Make a Promise


What’s the best way to make sure you get across the message you want/need to convey? Simple…Make a Promise.

Before you begin writing a single line, the first thing you should do is determine the main focus of your message. There are some different techniques you can use, but my favorite is to make a promise to your audience. This doesn’t have to be something you ever explicitly state to them, but it is something that you should create for your own use at the beginning of your speech-writing process.

So ofter I watch speakers that run longer than they expected (or were invited) to speak. As a speaker, its easy to digress during your speech, or even in a conversation, and tell yourself that it’s alright to go long “because this is important too”. Simply put, everything in the world is important to someone. To avoid that slippery slope of adding content unnecessarily, consider the power of making a promise up front.

For example, imagine that you have a group who would like you to speak for 20 minutes on Income Tax. Imagine this audience is composed of recently laid-off workers with 401k accounts, and they’re looking to hear about tax implications of their 401k accounts. Truthfully, you could spend an hour talking without even getting into specific examples, and still leave useful content unsaid. How do you give such an important talk in just 20 minutes? You may choose to make your promise to provide the top 5 tax traps to avoid, and provide some critical deadline dates for the coming tax year. Let them know up front that you won’t be able to take individual questions during the session, but you’ll be available later. By narowing the focus, you’re able to stay within time, manage the expectations of the audience, and provide good follow-up opportunities.

Another example that applies to me and many of my friends is speaking about speaking. There is no way to help someone make drastic improvements from a 5-7 minute speech. In that time, you have to decide on a very narrow focus, such as introduce a single method to add humor to a speech. By staying focused, you can provide a valuable piece of information, and set the stage for future presentations. Run long and/or ramble on and you run the risk of alienating your audience and damaging your own credibility.

In Alan Weiss’ book Money Talks, the author says that no audience ever got mad at a speaker who ran a few minutes short, but when you go 5 minutes over, people notice.

And don’t fool yourself, no one ever says “I’m glad he went long because I needed to hear that one other thing”. One or two may have said it to you to be nice, but that was all.

Take the time to create your promise to the audience, and then compare your content to the promise. If it doesn’t fit, drop it. If you follow this model, you’ll have an easier time making your time, and keeping the attention and respect of your audience.


  1. Rob,

    You raise one of the fundamental issues of public speaking. Too often, speakers get up in front of their audiences without first having asked themselves two important questions: (1) What is my key message? (2) Why should my audience care? It is amazing how often speakers will go into a presentation without having thought these critical issues through beforehand.

    Thanks for keeping this issue on the front burner for discussion.

    John Zimmer

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