Communication Matters Newsletter
MillsWyck Communications - February 2018
How to Start a Speech with a Story 
I just attended the fabulous KEY5 Conference in Charlotte, NC. The concept is simple – put professional speakers on the stage for five minutes, create top notch videos of them, and capture audience testimonials. Think TEDx, demo reel, conference, and marketing push all mixed together. Every one of the speakers had something worthwhile to say and the audience was never put to sleep because the event moved really fast. Every speaker did a FANTASTIC job.

But I have some inside information. I helped coach many of the speakers. It was one of the few times I have gotten to see the live delivery of a speech I’ve coached. That was a special treat. But there is one other surprise. I was also one of the speakers at the event. Five minutes to get my message out. I felt that people would expect me to be at least decent. And I wanted to be much more than decent.
It was probably the toughest speech I’ve ever written. I was trying out new material (a no-no when the stakes are high – try it in a risk-free environment first!). I was slammed for time and utilized a skill I perfected in college – procrastination. I had preached to the speakers in our monthly coaching calls that the way to write a five-minute speech is not to trim your one-hour keynote, but to build a new speech from the ground up. I did just that. My core message was fleshed out a long time ago and it was solid. I had to make some decisions about which example, story, and data backed up my points the best (and in some cases, the fastest), but I was happy with the core block of my talk. It was just under four minutes.

It was the open and close where I was struggling. The opening I wanted to use was the personal backdrop of why the topic (coaching and self-evaluation) is important to me. I could easily use 20 minutes to hash that out. The trimmed version was over three minutes. That won’t do for an intro to a five-minute talk (I usually use the guideline to use about 10% of your talk time for an open AND a close combined).  I was at a frustrating crossroads driven by the external constraint of time.

The saving way out came in the form of my own teaching. I led a discussion for part of our fantastic PRiSM Speaker's practice group the day before I left for the conference. 

We were discussing… openers and how to start a speech. Few people doubt that stories top the list, but the #1 question is always “ How do I know what story to use? ” I had the answer. Find your core message. Reduce it to a sentence or a phrase. Then brainstorm stories that talk about or imply that singular point. Make the segue to your content. And come back and end the way you started.

As I was helping lead this discussion by using some examples from our group, I had one of those sky-parting-angels-singing moments. “ Hey speech coach! Why don’t you do that on your own speech! ” There was one complication, I had almost no time to sit and brainstorm and think. So I used the three-hour commute to the conference and the Bluetooth connection to my truck and my phone to record my new opening. The new opening did nothing I originally set out to do – covering why the topic mattered to me. And that probably violates rule #1 anyway. But it did what I said it would do. It got me into my content (in 37 seconds) and gave me an exit and call to action at the end. And when I sat down to compose what my phone recordings were telling me worked, it took less than 15 minutes to have it all ironed out. I was very pleased with the result. My experience doing this for others helps, to be sure, but once you have the message hook, it’s a relatively easy task to find an opener.

The morals of this story:

Moral #1: if you believe in your system/product/secret enough to sell it to clients, it better work for you!

Moral #2: don’t be so married to your content that you are not willing to change it. More than one speaker told me they resisted my suggestions to their speech, but their practice and their frustration eventually told them they should just give up and take the suggestions.  
By the way. Several of the speakers confessed that they spent over 40 hours preparing their five-minutes speeches. I meandered into the room late on the eve of the big show and there was a speaker on the stage practicing. The next time you see a keynote speaker and think it’s easy work, please reconsider your position. 

How much time are you willing to spend to make your next meeting, talk, or message stand out?
Communication matters. What are YOU saying?
Key5 Speaker Podcast

Listen to the KEY5 speaker podcast to get more tips for preparing a great speech.
The Power of Storytelling in Business and Life
Half-Day Workshop, Raleigh, February 8
We will give you insights on starting your story in our Power of Storytelling in Business and Life workshop on February 8 th. We will also cover how to segue to and from the story, how to make interesting, making sure your audience applies your story, and how to practice storytelling. Great speakers tell stories well. Come and join us to find out how!

Hope to see you there. I promise we’ll get to the content quickly.

Come learn the one communication skill you can't live without!
High Five Conference
Where Marketing and Creative Meet
The High Five Conference is touted as the ultimate conference in the Triangle "where marketing and creative meet." But this conference offers something for everyone. Join hundreds of creative marketers--strategists, communicators, designers, creative directors, product managers, developers, writers, and everyone in between--for three days of collaboration to make bold new ideas happen.

Alan Hoffler will hold a breakout session at the conference giving his signature speech "Winning Communication." Join us for the fun! Contact us at to receive a special discount just for our newsletter subscribers.
Upcoming Public Workshops
Upcoming Public Workshops
2018 Public Workshop Schedule
Raleigh, NC
Feb 6-7 Only two seats left!
Mar 12-13, May 14-15, Aug 27-28,
Oct 15-16, Dec 10-11
Feb 8, Aug 29

Richmond, VA* (New!)
March 19-20
March 21

* To sign up for Richmond class, email us at
Sneak Peek Video
Here's a sneak peek video at what a workshop from MillsWyck Communications is really like:
Need a Speaker for your Event?
Alan Hoffler, founder and director of MillsWyck Communications, is a Business Communication and Presentation Skills Expert and accomplished keynote speaker. He uses the skills he teaches to craft authentic, custom messages that energize and motivate audiences.  

Alan's Signature Business Communications Topics:
  • Winning Communication - Strategies to Connect and Convince
  • Presentation Sin: The Practical Guide to Stop Offending (and start Impressing) Your Audience
  • Why Modern Business Communication is Killing Productivity (and what you can do about it)
  • The Silver Bullet: The One Skill Every Communicator Should Use

Check out the full list of Alan's   keynotes or contact us a bout customizing a presentation or workshop for your group. If you need a speaker for your next corporate meeting, professional organization, or conference, contact us at
Follow me on Twitter @AlanHoffler!
MillsWyck Communications
Communication matters. What are  YOU saying?
Alan Hoffler, Philorator (Teacher & Lover of Speaking)
(919) 386-9238 

Alan Hoffler is the Executive Director and Principal Trainer at MillsWyck Communications. He is a Trainer, Speaker, Author, and Coach who passionately moves others to effective and engaging communication.