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4 Tips for Writing a Crowd-Pleasing Speech
The best speeches are thorough, clever, and perfectly suited to their time and place.
- Do your research. Make sure you understand the issues driving the context of your speech. This could mean statistics and facts you use to support your argument. If your speech is a more casual, upbeat toast, it could mean going back over your shared history with the person you are toasting, looking for patterns or stand-out memories that capture their personality or your relationship. A big idea requires a powerful speech—and it requires a clear, simple approach that can encompass and communicate it.
- Allow room for heart. Memorable speeches aren’t always exactly by the book. For example, after the devastating mass shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015, Barack Obama didn’t just give a speech at the scene of the tragedy but led the congregation in a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” He made it abundantly clear that the holder of the highest office in the land shared in the community’s sorrow and sense of profound loss—an extremely impactful approach to promote national healing.
- Be honest about how it went. Take time to reflect on your successes and shortcomings of your speech as a way to improve future outcomes. When could you tell your audience was connecting with you? When did you know you’d lost them? Were there spots where you got lost in your message? Make a note of it and workshop those moments until you feel confident.
- Breadth and depth. Abraham Lincoln educated himself by reading broadly, from Shakespeare to Euclid. Cultivate your own curiosity by exploring ideas and experiences beyond your own. Take notes on effective sentence structure or formatting, and word choice: What resonates with you as a reader? What do you remember long after reading, or hearing it? Read sample speeches to get a sense of capturing oral language in written format.
3 Essential Guidelines to Writing a Good Speech
Good speechwriting is, in essence, an ability to capture and keep an audience’s attention.
A keen awareness of how to tailor your rhetoric to a given issue and your audience is key to effective communication. Even a short speech can benefit from a few essential guidelines:
- Know your goal. What type of speech is it? Whether it’s a graduation speech, a campaign speech, or a wedding toast, any good speechwriter first identifies the main message or purpose of the speech. What do you want the takeaway for your audience members to be? How does it serve the larger event or gathering? Are you looking to inspire people, or convince them of a point of view? Is it merely informative? (Knowing this upfront will help you craft a stronger ending as well.)
- Know your audience. Are you speaking to fellow experts at a conference, or a room full of kids? It can be helpful to imagine your ideal audience member: Someone who is excited about the subject matter and curious about what you have to say. What will you need to include to satisfy them?
- Know how much time you have. Time constraints will determine how direct or in-depth your speech should be. What you decide to focus on when you have five minutes will be very different if you have 50.
How to Write a Speech in 5 Steps
1. Make an Outline.
Just like in essay writing, writing a speech outline will help surface key points. This doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Most speeches contain three main sections. The intro, which might feature personal stories that illustrate the subject or problem you’re addressing; the body of your speech, where the nitty-gritty details and bulk of your message lives; and the conclusion, which might be a call to action or summary to drive home your takeaway.
2. Write Your First Draft.
Once you have an outline, it’s time to expand it. In your writing process, remember the ideal audience member you imagined: How would you explain the problem or subject directly to them? As with any first draft, try to just let words and thoughts flow freely. You can begin to pare it back once you begin to edit.
3. Edit for an Effective Speech.
The editing process here is about sifting your strongest points to the surface and making sure you’ve adequately captured what an audience needs in order to understand or stay with you. Are there insider references that will go over their heads, or not enough relatable anecdotes? Remove any jargon you find and try to describe what you mean using familiar language. Similarly, look for unnecessarily flashy words, and see if you can find a more colloquial substitute. And remember: short sentences are best.
4. Read Your Speech out Loud.
Do you sound like a person or a very smart robot? Are you losing breath on some sentences that could be broken up? Try different techniques for punctuating main points: Would a thoughtful pause do the trick? Or does the moment call for a build-up of explosive, emphatic volume? The main goal here is to make sure you’ve got the right tone and that the logic of your speech flows correctly. Do you have smooth transitions taking you from one thought to the next? Do they make sense? Where can your sentences be even shorter and more to-the-point?
5. Practice in Front of a Mirror.
Writing a great speech is as much about masterful wordsmithing as it is public speaking skills. As public speaking tips go, body language is one of the best ways to make sure your message lands. If you look nervous, tense, or unsure, your audience begins to feel the same way; practicing until you project confidence and ease in front of a crowd will allow your audience to relax and hear what you have to say. Gestures, movement, looking out into the crowd, and the way you stand can all be effective uses of body language.
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