Continuing our preparation of an important speech/presentation on Migrants and Borders.

You’ve already spent a slice of your 600 minutes – probably at least an hour – working out what’s going on for this speech and how in broad terms you tackle it. Now – what to say?

Let’s start with the topic. Migrants and Borders. What’s that about?

* * * * *

One thing it’s not about is a formal dissertation on international law and migrants/refugees/asylum seekers. That’s for a different occasion.

Here you have only 1700 words or so. You can’t solve or even analyse anything deeply in that time. So you need a few big bold generalisations and some powerful examples. But what’s your core argument?

The way to tackle this is to ‘reframe’ the issues. Set them at a ‘higher’ or more abstract philosophical level.

In this case you might decide to use the speech to set up a dialectical contrast between Freedom and Control. And what are they about? Ah … Identity.

* * * * *

You look at some numbers. According to UNHCR there are now 65.6 million ‘forcibly displaced people’ worldwide. Not all these are ‘migrants’ as such. But that’s a lot of people unhappily on the move, or becalmed away from home.

Make that figure a big part of the speech? Hmm. OK. But no-one has ever seen 65.6 million people. Find a way to present that number that makes the audience sit up.

That number is roughly the same as the populations of Slovenia Macedonia Gambia Losotho Botswana Namibia Qatar Lithuania Jamaica Albania Armenia Mongolia Uruguay Bosnia Puerto Rico Georgia Moldova Panama Kuwait and Croatia COMBINED.

Why not begin by giving that list straight out of the box, slowly and deliberately? STRONG START.

Then say what it represents in terms of global human misery.

Then swing into the big arguments of the speech. Pose the questions!

Namely that in today’s world we can’t avoid the consequences of movements on this scale, let alone all the other myriad ways people travel around the planet for work and leisure. Freedom?

But don’t we also have a responsibility to our Identity to maintain some sort of Control to maintain Freedom?

* * * * *

You duly rough out your 1700 words. Most of them are in short sentences. Very short. Maybe only a single word.

You lay the speech out on the screen in big font. 16. Double spaced.

You put in lots of PAUSE and use BOLD to show where to give extra emphasis.

Then you hone it down and move things around. You have the strong start. Strong finish?

Are the examples good enough? Is the underlying structure of the speech simple and robust? Are the signposts that bring the audience through that structure clear?

Is the overall message just what you want it to be? What ideal newspaper headline might you want? What in fact might the speech be saying?

Migrants – freedom trumps control says Crawford

Migrants – we’re losing control says Crawford

Lose borders – lose freedom says Crawford

Migrants reshaping our national identity – and that’s a good thing says Crawford

* * * * *

This phase is the heart of your preparation of the speech. Maybe 70% or more of the total available time. Get the content right.

Don’t put in too much ‘information’. No-one cares about information or remembers it. It’s on the Internet anyway. Where you add value through the speech is giving people some striking examples and ideas, then explaining what they mean.

Few(er) facts! More wisdom!

* * * * *

NB I do NOT suggest that you ‘memorise’ your speech. According to someone on Quora, that’s essential:

Our thoughts should sound spontaneous. Repetition (rehearsal) is the quickest way to achieve this.

NO. The way to make your thoughts sound spontaneous is not to rehearse or repeat them. That’s the way to make them sound NOT spontaneous!

Instead learn what the core points are that you plan to make on the day, then deliver them on the day in your own words as they pop out on the day.

Wait. What? Don’t even practise the speech?

* * * * *

Haha that’s not what I said.

It’s good to practise the speech. But whatever you do, do NOT orate to yourself in the mirror. That’s ridiculous.

Instead prop up your iPad or smartphone in the far corner of the biggest room you have available and film yourself delivering passages from the speech. Experiment with different paces and emphasis.

Then watch the results, ghastly though that is. See for yourself something of what it looks like to the audience when you really slow down, or speed up, or pose a question then pause as it sinks in.

James Spencer sends me a word of caution:

[In our session] he delivered his speech with an inhalation that sounded like he was tubercular. Turned out that while he was practicing in his living room  and there was a mirror off to the side, and he caught his profile, which he didn’t like on account of his tummy being less flat than he desired… he started rehearsing holding his belly in. Hence the iron lung effect…

I don’t like mirrors – and I’m even suspicious of video – I don’t think it could be good to linger with a video too much.

Haha. Well, the camera doesn’t lie!

The point here is that if you orate at your own reflection in a mirror you’re not putting any distance between yourself and the speech as it emerges. The audience for your speech is not two feet away from your nose.

Anything you think you learn about yourself by gazing at your burbling face in a mirror is likely to be wrong or irrelevant. Maybe it will help you a bit, or at least you’ll think it does. So what? Watching yourself from a distance is a far better use of your precious prep time.

* * * * *

Once you’ve run through the speech in your mind and in front of the camera, you’ll be getting absolutely clear in your own mind how you want the arguments to run and the balance of time you spend on each part of the speech. And just where to put the emphasis and energy/intensity.

Final phase.

Boil your speech down to a couple of sides of extended notes to use on the day that take you through it. Memory-joggers.

Attach to those final notes a version of the full text to read for one last time on the way there. But when you go up on to the stage, leave that full version behind. It can no longer help you.

But … what if I miss something out?

It doesn’t matter (unless you are the gormless Ed Miliband hoping to become Prime Minister). No-one knows it wasn’t there. Your speech will be that much shorter, and none the worse for it.

* * * * *

So there it is. That’s how you use your ten hours of prep time to prepare and practise a speech.

10-15% thinking hard about what’s going on – where in principle you add value by giving this speech on this day at this event to this audience

70-75% working up and mastering the content – the examples, the dialectical tensions, the Big Idea, the arguments, the strong start and strong conclusion, the message and signposts

10-15% ‘practising’ the delivery as such, and preparing the version of the notes to use on the day

Get all that right and you’ll be in good shape.

* * * * *

Final huge point.

Note that the great proportion of the prep time is spent on CONTENT. Being confident in saying something interesting, challenging, difficult, painful – something that adds value.

Time spent ‘memorising’ the speech is time NOT spent on content. Form, not substance.

It’s all about content.


Because strong content shines through, even if delivery is less than wonderful. It shows respect.

Good delivery of feeble or banal content is just an annoying waste of the audience’s time and your own time. Disrespect.