7-Steps to a Great Speech- by Melinda Bak

1.Prime your audience to engage the struggle.

It’s easy to unintentionally trigger resistance. So, plan to spend some time thinking ahead about those triggers and ways to open those you’re leading to possibility. Instead of saying, “I was so frustrated with…” prime listeners with, “I wonder if…” inviting your listeners to wonder with you, instead of unintentionally escalate frustration.

Help your audience wonder about possibility. About outcomes. About their role in getting there. Now, state “why” you’re talking about this today. Be clear about the purpose of your speech; “because we need to solve ___.”


2. Listen to your own internal resistance.

Strive for awareness regarding others’ apprehension. In a good story-arch, the main character tries a handful of easier solutions that fail. What have you tried? Share those.

Share things you or others have tried and tried. Inviting your audience to conquer this daunting challenge, with you, breaks down resistance. Let your listeners journey with you toward a solution.


3. Share an emotional aspect of this story.

Let people feel the pain involved in the struggle. Because of the brain’s natural desire is to return to stasis (evenness), people will naturally begin formulating a plan to escape from the discomfort and pain.

They too will be looking for a solution, trying to solve the problem. And here is your great aha moment. And their’s. This is engagement that’s primed for inclusion, contribution, resolution, solution. You are poised for breakthrough.


4. Now, be disciplined and transparent.

Share data. Share the challenge. And share hope. Bring your emotional-intelligence to the table. Keep listeners wanting to solve the problem with you. Don’t be too quick to offer your solution.

Leave space for people to think; be silent for a moment. Give it time. Then, wonder with your listeners about the solution. “What if…?”


5. Return to the “Why” that you set up at the outset.

You’ve overcome resistance to being part of the solution by getting people to journey with you into the problem. Now, invite them to journey with you into the solution.

Restate your why: “Because we need to solve ___.”

Wonder with them about their part. Help them to envision their role. Again, leave space for them to think. If your audience can imagine the part they will play in solving the challenge at hand, their engagement has just hit the rafters. They’re in.


6. So, step back. Get out of the way.

Let your listeners be the hero in this story, the one’s who slay the dragon. It’s at this point that many a leader has trouble resisting becoming the focal-point, the hero in their own story. Do that and your listeners are reminded that they have no power, no role in this unfolding drama.

Since you’ve come this far, be clear about what your audience CAN DO. Deliver a clear “call to action” and give them the means to get it done; whether it’s training, new software, access to tools, or access to leadership. Make a way for people to engage. Make sure your words open not just minds, but doors to action-oriented breakthrough.


7. Follow-up: reward those who are getting it done.

Ask permission and then tell the stories of the heroes on your team, publicly. That’ll help not only the mid and late-adapters, but it’ll raise morale as change is implemented. Tell dragon-slaying stories often, because everyone loves a hero. Especially when they discover that the hero in this story - is them.

Once we arrive at an idea, it’s easy to forget what it cost us to get there.

Going back to the beginning to help others with what we’ve already moved-on from can be a challenge. But do it anyway.

Start at the beginning. Every great speech sets forth a challenge, embraces the difficulties, and proposes how others might join a breakthrough outcome. One of the best ways to engage an audience is to share some of your struggle (your process) in wrestling with the challenge at hand. This isn’t an introspective-monologue, but an opportunity for building relational trust. Say, “this is hard.” And share why it is hard for you. If the idea is no longer hard for you, reach back in your memory, or into that place where communicating change to others is hard - and honestly say, “This is hard.” This engages listeners in facing the problem with you.

The neural-science of storytelling

The neural-science of storytelling

Build trust by sharing various solutions that have been tried, the data, the outcomes. Then, return people to the problem at hand. There’s a chemistry to storytelling that helps people engage and become part of the solution. As you write your speech, make sure that there’s a story-arch that takes them on the journey of becoming a participant in solving the problem.



People don’t change because we tell them to.

They don’t hear our great goals and desired business outcomes because we state them clearly. They hear what we’re saying when they feel safe. And, when they’re engaged in becoming part of the solution.

The thing is, creating “feelings of safety” so entirely goes against the thinking of most leaders who default to high-challenge positions, that conveying this authentically (in our speaking and speech-making) is a a high-challenge for most leaders.

The bigger the challenge, the more invested we are. But, not so with everyone. Big challenges can often cause others to resist or disengage in order to get the brain back to a place of balance, of stasis.

Great speeches not only contain great ideas, backed by our amazing process, but great speeches are able to overcome the natural stasis of listeners by engaging them in solving the problem with us.

Go from listener-resistance, to audience-engagement and on to team-participation.


Your Writing Process


Delve into your best process for thinking, learning, writing.
Are you a Jazz-composer, a Doodler, a Collector, or an Architect?

What’s your best process for getting from blank page to a great speech?
What writing process helps you get to your best?

Jazz Composer
Do you talk it out; just do best by letting the words flow like Jazz? Getting out of your own head is key if you’re an abstract-sequential, verbal processor.


If you’re someone who gets to solutions by talking-it-out, you may develop your best speaking ideas by hitting “record” on your cell-phone and just speaking your thoughts aloud. Later, you can transcribe and sort; or use voice-to-text software that can do it for you (like Dragon). People with this style of learning and processing, detest tedious and repetitive work; making a voice-to-text converter a sanity-saver.

Speaking-aloud-time is how external-processors work through complexity. While having a friend who will listen to your ideas may be helpful, sometimes just listening to your own ideas is how you’ll see what’s still missing and what you still need to work through to get to a stellar presentation. Your best happens when you give yourself room to create Jazz, while embracing the tools needed to record it.


Do you pick up a notepad and pen? Having time to play with ideas on paper is ideal for the abstract-random, doodler.


If you’re someone who thinks best on paper, then give yourself permission to “waste time” writing or drawing with abandon. What those outside this process view as “lost time,” you know know as the time that makes way for breakthrough thinking. Indulge your process; it leads to breakthrough.

Then, consider using Google’s OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software, available in Google Drive, to convert an image of a physical page of text into an editable Google Doc. (Here’s a how-to YouTube from BetterCloud.) People with this thinking style are often internal-processors who need time to figure out the relationship between things, people, ideas.

Given time to doodle, you figure out what others may miss. Your doodle-time is the subtext for your breakthrough speech.

Do you research and write on your iPad or laptop? Writing isn’t so much method as process for the concrete-random, note-taker.


If you’re an intuitive problem-solver who likes to gather data and experiment with possibilities in order to get to an answer, you need to be close to the internet for research. Allow yourself a fixed amount of time for uninhibited topic exploration. Follow the thought-bunny-trails down this path and the other; it’s how you gather information and put strings of thought together. A self-imposed time-limit will force you back to the writing-table where random bits will coalesce.

Your process requires you to clip data into a document, making copy & paste your bff’s. Frustrated by boundaries, you may have a voice in the back of your head telling you to, “stay on task”. But you’ll be best served if, before you write, you give yourself time to collect pieces of information that will, down the road, reveal a whole that others might miss. For you, what is off-task for others is your means for breakthrough. Explore connections, it’s your means to creating transformative speeches.

Do you open a document and make a plan? Outline is the friend of the concrete-sequential, order-maker.


Ordered thinking and research is your strong-suit. So, open a document and utilize the outline-format (activated by using tabs in the numbered-list function); but now I’m telling you what you already know. This is your wheel-house. You thrive on structure and will do best with an architectural plan that allows you to frame the structure before constructing walls and hanging windows.

Your challenge is to give yourself the mental-space to re-frame when the original plan requires refinement. Your ability to stay on-task allows you to think logically through a problem with a discipline others lack and outcomes others may not reach. The challenge is to embrace revisions as an opportunity to fill in pieces of the plan that you didn’t see at the outset. Remind yourself that even structural revisions aren’t undermining, disorder or setbacks; they are the result of your plan hitting maturity. “Review” mode set to “Track Changes” are invaluable as you ask others to weigh in a draft. Keep working the plan, but be unafraid to edit. Your gift for structure can bring clarity not only to your presentation but to a world often in need of ordered, clear thinking.

7 steps to a great speech

Organizations are constantly in flux

crafting messages that overcome stasis & resistance is essential

Your words shapes how those you lead
navigate now & future change


A. Internal & External Factors Influence Communication
B. We Resist Change, Naturally
C. New Thinking is Hard Work

A. Internal & External Factors Influence Communication


Downsizing, economic up-turns and down-turns, emerging technologies, business landscape shifts, generational viewpoints, political and cultural forces; all of things impact what we think and how we communicate on any given day. They also impact how others hear us.

Stellar communication, the kind that breaks through the cacophany of ideas and sounds - requires us to hear ourselves think. And then, to hear what others think.

Hearing others means getting to a place of awareness, where we know what opens people up and what shuts them down; what makes them receptive, and what stirs resistance.

Hearing ourselves means making room for our process in getting to a speech, a presentation, or a keynote.

It’s not that you don’t already have breakthrough-ideas in your area of expertise - it’s just that communicating those ideas in ways that transcend resistance (your own and others) is likely to take work. Let’s look at your process and their’s; because embracing our own resistance precedes leading others to breakthrough.

As a professional, you can trust YOUR process. Really, you’re at a place where you know what works for you. In case you needed it, I’m giving your permission to silence the voice in your head (perhaps drawn from a high school or undergrad instructor) that demands that everyone do it “like this.” After twenty-years of writing and coaching grad-students and professionals, there’s one thing that I’m sure of - and that’s that there’s not one right way to get a speech in order; other than to allow yourself time to write and rewrite. As you start writing begin by acknowledging and embracing - even enjoying - your process (see D. Your Process - below).

B. We resist change. Naturally.

Because the brain’s natural default is to keep life in balance and threat to a minimum, we resist change.

Consider the resistance you may feel if co-workers suggest you work with a coach. We naturally don’t want someone else meddling with our work, our words, our speech or presentation.

Speech Writing, Editing & Powerpoint

Speech Writing, Editing & Powerpoint

We resist because we want to feel good about what we know and do, because getting to where we are today was a lot of work - and, frankly, we don’t want to change any of that. Even those of us who are early-adapters, eagerly embracing change and new ideas, can find other’s input vexing.

When we tell ourselves the truth about our own proclivity to resist change, we are better able tolerate other’s resistance; and then, account for that in our messaging.

Know that stasis and resistance are the brains way to save us from disruption, unpredictability and danger.

Even those with daring personalities, have a brain that defaults to the familiar.

As you prepare your speech or presentation, bear in mind that the body’s default is to conserve energy; in case there’s a fight-or-flight emergency. In order to conserve energy, the brain’s default is to go with known, less-taxing responses. Learning new things takes a boat-load of energy. In fact, one study shows that we burn as much glucose when learning a new cognitive behavior as when going for a jog.


C. New Thinking is Hard Work

We don’t learn or do new things without immense effort. Consider the stasis evidenced by people who’ve undergone traumatic heart bypass surgery. When told that they’d die if they didn’t change their lifestyle, less than 1 in 10 made any changes (Deutschman, A | 2005,  "Change or Die." Fast Company 53-59, 94). In fact, you may know someone who’s gone through an intense medical situation and been told they need to modify their lifestyle; and they have not.

When pondering the amount of resistance you may get when presenting a new idea, challenge or work process, you can know with certainty that those listening are wired to resist what you have to say (even if they do like you). Unless you’re presenting familiar ideas and promoting familiar practices, everything else falls into the category of threat.

When you consider the depth of the challenge you must meet, consider that anything you say will clearly be a less impressive imperative than being told you’re going to die if you don’t change; a life or death message that is consistently resisted.

Most great business ideas - even those driven by sound data and stellar analytics - fail. In fact 3 out of 4 new initiatives fail, found a study done by Mount Eliza Business School. Why? Because those of us excited about the prospect of moving forward have failed to take those on other rungs of the organization with us. And frankly, taking them with us is hard work, challenging to message, even more challenging to inspire.

We know that when people feel threatened (due to a new program, merger of restructure, for instance), there is a self-preservation instinct that kicks in, making resistance and stasis the norm. We conserve energy. We breath shallow and think shallow. Our pre-fontal cortext becomes oxygen and glucose deprived making good decisions unlikely; a that point, all new ideas appear unreasonable.

Slide 1 - Level Up.JPG

Openness to hearing and receptivity to learning happen when we feel safe, included, secure. Now, our brains release dopamine , that feel-good chemical that makes us want to know more about the new idea, learn the new skill and persist to breakthrough. Studies of school children’s availability to learn continue to validate this understanding; driving heads-of-school to tackle impediments to the physical and emotional safety of students.

Likely you’re planning to give the speech or presentation you’re about to give because somewhere someone has told you that “You can do this. You’re good at this!” The fact that you know that you’re capable, that you’ve got something others need, creates a certain level of safety - you feel included, valued. Dopamine.

And so you’re here, willing to learn more. That first-hand experience is instructive.

Rather than just act on our motivation, we catch a passing glimpse of how we might motivate others. Taking our listener’s need for safety, affirmation and stasis into account, inspires us to meet them in their places of natural resistance, and to proceed with our writing in ways that open pathways to what’s to come.


For Your Own Record

Hold yourself accountable for learning something new & hold your team accountable by tackling a question at a time at upcoming leadership meetings.

A. What prior teaching on the “right way” to right a speech still plays in your head? What’s have learned since about what works for you? What would you like to know even more about - when it comes to giving a dynamic presentation?

B. Own it. What’s one way you default to the familiar every day? (One thing you do on auto-pilot?) Do you think of yourself as a person who defaults to the familiar?

C. When you reach for your toothbrush today, use your opposite hand to brush your teeth. As you brush, reflect on what it feels like to learn something new. (Up the ante and see how many days it takes before you feel comfortable and masterful brushing with the other hand.)

D. What’s your writing process? Are you a Jazz-composer, a Doodler, a Collector, or an Architect? What’s one thing you can do to make your process work better for you?

E. What’s one thing that irks you about other’s learning process? How does that impact your message?

F. What’s one step you want to begin incorporating into your messaging and communication?