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How to give a once-in-a-lifetime speech

How to give a once-in-a-lifetime speech - Photo by by Damián Buonamico, Wikimania2009

by Marina Cherbonnier and Michelle Kovacevic

In just over a month, 10 young professionals will take the challenge to deliver a TedX-style talk during the youth session of the Global Landscapes Forum – Youth: The Future of Sustainable Landscapes.

The objective of this showcase is to spotlight the active and crucial role that youth play in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, conservation and climate sectors. Through the stories of their peers who have varied experience and expertise in natural resource management, we hope young people will see that they all have an important role to play and the ability to take action at all levels.

The success of the event will mainly lie in the quality of the speeches. We received over 150 inspiring and insightful applications — now the challenge is to help you deliver your once-in-a-lifetime 10-minute speech.

Presentations have three broad components: content, style and visuals.

Think about the presentations you have seen. What were the characteristics of a presenter that captured your attention and interest? What about a speaker that bored you and made you wish you were somewhere else?

In many peoples’ eyes, one of the most inspiring speakers of our generation was Steve Jobs, Apple’s former CEO. Take a look at his commencement address at Stanford University in 2005 as an exemplary example of how to captivate and engage your audience.

Here are our golden rules to delivering a talk that will stick with your audience for a lifetime.


Prepare, prepare, prepare: With only 10 minutes to speak, there is very little room for improvisation. Your speech has to be fine-tuned, structured, and straight to the point! Once you have figured out the structure and content of your speech, practice, practice, practice! Don’t be shy – get in front of the mirror, friends, colleagues etc!

Know your audience: Ask yourself: – what do they already know about your subject; what is their age, education, experiences, preconceptions and background; will they understand technical terms and expressions; what do you want them to get from your speech, what do they want to get from your speech?

Have a clear structure: Make sure there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. Remember that a talk is not a paper read out loud. The audience needs to be reminded of the direction and your main points. Break down your speech in 2-3 major points, structure and don’t forget to make pauses. A speech is made of ups and down, with a good balance of pace and speed. Slow down when you want to deliver key ideas.

Be a storyteller: It’s the best way to keep the audience’s attention – share a simple, concrete, credible story with unexpected developments. Make the audience live your story by sharing your very own personal perspective but remember, your speech has to be sharp for the audience not to lose focus.

Don’t try and cover everything:  You have 10 minutes and 10 minutes only so do not overestimate the amount of information you can cover. You have to be disciplined in cutting out the detail so you can explain things clearly and set the scene in a short time. It is better to say less in a moderate pace and get your key messages heard than speeding up or being cut off because you are running overtime.


Stay natural but keep eye contact: Your body language plays a key role in keeping the connection and interaction with the audience so try not to fidget – often people don’t realise they are playing with their hands or scratching their heads, or covering their mouths while they are talking. One way to overcome this is to film yourself giving a talk and then watch the playback to see what little things you do that might detract from your speech. As much as is possible, keep eye contact – let the audience know you are talking to them.

Be enthusiastic and have fun! What audiences often best remember is how a speech made them feel, not what a speaker said. The first and last two minutes are crucial so it may help to memorize your introduction and conclusion (it also helps with controlling your nerves). Humour, a story, a striking thought or quote will help make your key messages stick in someone’s memory.

Harness your nerves: EVERYONE gets nervous before a speech. The key is not to try and overcome the nerves, but harness the energy and adrenaline those nerves give you to really add style to your speech. Often you are most nervous at the start, so one of the tricks that people often use is to memorize the first 2 minutes of their talk – after that initial period, you are probably less nervous anyway!


You are the most important visual: We want people to listen to you, not read the text behind you so we’re banning powerpoint…you will thank us later! ;) Try to stick to 2-3 interesting pictures or other visuals at the most.

Other resources and inspiration

Here are some TED talks and other resources that may give you inspiration for the tone, style and structure of your own speech:

If you have any other tips or talks you particularly like, please do share below in the comments space.

Photo by Damián Buonamico, Wikimania2009

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