Writing your speech is a good idea.
I don’t mean writing a speech for the sake of writing one, but rather, if you have to give a speech, it is best to write it out. There are few speakers who are able to give a speech off-the-cuff without adequate preparation.
Mark Twain said he ‘never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it.’
There are several reasons for writing out a speech:
- To ensure a consistent message through the speech
- To measure timing and pace
- To aid in the organization and flow
- To better coordinate the use of visual aids
- To have a consistent source of material from which to practice
- To increase confidence when giving the speech
So here you are, you have a blank page in front of you, where do you go from here? In a previous post, I gave an outline template for writing a speech, based on the Aristotelian model. Using that basic outline, start writing. Don’t worry about length. Try and capture everything you think you need to say.
Once you’ve got it all down, then you go back and edit, and edit, and edit, and… Often, a good public speaker will be making small, last-minute edits, while waiting to be introduced to the audience.
Some do’s and dont’s when writing a speech:
- Do use simple direct words
- Do write in your own voice
- Do write to be heard, not read
- Don’t use words you can’t pronounce
- Don’t use jargon, useless speaking to a specialized group
- Do use impact words
- Do use nouns rather than pronouns
- Do put things in the positive (unlike parts of this list)
- Don’t use the passive voice – Do use the active voice
- Don’t use too many modifiers
In one sense, the audience is with you before you start speaking. They have chosen to be there. They want to hear what you have to say. Make sure you don’t lose them with your first words. When writing a speech the introduction is as important as the body of your speech. The first 30 seconds of your speech must grab your audience.
Develop Your Points
You will need to decide on how many points you use to support your main topic. The average number of points in a speech is three. But if your time is less than ten minutes, you may have time for only one or two points. Likewise, if your speech is longer than thirty minutes you need to add more points. The decision is up to you. But remember don’t cut the closing, it is far more important than the points.
Once you have determined which points you are going to use, write a paragraph dealing with each point. You should use facts, statistics and stories to develop your content. The best speech will use a combination of stories with facts or stories with statistics. A speech with only facts and statistics will be dry and boring. Don’t let that happen to you.
When writing a speech you want to present material in a way that is easily understood. Saying, “we shipped 30% more orders this year over last year,” is more precise than saying, “this year has seen an increase in orders.”
This doesn’t apply just to informing, but is important to motivation or a call to action. If your goal is tomotivate your sales staff, “we need to increase sales by 2,000 units per quarter,” is much more effective than, “we need to sell more.”
Beyond that, you also need to make sure what you say will not be misunderstood. Review your material for clarity. Build clear and sensible transitions from one thought to the next.
Begin writing your ending by identifying the call to action. What is it that you wish to leave your audience with: Is it to motivate or inspire; To persuade them to adapt a certain point of view; Tocelebrate a person or event?
Restate your main points, but don’t repeat them
- “I asked earlier why we should care about the rain forest. Now I hope it’s clear that . . .”
- “Remember how Mrs. Smith couldn’t afford her prescriptions? Under our plan, . . .”
Call to action
Unless a speech is merely to inform, the should be an appeal for the audience to take action based on their new knowledge or understanding. If you do this, be sure the action you recommend is specific and realistic. For example, although your audience may not be able to affect foreign policy directly, they can vote or work for candidates whose foreign policy views they support. Relating the purpose of your speech to their lives not only creates a connection with your audience, but also reiterates the importance of your topic to them in particular or “the bigger picture.”
2 thoughts on “How to Write a Speech”
Thanks for the great post. When you talk about writing a speech do you mean write out word by word what you are going to say? Is there a danger of sounding over-rehearsed? I went to a conference last week and it was clear some presenters had written every word they planned on saying, while others had a few main points they wanted to hit but didn’t seem to have a script. Personally, I found the less scripted presentations more engaging. Perhaps just a personal preference.
Joe, I don’t recommend reading a speech word for word. That does tend to sound stilted or over-rehearsed. Here I’m suggesting writing the speech as part of the speaker’s preparation. Writing the speech gives opportunity to make sure all that needs saying is included and in an order that makes sense.
After the speech is written, then practice, practice, practice. Once you’re comfortable with the topic, reduce it to an outline or commit the ideas to memory (without memorizing word for word). Then deliver the speech in your own voice.
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