Rehearsing your speech before delivery removes unexpected surprises such as tongue twisters © Shutterstock

The secret formula behind the best talks: content creation
In order for your message to have a lasting effect, the words that you speak should be chosen skillfully
1 Mar 2024

Just like theater, dance and music, leadership speaking is a performing art, and as such, there is an intrinsic formula for how to create and deliver each speaking performance. In this article, I want to pull back the curtain to reveal the secret blueprint behind the best talks and give you the tools that you need in order to shine every time that you speak in front of your peers, teams and stakeholders.

Let’s start at the very beginning with the first part of the performing arts formula: content creation. For actors, dancers and musicians who are developing original work, this first phase is about creating the scripts, choreography and scores from scratch. For speakers, this phase is about the spoken words, or what is going to be said. Whether it’s a staff update, a stakeholder presentation or a conference keynote, in order for the message to matter and for it to stay in the room, the words that will be spoken have to be chosen skillfully and be assembled with care. Here are three guidelines for powerful content creation:

Perform an audience evaluation

A natural starting point for creating content is to begin by understanding who your audience is in the first place. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Who is your audience?

2. What are their needs and interests?

3. What prior knowledge do they have 

about the topic?

4. What new information could 

the audience benefit from?

5. What questions might they have about the topic?

Doing this type of due-diligence before you create your content is one of the secrets to nailing the brief. Get it right at this early stage, and you will be off to an excellent start because now you will have the information that you need in order to prepare a targeted talk which is relevant to your audience and which connects you directly to their needs and interests.

Set an intention

Begin your writing process by setting an intention. Choose one word which captures the spirit of what you want to say. You can harvest this singular word by asking yourself a simple question:

‘As a result of my talk, what do I want my audience to feel?’

What is your word? Do you want the audience to feel ‘trust,’ ‘hope,’ ‘inspired,’ ‘motivated,’ ‘driven?’ Choose your word and make it clear and simple. Once you have figured it out, write it down on a post-it note and hang it where you can see it. Treat your word like your north star and allow it to become the beacon that you follow on the journey of creating your content. As you write, keep looking over at the post-it note to make sure that you’re on track. For example, if your word is ‘hope,’ are you including content that makes your listeners feel hopeful? Do you have stories, anecdotes and wisdom to share that makes them feel this way? 

Are you using language, vocabulary and descriptions which serve your intention? Ultimately, is the content that you are creating filled with hope? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you’re on the right track. If it’s ‘no,’ keep refining your content until your intention is infused into the beginning, middle and end of your talk.

Choose your form

Now that you know who your audience is and what you want them to feel as a result of your talk, you have a compass direction to follow. From there, you need a map. Where exactly are you going? What stops are you going to make along the way on your speaking journey? In other words, what is the form of your content? In business communication the standard form is to have an introduction, main points and a conclusion. To bring each part to life, consider the following elements:

• Make your talk a dialogue, not a monologue – serve the needs and interests of your audiences and don’t just talk about what is interesting and important to you, talk about what they care about and what matters to them and make the experience a two-way street.

• Paint the picture not just the frame – get out of the superficial comfort zone of focusing only on facts, figures and knowledge transmission in your talk. This is called ‘painting the frame.’ In order to ‘paint the picture,’ describe the things in your talk which evoke the senses so that you can enliven your content. Where possible, let your listeners ‘see’ the sights, ‘hear’ the sounds, ‘smell’ the smells, ‘feel’ the touches and ‘taste’ the flavors.

• Write for the ear – the content that you are creating is going to be spoken to your audiences, not handed to them for them to read in written form. Therefore, it’s not enough just to share your textbook knowledge of the topic. Instead, play with your words. Animate them by choosing them very carefully. Explore the rhythm and the cadence of the sound that they make both in isolation and when put together with other words, and create images with them which give them wings and lift them off the page.

To recap, this article has looked at what you can do to create content that lives in the hearts and minds of your audiences. From learning how to perform an audience evaluation, to understanding how to ‘paint the picture,’ you now have a handful of tangible solutions which can support you to create vibrant and meaningful content for any audience, at any time. 

In a future article, we will explore the second part of the performing arts formula, which is to understand what it takes to deliver the content that you have created. Until then, I encourage you to say ‘yes’ to every speaking opportunity that you can get so that you can experiment with content creation, because the more that you do the work, the better you’ll get. 

* Dr. Laura Penn is the Founder of The Leadership Speaking School. She is a master teacher in the speaking arts and an international authority on business communication.
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