4 Key Tips for Preparing a Speech

If you want your speech to be lively and appealing, these are four key steps you need to apply as you prepare your speech. If you write a speech before delivering, use these four tips as a part of editing your first draft. If you prefer to speak from an outline, practice your talk keeping these principles in mind.

1.  Use Short Words

People find short words easier to understand than long words; especially when spoken. Short words can carry more force in a statement. Even Shakespeare knew the benefit of short words: “Out, out damned spot.” “I come to bury Ceaser, not to praise him.” “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio.”

For the most part, use words you would use in everyday conversation. Review your draft and replace as many long words as you can, with short words.

2. Use Short Sentences

Short sentences have the same effect on understanding as short words. Make your sentences short and to the point.

This is generally easy to fix. After preparing a draft of your speech, go back and break the long sentences into shorter parts.

3. Use Personal Words

Words such as: you, me I, they, we will make a talk more direct and add some informality. Audiences respond to the personal much better. They want to know how what you are saying applies to them.

Instead of asking in general, “How would a person respond?” make it specific. Ask, “How would you respond?”

4. Save the Humour for the End

No, not the end of the speech, but the end of the preparation. Unless you’re performing stand-up comedy, the jokes are secondary to your speech. I’ve listened to too many speeches where the jokes did not support the point of the talk. They seemed to be thrown in because somewhere along the line, the speaker heard, “good speakers tell jokes.”

Make sure that you have laid the foundation of your speech and are covering all you need to say. Then, go back and add any appropriate humour to enhance your presentation.

Four simple keys. Apply them as you prepare and edit your speech and you find audiences keen to listen to what you have to say.

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How to Write a Speech

Speech

Photo credit: pierret_christian

 

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

The opening

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.

Understanding

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.

The conlucsion

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

For example:

  • “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.”

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How to Give an Impromptu Speech

Has this happened to you? You’re attending a meeting. You’re not expecting to say anything, just sit and listen. During a presentation, your boss is asked a question about the department’s plans for the coming year. He turns to you and says, “Ian, you’ve been working on our major project for the past year. Maybe you could say a few words about how this project got started, where it stands and where it is going.”

If something like this happens to you, you don’t need to panic. If you know how to organize your thoughts, and you know your job, you’re most of the way to giving an effective impromptu presentation.

You can effectively respond by taking the following steps:

Stop and think:

Take a moment to organize your thoughts. Any topic can be split up into components. Choose a common pattern of organization. Break your topic into a pattern such as:

  • chronological sequence (e.g., past, present and future),
  • topical (try and keep to three areas, e.g., production, advertising and marketing);
  • the pro’s and con’s of an issue (useful in persuasive situations).

In the example above, a chronological sequence fits.

Start to speak:

1) Give a few introductory remarks.

Before you launch into your topic, give yourself time to get collected. Make some general introductory comments, such as, “I’m pleased to be here today to provide some information. I don’t have a formal presentation but would be happy to describe the project we’ve been working on.”

2) Develop a clear preview sentence of your main points. (Tell them what you are going to tell them.)

Tell your audience what your key points are. From the example above, you could simply say, “I would like to tell you about how we started this project, where we are today and our time-line for completing the project”, which is a chronological sequence.

3) Deliver the body of the presentation. (Tell them)

Talk through each point from your preview sentence. Having set an organizational pattern and knowing where you are going takes some of the stress out of the situation.

4) Review the main points. (Tell them what you told them)

Reinforce the main ideas you’ve touched upon by briefly restating them. Something like, “I’ve tried in these past few minutes to give you an overview of how this project started, where it is now and where we think it will go.”

5) Conclude the presentation.

Don’t leave your presentation hanging. Conclude with a strong, positive statement. From the above example, “I hope to attend next month’s meeting to report a satisfactory conclusion to our project. I would be happy to take any questions at this time.”

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