification.

A competitive evaluation should be addressed to the audience more than directly to the guest speaker, but the speaker should be acknowledged within the evaluation.

A competitive evaluation should exhibit a strong structure including an analysis of the speech. Denote both good things about the speech as well as constructive and specific recommendations for what the speaker could do differently next time.

A competitive evaluation should contain some suggestions for improvement even if the speech is really well done. Occasionally evaluations will prevail with no suggestions for making the speech better, but even if the speech seems flawless, you will increase your odds of winning by offering 1-3 ways the speech could be different next time.

Gushing about the greatness of a speech does not constitute an effective evaluation. Give substantive feedback.

The tone of a competitive evaluation is both sympathetic and motivational. The ending should sum up the main points of the evaluation and encourage the speaker to further successes.

Another way of stating this is the PIE method of evaluation:

P  for Praise: Begin with the specific good.
I  for Inform: Make helpful recommendations in between.
E  for encourage: End with overall encouragement.

Another popular evaluation technique COD in which the evaluator comments on:

C  for Content: Offer an analysis of speech content
O  for Organization: Assess the organization of the material
D  for Delivery: Reflect on various aspects of delivery, voice, gestures, tone, etc.

It is not possible to cover all elements in 2-3 minutes, so choose the most important aspects for that particular speech. Make your competitive evaluation stand out with a strong opening, a dynamic middle, and a memorable finish, and you will have a truly competitive evaluation.