Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How to write a speech

Learning how to write a speech needn't be a nail biting experience. If you can share or explain things you're interested or passionate about then you can write the speech you need to.

Unsure? Don't be. You may have lived with the idea you were never good with words for a long time. Or perhaps writing speeches at school brought you out in cold sweats but this is different.

Learning how to write a speech is easy when you learn to write out loud. And that's what you are going to now.

If you've done your preparation you're set to go.

To begin you need your outline

Before you go any further you need to know:

  • WHO the speech is for

  • WHAT the speech is to be about - main points ranked in order of importance with supporting research

  • HOW long it needs to be
How to write a speech : construction

The basic 'how to write a speech' format is simple. It consists of three parts:
  • an opening or introduction
  • the body where the bulk of the information is given
  • and an ending (or summary).
Think of it as a sandwich. The opening and ending are the slices of bread holding the filling (body) together. You can build yourself a simple sandwich with one filling or you can go gourmet and add up to three or even five. The choice is yours. But whatever you choose to serve, as a good cook, you need to consider who is going to eat it. And that's your audience.

So with them in mind, let's prepare the filling first.

How to Write a Speech: Step One

Begin with the most important idea/point on your outline.

Consider HOW you can explain (show, tell) that to your audience in the most effective way for them to easily understand it.

Before you start writing read the suggestions below for writing well out-loud.

The main consideration in 'how to write a speech' is always your audience. A good speech is never written from the speaker's point of view.

(Need to know more about why? Check out building rapport.)

Identify either a real person or the type of person who is most likely to be in your audience.

Make sure you select someone who represents the 'majority'. That is they are neither struggling to comprehend you at the bottom of your scale or light-years ahead at the top.

Now imagine they are sitting next to you eagerly waiting to hear what you're going to say. Give them a name, for example, Joe, to help make them real.

Ask yourself:

  • How do I need to tailor my information to meet Joe's needs?

    For example, do you tell personal stories illustrating your main points?
    This is a very powerful technique. You can find out more about storytelling in speeches here

  • What type or level of language is right for Joe as well as my topic?

How to Write a Speech: Step Two

Write down what you'd say as if you were talking directly to them.
If it helps, say everything out loud before you write and/or use a recorder.
After you've finished, take notes.

You do not have to write absolutely everything you're going to say down* but you do need to write the sequence of ideas to ensure they are logical and easily followed.
Remember too, to explain or illustrate your point with examples from your research.

(*Tip: If this is your first speech the safety net of having everything written down could be just what you need. It's easier to recover from a patch of jitters when you have a full set of notes than if you have either none or a bare outline.)

How to Write a Speech: Step Three

Rework Step Two (your first main point) until you've made yourself clear.

Do not assume because you know what you're talking about the person (Joe) you've chosen to represent your audience will too. Joe is not a mind-reader.

  • Check the 'tone' of your language. Is it right for the occasion, subject matter and your audience?

  • Check the length of your sentences. If they're too long or complicated you risk losing your listeners.

  • Have you chosen words everybody will understand?
    'There are 5 cent words and $5.00 words. Why use a $5.00 one when a 5 cent one tells it better?'
    Example: He 'spat' = 5 cents. He 'expectorated' = $5.00

  • Read what you've written out loud. If it flows naturally continue the process with your next main idea. If it doesn't, rework.

  • Remember you are writing 'oral language'.You are writing as if you were explaining, telling or showing something to someone. It doesn't have to be perfect sentences. We don't talk like that. We use whole sentences and part ones and we mix them up with asides or appeals e.g. 'Did you get that? Ofcourse you did. Right...Let's move it along. I was saying ...'
Repeat Steps One, Two & Three for the remainder of your main ideas.
Because you've done the first block carefully, the rest should come fairly easily.

How to Write a Speech: Step Four: Linking or Transitions

Between each of your main ideas you need to provide a pathway. This links them for your listeners. The clearer the path, the easier it is to make the transition from one idea to the next. If your speech contains more than three main ideas and each is building on the last, then consider using a 'catch-up' or summary as part of your transitions.

A link can be as simple as:

'We've explored one scenario for the ending of Block Buster 111, but let's consider another. This time...' What follows is the introduction of Main Idea Two.

A summarizing link or transition example:

'We've ended Blockbuster 111 four ways so far. Everybody died, 1. Everybody died BUT their ghosts remained, 2. The baddies died and the hero strode off into the sunset, 3. One villain died. His partner reformed and after a fight-out with the hero, they both strode off into the sunset and 4,The hero dies in a major battle but is reborn sometime in the future. And now what about one more? What if nobody died? The fifth possibility...'

Go back through your main ideas checking the links. Remember Joe as you go. Try each transition or link out loud and listen to yourself. Write them down when they are clear and concise.

How to Write a Speech: Step Five: The Ending

The ideal ending is highly memorable. You want it to live on in the minds of your listeners. Often it combines a call to action with a summary of major points.

The desired outcome of a speech persuading people to vote for you in an upcoming election is that they do so. You can help that outcome along by calling them to register their support by signing a prepared pledge statement as they leave.

The desired outcome is increased sales figures. The call to action is made urgent with the introduction of time specific incentives.

'You have three weeks from the time you leave this hall to make that dream family holiday in New Zealand yours. Can you do it? Will you do it? The kids will love it. Your wife will love it. Do it now!'

NB. A clue for working out what the most appropriate call to action might be, is to go back to the original purpose for giving the speech.

  • Was it to motivate or inspire?

  • Was it to persuade to a particular point of view?

  • Was it to share specialist information?

  • Was it to celebrate a person, a place, time or event?

Ask yourself what you want people to do as a result of having listened to your speech.

(You can find out more here about how to end a speech effectively. There's 2 additional types of endings with examples.)

Write your ending and test it out loud.

How to Write a Speech: Step Six: The Introduction

Once you've got the filling (main ideas) the linking and the ending in place, it's time to focus on the introduction.

The introduction comes last as it's the most important part of your speech. This is the bit that either has people sitting up alert or slumped and waiting for you to end.

What makes a great opening?
You want one that makes listening to you the only thing the Joe's in the audience want to do. You want them to forget they're hungry or that their chair is hard or that the bills need paying.

The answer is to capture their interest straight away. You do this with a 'hook'.
Hooks come in as many forms as there are speeches and audiences. Your task is work out what the specific hook is to catch your audience.

Go back to the purpose. Why are you giving this speech? Once you have your answer, consider your call to action. What do you want the audience to do as a result of listening to you? Next think about the imaginary or real person you wrote for when you were focusing on your main ideas.

Ask yourself, if I were him/her what would appeal?
  • Is it humor?

  • Would shock tactics work?

  • Is it formality or informality?

  • Is it an outline of what you're going to cover, including the call to action?

  • Or is it a mix of all these elements?

Here's an example from a fictional political speech. The speaker is lobbying for votes. His audience are predominately workers whose future's are not secure.

'How's your imagination this morning? Good? ( Pause for response from audience) Great, I'm glad. Because we're going to put it to work starting right now. I want you to see your future. What does it look like? Are you happy? Is everything as you want it to be? No? Let's change that. We could do it. And we could do it today. At the end of this speech you're going to be given the opportunity to change your world, for a better one...No, I'm not a magician or a simpleton with big ideas and precious little commonsense. I'm an ordinary man, just like you.'

And then our speaker is off into his main points supported by examples. The end, which he has already foreshadowed in his opening, is the call to vote for him.

Experiment with several openings until you've found the one that serves your audience, subject matter and purpose best.

Writing your speech is very nearly done. There's just one more step to go!

How to Write a Speech: Step Seven: Checking

Go through your speech several times carefully.

On the first read through check you've got your main points in their correct order with supporting material plus an effective introduction and ending.

On the second read through check the linking passages or transitions making sure they are clear and easily followed.

On the third reading check your sentence structure, language use and tone.

Now go though once more.

This time read it aloud slowly and time yourself. If it's too long make the necessary cuts. Start by looking at your examples rather than the main ideas themselves. If you've used several to illustrate one, cut the least important out. Also look to see if you've repeated yourself uneccessarily or gone off track. If it's not relevant, cut it.

Repeat the process, condensing until your speech fits just under the time allowance.

And NOW you are finished with 'how to write a speech', and are ready for REHEARSAL.

Please don't be tempted to skip this step. The 'not-so-secret' secret of successful speeches combines good writing with practice, practice and then practicing some more.

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