A short speech – create a 3 minute speech that rocks

I’m in the Charles Pearson Theatre at the University of Melbourne, watching 12 short speeches. It’s a 3 minute speech competition called the 3 minute Thesis.

These annual, 3 minute speech competitions challenge Ph.D and Masters students to effectively communicate 3-1/2 years’ of technical research into a short speech. Their task is to convey only the most important ideas and findings to a non-technical audience – and with only a single slide.


A short speech is a great test

As you’d imagine, it can be difficult to condense all that research and knowledge into a 3 minute speech, yet still convey all the pertinent information.

But that’s exactly why it’s such a great exercise for all speakers.

That’s because, in order to be effective, your ideas must be able to be communicated in the most brief, simple and clear manner possible. You need them to stick in the listener’s mind.

Not everyone is good at this skill – indeed, few people are. But you need to be if you want other to see the value of your ideas.

By the way, if you think giving a good 3 minute speech is hard, try doing one in just 5 words! That’s what they do at the Webby awards.


What did the winning speakers do right?

Despite giving a short speech on very different topics, there were some common practices I noticed about the winning speakers.

  1. They presented an exceptionally clear message.
  2. They included a “top and tail” element.
  3. They made use of metaphor and other verbal illustrations to simplify a complex idea.
  4. They spoke like they were having a conversation with their audience – not ‘giving a formal speech’.

The losing speakers, by contrast, were more forced. Some were so unnatural they seemed to be giving a pantomime a speech for an audience of children. The engagement of conversation was missing. We’ve talked before about the importance of an unforced, natural style.


How to create a short speech.

1. Use a simple structure.

Start by clearly saying the ‘headline’ and key idea underpinning your speech in simple, everyday language, and follow with a simple structure supporting your main point.

Here are some examples:


A: Headline and 3 supporting reasons:

With this approach, follow your “headline” statement with 3 simple supporting reasons. State each reason clearly, and explain how each one helps achieve or support the objective.

“We must change the way we work – for 3 important reasons:

  1. Thwack…,
  2. Kapow…,
  3. Whamm.


B: Problem – solution:

This is a simple structure of only 2 parts. It’s an easy yet powerful way to capture people’s attention and interest when done well. But you’ll want to avoid the trap of rushing through the problem, and spending too much time on your brilliant solution.

If you really want to hook people, take some time to paint a vivid picture of the problem first. Your audience will then be clambering for a solution with both ears open.


C: Timeline:

In this type of short speech, you might cover:

  • The history of the issue …
  • The current situation …
  • What might happen in the future …
  • And the ramifications of agreeing (or disagreeing) with your main argument.


D: Metaphor/Top & Tail:

To “top and tail” simply means starting with a story/quote that hints at your message. At the end, you recall that story and link it to your message.

This short speech from a 3 minute speech competition makes excellent use of this approach.

Start your speech (“the top”) with a compelling metaphor to make a memorable point, and end the speech (“the tail”) with the same metaphor — but adjusted to show the benefit of adopting your central argument.


2: End with a memorable message:

Just as important as how you begin and structure your speech, is how you end it.

Consider the same techniques at the end of your speech. A metaphor that links back to your original premise, or finishing with a thought-provoking question, are two ways to burnish your speech in your listener’s mind.

These videos of the 1st and 2nd place winners of a 3 minute speech competition show how effective these closing techniques can be:

1st Place: Sara Ciesielski

2nd Place: Samantha Lichter



People worry that time limitations mean they have to ‘dumb down’ their valuable research — this is not the case!

A vivid message and a compelling short speech can become a window to the depth of your research, and give clarity to the value of your ideas.

A 3 minute speech gives you a huge amount of time to do this – if you use the time wisely and structure your speech to maximum effect.


Want to be a great speaker? Get the kindle ebook from amazon.com: What’s Your Message? Public Speaking with Twice the Impact, Using Half the Effort



  1. I have used this website and this technique several times. This is an amazing way of giving a speech. This is really good.

  2. Exactly what I needed. Thanks!

  3. Writing up this short speech has been so daunting for me. I had no idea how to structure the whole thing, even with how short my presentation will be. I’m so glad I found your guidelines!!

    • Cam Barber says

      Hi Lauren,

      Thanks for the note! I’m so happy it helped you.

      Best wishes,


      • Hey im a student,
        and we have to give a short speech about 3 minutes on a topic of our choice. I chose this topic:
        “why pinneaple doesnt belong on pizza/hawaii pizza”
        since our teacher wanted to see stylistic devices and fluent english(im german) he doesnt care about if the topic is serious or not.
        So my question to you is:
        How would you structure that speech?
        for me the beginning is clear: i present my topic and talk a few sentences
        for the end of the speech i will summorise the speech and put a final sentence.
        But what about the middle part??? what would you write in that case? it doesnt have to stick to the topic but i want an overview what belongs in the middle part.

        Thanks for your answer!

  4. how do you start an speech how do you introduce the topic WELL
    but, not to overpowering maybe with a hook

  5. Thanks man .Really helped a lot .

  6. Harshdeep says

    I found it helpful.It made me able to give short speeches.

  7. Hi Cam,

    Last year I think I made the mistake of scripting my three minute thesis. I’m not sure exactly what went wrong but I ended up blocking on one of my lines for about 5 seconds, long enough to ruin the whole thing. I know what I probably should have done is remembered bullet points but I find that I waffle if I do so, so the script is the most concise way I can get the messages across ( although it may come across as a bit premeditated.

    Was just wondering if you had any advice on how to bullet point while also keeping things concise? Maybe a script is ok but I just need to try and say less?



    • Cam Barber says

      Hi Patrick,

      A script is ok if you have the time to rehearse 20+ times and be able to memorise it while still adding life and variation in your voice.

      Our ‘bullet point’ approach is called a Chunk Structure (see: Chunk Structure Steve Jobs ) – it means that you memorise the Speech Outline and the key points, yet have the freedom to speak to bullet points within the Chunks.

      This gives you a combination of great clarity and perfect messaging as well as the freedom to speak with the energy of real life.

      One additional tip is to practice breathing/pausing. You are more likely to waffle through your bullet points if you fail to pause. However, when you speak a sentence then pause/breathe, you’ll find your mind works more effectively and you won’t blur all your sentences together.

      Best of luck.


    • Take short breaks in beetween setences.

  8. I did not know to give a how to speech

  9. Sheet Dave says

    Exactly what I need for my presentation

  10. Take short breaks in beetween setences.

  11. You have awesome advice!! Keep up the great work and I am looking for your book. Can you send me a link to my personal email where I can find it on Amazon?

  12. It was exactly what I needed for my speech. I was having a problem figuring out what to do when I found this website! It is amazing!!!

  13. This website helped me so much! Thank you!

  14. Hi guys can you help me with this short speech? My teacher wants us to make a speech but we’re not allowed to use an English language. Can you please translate it to the other language except English? Thank you in advance. Have a good day 😊

    I have a dream today.

    I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

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