How to Write a Speech
Writing speeches is an essential language skill that ought to be developed. Through your personal and professional journey, you could be required to make and deliver one at some point. The most competent way is to study the principles and strategies of speechwriting, and then acquire or create a workable template or framework that can be customized for any situation. In addition, don’t fall for articles or clickbait headings that promise things such as “Write a Speech in 5 Minutes” (this will never happen) or “Proven Speechwriting Shortcuts” (there’s no such thing). In reality, writing a speech is a thoughtful and systematic process, and it takes practice. That being said, there are efficient ways to go about it that can save time but not necessarily hasten the process.
A Typical Step-by-step Speechwriting Process
The following is a tested and proven practice for writing an effective speech:
- Outline and organize
- Edit and refine.
- Lengthen or shorten it.
- Update, practice, and revise.
The process doesn’t look particularly distinctive from drafting an essay, for instance, except for the practice part, which means speaking out loud and listening to the flow. Remember that you’ll be drafting “oral language”, which has different linguistic requirements than a written work. Read along for an in-depth guide to speechwriting principles and methodology to inspire and aid you in your current and future needs in public speaking.
Establish a 3-Part Overview
In any type of speech, you need to think about 3 things before drafting it:
- Your topic or purpose
- Your audience
- The length of the speech
This strategy is true for all kinds of contexts such as commencement addresses, wedding toasts, introductions of dignitaries and other important personalities, investment pitches, farewell salutes, corporate presentations, and many others.
1. Consider your purpose
Whatever your purpose for giving a speech, you need to know what kind of speech you want to give. You’ll then be able to determine the tone and content of your speech accordingly. The following are the general purposes of a speech:
- Information or education
A speech has to fit a formula designed to enlighten, influence, or amuse a listening audience.
2. Consider your audience
You should tailor your speech to your specific target group. For example, if you’re speaking to specialists, you don’t need to talk about the basics of your subject. If your audience is conservative, you might want to avoid using profanity or controversial statements. If you’re going to speak at an informal event, you might want to ponder the lengths you can go to with regard to humor and personal stories.
3. Consider the length
On some occasions, you’ll be given an allotted speaking time or a time limit, which you shouldn’t exceed. But at other times, you’ll be left to decide how long you think your speech should take. Knowing your purpose and your audience will give you an idea about the length of your presentation. The safest basis is 10 minutes, but a keynote address should be longer. If you’re speaking at a farewell dinner, it’s probably too long, especially as there will be others who will speak, too.
6 Useful Methods for Productive Brainstorming
Speechwriting isn’t so different from writing an essay. Nevertheless, the speaking element makes its preparation unique. Here are common methods that successful speech writers use. You can follow it sequentially, or in whatever manner you’re comfortable with. Either way, these are
1. Generating ideas
Before you can assemble an outline for your draft, you must first spend time producing a wide-ranging map of ideas. For this, you can glean your primary focus and its supporting statements, and discard the items that may sound redundant, superfluous, and ultimately pointless. Here’s a list of questions that functions as a brainstorming device:
- What key points are vital to your key message?
- What ideas will reinforce my objectives? How will they do that?
- Which level of information should I go for?
- Which information would serve well as main supporting details?
2. Studying your audience
Study the following questions that will further aid the brainstorming phase of speechwriting and help you figure out how to deliver your content appropriately:
- Who or what does the audience represent? How big is the crowd? What do they have in common?
- What is the popular opinion regarding your subject? What about you as the speaker?
- What is their level of expertise or influence? What do they need to know?
- Will they be receptive to your claim, argument, or line of reasoning?
3. Taking attention span into account
The beginning of a speech, according to research, is where the audience’s attention span is the highest. During the middle part, inattention increases substantially and fluctuates. And when listeners become aware that the speaker is about to finish, their attention span resurges.
With this study in mind, you can make sure that the first sentences in your intro should be memorable. You can start with a bold statement, a shocking statistic, or an inviting question.
The body, or the middle, is where most of your reinforcing details lie. It’s also the part where people’s attention begins to diminish. You need to pace your supporting arguments or information by spacing them equally or sensibly. You can apply humor, engage your listeners by asking them to repeat the key idea, ask rhetorical questions, and present new data, examples, or stories that your message.
The ending is arguably the most notable. It should echo the impact of your opening or introduction. Draft an ending to weed out filler words or phrases until you’re left with a few sentences that your audience will easily remember.
4. Choosing your core message
If you feel passionate about your subject, it won’t be too difficult to select a core statement that stands out in a presentation. From your brainstorming exercise, find the best words or phrases that can summarize and glue the rest of your points together. Even if you’re delivering a speech at an informal or personal event such as a wedding reception or a farewell party, it should revolve around a midpoint. For instance, if you’re going to give a best-man speech, you can focus on the groom’s best trait, and detail other qualities that support it. You can spice it up with anecdotes and personal stories that you have about the groom.
5. Mapping out your research
Writing a speech is easy if you know what you’re talking about. Do your homework before you write. Read books, articles, and online sources to get the facts straight. Make sure you understand the topic thoroughly so you can speak intelligently about it. Use your notes to help organize your thoughts and keep track of important points. Plotting them out categorically can help you write a cohesive and original speech that will be easy for your listeners to follow.
6. Using literary and rhetorical devices
There are effective language techniques you can use to deliver your key message successfully.
One way is to use emotional language. To get people to care about what you’re saying, you must make them feel something, which means getting inside their heads and tapping into their emotions. You do this by connecting with them on a personal level. For example, if you were trying to sell someone on buying a car, you might say “I know how much money you’ve got saved up.” Or if you wanted to convince someone to vote for a certain candidate, you could say “You’ll regret not voting for him/her.”
Another powerful technique is asking open-ended, rhetorical questions. These types of queries do not require any kind of answer, they simply prompt the listener to think about what he or she already knows. However, don’t overdo it as your message may come across as unclear or confusing.
You can also use creative language such as similes, metaphors, analogies, etc. It can paint a more vivid picture of what you’re trying to say and create a stronger foundation that your audience can relate to. This method also includes using quotes, which can provide some additional punch to your speech, particularly if it’s a quote people haven’t heard before. However, familiar quotations can create an immediate bond between you and your listeners, so choose wisely. If you’re giving a long motivational speech, for example, you should consider including two quotations spaced out appropriately. Choose one that’s common and another that’s uncommon.
3 Fundamental Parts of a Speech
Speeches often follow a three-section format. First, you must ensure to capture your audience’s attention in your introduction. Next, you must provide enough information in the body or middle so that people can develop a more robust understanding of your message. Finally, you should conclude with a powerful statement that will remain in their thoughts and instigate later reflection.
1. Opening or Introduction
begin with an attention-grabbing statement. The first few sentences of your speech should captivate your audience at once. Moreover, it should ascertain your amiability and authority on the subject matter. A short anecdote can get things started on a good note, or a well-structured joke if you can pull it off. Consider posing a provocative question, or a shocking research conclusion or statistic. You can also use the opening to provide an overview of your main statement and your supporting points. For example: “By the end of this speech, half of you will change your eating habits.” The following are some other things you can present in your opening:
- A clear and confident self-introduction
- A reminder of why the audience is listening to the speech.
- The length of the speech. For example: “In the next 12 minutes…”
- Outline overview. For example: “I’ll go over 3 key ideas.”
- Objectives. For example: “I’m here today to…”
2. Body or Middle
The body or middle section is where you’ll bring in the bulk of information about your subject. You’ve started out by making a few introductory points in your opening. It’s time to continue with a series of supporting arguments, explanations, or examples that your audience should be interested in hearing more about. Limit these to a maximum of five (less is better) which you can boost with illustrations (visually, if possible), anecdotes, and proof.
You should maintain conviction by speaking confidently. If you’re there to present a persuasive speech and convince people, you should include a reminder of your expertise or knowledge about the topic. Include any personal experiences that make you an authoritative source about the subject.
Another sensible method is to expect objections from your audience and prepare answers or guarantees for them. This is called “objections handling” and is an important preparation for some types of speeches. Unless you’re marked time or are allowed to have a Q&A at the end of your speech, there won’t be any time to answer questions directly, so you should cover most of the issues that might arise and prepare answers that your listeners can consider privately.
3. Ending or Conclusion
When writing a speech in English, one of your main goals is to ensure that your audience remembers your point after they’ve heard it. Use the last part of your speech as a chance to recap or sum up the main ideas and end it with a call to action. Calls to action can spark responses or motivate audiences to get involved or do something. For example: “Go out and cast your ballot!”, “Have you got what it takes to change things?”, “Tell your local representative how you feel.”, and so on. Use your ending to do one or any of the following:
- Thank the audience for listening.
- Leave your listeners a lasting impression.
- Summarize your points again.
- Give more points to ponder for your listeners.
Popular Ending Methods
- Closing with a quote – end with a quote from a famous personality that is relevant to your speech.
- Bookending – reference your opening by repeating a statement, paraphrasing, or elaborating.
- Asking an open question – end with a thought-provoking rhetorical question.
Dos and Don’ts of Speech Writing
The following tips are key to drafting a well-rounded and efficiently formulated speech.
- Think through your supporting points and prioritize them according to importance.
- Read your draft aloud. This will allow you to practice with pacing, intonation, and emphasis. You can also check if you sound natural with a coherent flow. You don’t want to sound monotonous when speaking, and you certainly don’t want to speak too fast. Rhythm is important when giving a speech.
- Use transitions. These are bridges that help connect your audience from one point to the next. Transitions can come in the form of common transition words such as “however”, “furthermore”, and so on, or they could be segue-way phrases and even entire summaries.
- Pick the best hook statement. Brainstorm a good number and decide which one fits your intro perfectly.
- Check your draft several times. You can read it aloud as well, to record yourself and listen. You can do this successively or you can step away for an hour or two before checking it again.
- When in doubt, use simple language. when it comes to speeches, it’s better to be concise than overwrought.
- Vary your sentence length and structure. Experiment during your drafting phase: you can use fragments, a few short sentences, then a long one, switch between active and passive voice, complex sentences, and so forth. If you speak five consecutive sentences with the same number of words and grammatical formats, for instance, you’ll put people to sleep faster than a powerful sleeping pill.
- Use literary and rhetorical devices sparingly. Moderation is key.
- Avoid using jargon. For example, the phrase “authentic language”. This is jargon used by English teachers to refer to the language used in actual or practical situations. People who aren’t teachers won’t likely recognize its meaning.
- Don’t use more than one hook statement in each segment of your speech. You’ll sound like a misguided and exasperating salesman.
- Don’t use the same language you reserve for formal writing. It will come off as aloof and unrelatable. Remember you’re writing something that will be spoken to a group of listeners.
- Don’t go to your speaking engagement without rehearsing. If you can, ask a friend or two to listen to your speech and provide feedback to improve your delivery.
- Avoid overwhelming or underwhelming your audience with facts. Which means making wise decisions in including sufficient information to back up your content. Typically, a speech will include 3 to 5 supporting points, not more.
- Don’t tell your audience you’re nervous. Your anxiety and body language are what they’ll focus on during your speech.
- Don’t open with an apology or excuse such as “We don’t have much time so I’ll make this as quick as possible.” or “I’m sorry we won’t be able to break early because you have to listen to me.”
- Don’t attempt humor if it’s not your nature or natural skill. If you do and your joke falls flat, prepare for how to handle a joke misfire so you won’t alienate your listeners and laugh together at your blunder.
Public speech preparation and presentation can be intimidating in many ways, particularly for people doing it for the first time. Coming up with a powerful speech takes time and energy. It’s an extensive process that requires serious thinking skills: brainstorming, revising and polishing. Furthermore, depending on how large your crowd is, it could include anxiety. But with methodical planning, practice, and experience you’ll develop adequate skills and succeed. Think about your target audience, your message, and the many ways that you could make your platform better, and you’ll be able to write the perfect speech in time.
Frequently Asked Questions
An effective practice is to brainstorm and then create an outline from the activity. It’s much more sensible to have a great volume of ideas that you can trim down to their essential points than to find your speech lacking in terms of its required time duration or length. Brainstorming can also you to think outside the box and consider other perspectives that might come up.
You can begin with the quote itself and then attribute its source. Or you can present it after you introduce yourself to the audience. For example: “I’m Tae Jin Park, the president of (company or organization) and I’m here to talk about (the subject). Like my favorite (title and name of the original speaker of the quote), who said…”
When it comes to structuring the entire speech, the basic format includes three parts: the opening, the body, and the ending. Review the article for a more descriptive discussion of what each segment entails and how to use them effectively.
This is what a basic outline might look like:
– a quote/joke/anecdote
– introduce the topic/how long the speech will be/and what the audience can expect
– main point
– explanation, if needed
– supporting point 1
– details (3 most important facts/statistics/data)
(note: include 3 – 5 supporting points)
– summary of all major points
– call to action
Always do it in your opening. If you’re doing a personal speech (such as a speech at a wedding, farewell, or birthday party), you can give a kind or welcoming greeting, and state your name and relationship to the celebrant or the person in whose honor the event is commended. If you’re delivering a formal speech, especially an educational or persuasive speech, you need to include your credentials after your name to establish yourself as an authority on your topic. Don’t forget to include only pertinent details and not go on a tangent about your entire employment history. A couple of details like your job title and your greatest professional achievement would suffice.
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William is a professional English and ESL teacher with over 15 years of experience. He has taught students of all ages, from children to business executives, and has worked with ESL learners from all over the globe. With a degree in English Education, William has developed curriculum for learners of all levels and interests. He is passionate about helping people learn English effectively and shares his knowledge with the LillyPad community. When he’s not teaching or writing, William enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children.