Speech prep in a jiffy with interviews or podcasts

In my last blog post, I attempted to convince you of the value of speech prep, especially if you are a retourist and you use speech preparation as an exercise to develop your retour.

I outlined the process I use to create well-structured speeches, and listed 3 simple structures: linear, pros/cons, and ‘logical argument’.

In this post, I want to get down to the nitty gritty and talk about some of the shortcuts you can use to make speech prep a painless and rapid process.

Use an interview, panel debate, TV report or podcast for inspiration

The great thing about interviews or podcasts is that they often present contrasting points of view.

In the UK, for instance, if I were to watch Question Time on TV, listen to Any Questions on Radio 4, or tune in to the Today programme for some of the interviews, I would be able to pick out several viewpoints, which I could then incorporate into a speech.

This is particularly useful when you yourself have a strong opinion on a subject, and you need inspiration for the opposing viewpoint.

Let’s say you listen to a programme an EU proposal relating to Member States’ obligations to report on the gender pay gap.

Right off the bat, I can think of two ways you could structure your speech:

  1. Explain the EU proposal and why it’s being introduced (i.e. the European Commission’s point of view)
  2. Explain other parties’ point of view or reaction (for example, some of the Member States, if they have concerns; and/or women’s groups; or the European Parliament position)
  3. Come to a conclusion, and perhaps give your own opinion. Of course, you also need an introduction to lead into the subject.

Here’s a second option:

  1. Briefly outline the proposal
  2. Explain the benefits of such legislation.
  3. Outline the pitfalls. Here, you could explain who is opposed: NGOs, certain countries?
  4. Draw your conclusion. Again, you will also need an introduction.

It’s clear, I think, that both speeches would cover much the same material, but with a slightly different slant. The first version focuses more on different points of view; the second is more of a ‘pros and cons’ speech.

A third possibility would be for you to play the role of a particular individual or organisation (for example, an employers’ organisation, an anti-discrimination NGO, a representative of the European Commission, a Minister for Equality from a Member State, etc.) and speak in favour or against the proposal. Your speech might look something like this:

  1. Greetings/introduction
  2. Background to the proposal
  3. Your organisation’s view – list of reasons why you support or oppose the proposal
  4. Call to action

Example (in English)

Let’s prepare a speech about asylum seekers crossing the Channel in small boats. The UK government is proposing that anyone entering the UK illegally via this route should be barred from receiving asylum.

DON’T START YET! Read through the next couple of paragraphs.

[If you’re reading this before 8th April 2023 and you have plenty of time to get more background, you can listen to quite a lengthy interview with the Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Radio 4’s Today programme, followed by some analysis by the political editor. The interview begins at 2:10:00.]

Alternatively, here’s a clip from Al-Jazeera which we’ll use for this exercise, looking at the issue from several different angles (the UK government position, the charities’ position, the asylum seeker position).

Now set a timer.

As you listen to the Al-Jazeera clip, note down the arguments on either side.

Add any of your own thoughts or background knowledge.

If your English is a B language, and you’re preparing your speech in English (see my previous posts for the many benefits of doing this to improve your retour), now is the time to list a few useful terms or phrases to include in your speech (just one example: ‘a totemic issue’).

Now think about your conclusion. Here are a few starting points; you can pick the one that speaks to you the most, or something else:

  • Do you think the proposal is shocking? Sensible?
  • Can you draw parallels with the approach taken in another country?
  • Do you want to say something about the potential consequences?
  • Do you think the proposal is unlawful and in violation of international law?

This is your chance to send out an unequivocal message to wrap up your speech, and to give your personal opinion.

Finally, now that you know the ‘destination’ of your speech, think about the starting point, which will form your introduction. Here are some possibilities:

  • you could simply mention hearing this interview on the radio or seeing images on tV, and finding it fascinating/shocking/revealing/depressing
  • you could do a quick bit of extra research to start your speech with a figure, for example the number of people making this dangerous crossing in 2022 compared to previous years
  • you could mention refugee crises elsewhere, to put this one into context (Ukraine, Syria)
  • you could use a different context, and talk about people trying to reach Lampedusa and drowning
  • you could begin with a reference to human rights, e.g. the right to safety and security, and international law on asylum
  • you could start with a personal anecdote, for instance if your parents or grandparents were refugees or immigrants

I’m sure you can think of many more.

OK, you’ve got your intro, conclusion, and the middle bit. 🙂

Now write out your speech outline in a more organised form, whether that be a mind map or a bullet point outline. As I said in my last post, some people write the whole thing out in longhand, but I think the result is generally much better if your speech is based on bullet points, which you (semi-)improvise around.

That’s it! Stop the timer. How long did it take you?

If you have time and you want to practise your speech (for example, if it’s in a B language), rehearse it now. Why not record it and listen back to your performance?

Here are my outline and my speech. Normally, I would just write keywords in bullet point form, but I fear that would be totally illegible, so I’ve written something a little longer to make sure you can follow my reasoning.

Intro: In 2022, 46,000 people attempted the dangerous Channel crossing in a small boat. Hundreds of people have drowned. This is an illegal route into the UK; the question is, is this a criminal issue that the government needs to crack down on, or a humanitarian crisis that needs solving?

Government point of view: this is a right wing government (i.e. generally anti-immigration), and the issue has become totemic. It’s costly (hotels cost £6 million per day); there is an illegal trade in people-smuggling that must be stopped. Drawing inspiration from Australia, the latest proposal is that if people enter the UK via an illegal route, they will NEVER be able to receive asylum, and will be detained and removed (to Rwanda). This is a necessary and proportional deterrent, and if people’s route into a country is blocked, the numbers attempted entry fall (Australian example).

Local charities: asylum seekers are treated like criminals. They are fleeing conflict and persecution. There should be a humanitarian route into the UK, e.g. with a visa scheme like the one in place for Ukrainians.

For the asylum seekers in Calais, the situation is dire. French police break up the camps every two days, there are no welcome centres to host them, and no legal way to enter the UK. They feel like they have no other choice. But this new legislation won’t stop them trying to cross the Channel.

Conclusion: intractable problem. In an astonishing piece of spin, the government is trying to present a crackdown as a humanitarian act, by suggesting that this is humanitarian deterrence (and if anyone manages to cross, they will be sent to a safe place, i.e. deported to Rwanda!). Will they succeed in presenting the issue in this way? Or in stopping the boats and deporting asylum seekers (no-one has gone to Rwanda so far; the proposal is mired in legal controversy). The problem for the government is their very clear slogan: “stop the boats”. There will be no fudge, as it will be very easy to judge whether this has been achieved or not.

This is a speech lasting nearly six minutes; it contains several points of vie, one or two figures, some important background knowledge (e.g. the names of the Home Secretary, the whole situation of asylum seekers in Calais), and a bit of logic in the conclusion.

In sum, I would class this as an exam-style speech, which took me less than 30 minutes to research, outline, and record.

In my next blog post, I’ll be talking about other shortcuts to help you prepare speeches quickly and easily.

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