Cut down for cut through: simplify speeches to strengthen impact

Mark Vincent

It does not matter what profession you are in, a good presentation must change the listeners’ actions or attitudes. And in our experience the simpler the structure of the speech the stronger the impact. Too many speeches delivered by professionals contain too much information and the audience drowns in content.

The hallmark of an effective speaker is not the number of laughs generated per minute, not how intently the audience listened, not how much they learned but how much they changed their thoughts or actions after they heard you speak.

As you begin structuring your speech, start with the end in mind. Define the purpose and define the change you will create. Write a mission statement for the speech or presentation and, if you can, encapsulate the purpose of that change in one short sentence. Ask yourself, How will the information I give make a difference in their lives – professionally, personally? What must they work and do or feel differently? What will they know that they did not know previously?

Next define the three points that you most want your audience to remember a year after they hear you. No doubt you feel as though you have a mountain of ‘stuff’ they need to remember. After all, you presentations are ‘very informative’. Sorry. Chances are your audience will only remember ten percent of you said. So what three things that you convey will make up the ten percent of your talk that they remember? Your three points must have real cut through. They must be messages that they continue to reflect on after they have heard you. Settling on these three messages is the toughest part of writing any speech.

Once you have settled on the purpose or mission and your three main messages, the hard work is over. Take a minute (no more) to put your speech into the format below.


  • Purpose and three points the audience must remember to accomplish that purpose.


  • Point 1 with a one sentence explanation
  • Point 2 with a one sentence explanation
  • Point 3 with a one sentence explanation


  • Purpose and three points they must remember to accomplish the purpose…along with a call to action.

Until you can put your speech into this format you will confuse and bore your audience.

Now you are in a position to build on your presentation. For each of the three points you want to expand the one sentence explanation in one or some of the ways that follow.

Point 1 with one sentence

  • Three things about this point the audience needs to remember.
  • Anecdote or humour story that makes one of these points.
  • “Heart” story that makes one of these points (optional in a business presentation but nonetheless effective at times).
  • Visual aid that makes one of these points.
  • Audience participation activity that makes one of these points.
  • Recap purpose, and what they must remember to accomplish this purpose.

Prepare Point 2 and Point 3 in the same way.

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