Last week, I was lucky enough to attend a high school graduation in sunny SoCal. I was fortunate for two reasons. First, I timed it perfectly to escape the heat wave that stifled the northeast corridor, and second, I was able to hear ten speakers in a row – nirvana for a presentation coach.

During the trip back, I was thinking about the differences in the speakers, ages 18-70. Some were poetic, others inspirational.  One was very matter of fact and another was very funny.  The thing that most stood out for me was the differences in preparation. One high school graduate had clearly practiced enough that he did not need his notes.  Another was so prepared that there were no time-wasters in her speech. You could tell that she had gone through several rounds of editing. And this reminded me of Edward Tufte’s advice to presenters: If you can’t write a 250-word description of your speech, then you are not ready to present.

While that is sage advice for people who will give lengthy, data-heavy presentations, I would amend it for the average speaker and say that if you can’t present your core message in less than 45 seconds then you are not ready to stand-and-deliver.  Watch what Hans Rosling does in this, the “shortest TED Talk Ever.” He packs a lot of information in under a minute and yet we are able to follow along, even with his thick accent. And he’s not even standing!

Know your core message like you know your favorite Starbucks drink or your facebook password.  Once that is crystal clear, then you can add all sorts of ornamentation that will make your speech memorable.

– Barbara