Here’s an at-a-glance guide to writing a speech.
We’ll review some of the simplest techniques you can use when you’re writing a speech. Most of these ideas are interchangeable. They’ll help you with a key note presentation, an award speech or a wedding speech.
You don’t have to use all of these ideas, just pick and choose what works for you.
What is your speech about?
The flippant answer is, it’s about 20 minutes! (And if it is, it should be about 2000 words long. One hundred words per minute is a comfortable pace for you and the audience.)
But what’s it really about?
When you’re writing a speech, don’t be tempted to throw everything you know at it. Start with a nice, simple premise. (For example, I want the audience to understand why pay rises would be bad for our business this year.) Then start filling in the detail.
How long does my speech need to be?
A simple premise doesn’t necessarily equal a short speech. Don’t just give your audience the facts, take them on a journey. Tell a story.
A big, world-changing premise doesn’t necessarily equal a long speech. The Gettysburg Address lasted less than three minutes.
A super-dense speech crammed full of ideas will just leave your audience spinning. It’s okay to leave them wanting more.
Padding it out?
Suppose you’re writing a speech and it’s too short for your allotted timescale? If you’ve really done full justice to your topic, leave it as it is. You can always open up the floor to questions…
Keep it simple
- Beginning: introduce your topic.
- Middle: develop it.
- End: tie it all up, make your conclusions, and, if you can, leave your audience with something to think about.
Develop your themes
If you’re talking about why pay rises are a bad idea, introduce some context. Set the scene with all the compelling reasons that have scuppered the prospect of pay rises. But go easy. Leaven the bad news with positives – no pay rises, but no redundancies.
Tell a good story
Any speech, whether it’s an acceptance speech or a shareholder’s address can tell a story.
It can start amid challenge or conflict, work its way through trial and tribulation, and eventually lead a breathless audience to a final, against-the-odds triumph of spirit over adversity.
Let your audience do some of the work
If you have to justify an unpopular decision (those pay rises again), the very best thing you can do is let your audience reach the same conclusion for themselves. If you lay the facts out and join the dots for your audience, they’ll soon see what you’re saying. Reaching this realisation for themselves softens what would otherwise be a hard-sell.
Leave some dangling threads
Maintain interest in your speech with ideas and questions that you can raise and then leave hanging…
… Tie it all up
Time to answer all those dangling questions; time to tie up all those loose ends. It’ll help give a satisfying sense of closure.
Is it easy to say?
Looks good on paper, but what does it feel like to actually say the words? Are there any words or sentences in there that’ll trip you up?
Say it out loud and edit your speech accordingly. In other words, write a speech, read it out loud, and then rewrite it.
Edit. Edit. And edit some more!
Your first draft is probably going to be too long.
Whenever you write a speech, you can expect to edit it three or four times. Yes, that does mean cutting lots of stuff you really like. Learn to let it go. Your speech will be better for it. Sharper, Clearer. More cohesive. Harder hitting.
When you’re writing a speech, be critical
Subject every word, every sentence and every paragraph to the ‘so what’ test. Does it enhance your argument, does it tell a good story, and does it really belong in your speech.
Better yet, get someone else to be critical. Subject your speech to the ultimate test – consumer research. Test it on your family, friends and colleagues. Take their opinions on board. They’re valid. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with them!
Write it like you say it
It’s your speech. It needs to sound like you wrote it. If you hire a speech writer instead of writing it for yourself, make sure they’ve got a good feel for your tone of voice.
The fancy-schmancy stuff
When you write a speech, you can pep it up a bit with any of these popular devices
The power of using words with the same initial letters to create compelling connections.
- The power of three
This year we have done X, we have done Y and yes, we have done Z – and it has made our business stronger.
Self-deprecating humour works best. It’ll help get the audience on your side.
Never mind the barren outlook, lay down some solid foundations for your company, pin your colours to the mast and use metaphor to really get your point across.
And, of course, if you’d like any help or advice about writing a speech, just let me know. Or if you’re already in the middle of writing a speech and getting stuck, or running out of time, call me for some eleventh hour advice.