Writing a speech isn’t all that different than writing for other mediums. You need to know your audience, the required length, and the purpose or topic. This is true whether your speech is for a business conference, a wedding, a school project, or any other scenario.
But there’s something about speech writing that’s especially nerve-wracking.
If you write and deliver a speech that doesn’t go over well, you’ll get feedback in real time. The people sitting in front of you could lose interest, start talking, doze off, or even wander out of the room. (Don’t worry, only audiences in movies throw tomatoes).
Of course, a poor speech is not the end of the world. You can give plenty of crummy speeches and live to tell the tale.
But we also know that a great speech is capable of changing the world. Or at least sparking an audience’s imagination, catapulting your business into success, earning an A+ on your assignment, or ensuring that the bride and groom are still friends with you after the wedding.
So if you’re feeling stressed over your impending speech writing duties, fret no more! Today we’re breaking down for you the step-by-step process of exactly how to write a great speech.
1 Tips to write (and live) by
Let’s start with the 30,000 foot, big-picture view. These are the tenets that will guide you in your speech writing process (and pretty much anything else you want to write).
- Know the purpose: What are you trying to accomplish with your speech? Educate, inspire, entertain, argue a point? Your goals will dictate the tone and structure, and result in dramatically different speeches.
- Know your audience: Your speech should be tailored for your audience, both in terms of ideas and language. If you’re speaking at a sound healer convention, you won’t need to explain the concept of energetic blocks. And if you’re speaking to an octogenarians-only quilting circle, you probably shouldn’t drop as many F-bombs as you would with your local biker gang.
- Know the length: You don’t want to underwhelm or overwhelm your audience.Ten minutes may be too short for your keynote address, but it’s probably too long for your best man speech. Don’t leave things up to chance. Your writing process will be much easier if you keep your eye on your target length.
- Write, revise, practice, revise, practice…: MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech wasn’t written in a day. Give yourself the time you need to practice your material and work through multiple drafts. Don’t expect to nail everything on the first try.
2 The step-by-step process
Still feeling stressed over how to get started? Here’s how to write your speech from concept to completion.
Step 1: Outline your speech’s structure. What are the main ideas for each section?
Step 2: Flesh out the main ideas in your outline. Don’t worry about finding the perfect words. Just let your creativity flow and get it all out!
Step 3: Edit and polish what you’ve written until you have a cohesive first draft of your speech
Step 4: Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice your speech the more you’ll discover which sections need reworked, which transitions should be improved, and which sentences are hard to say. You’ll also find out how you’re doing on length.
Step 5: Update, practice, and revise your speech until it has a great flow and you feel it’s ready to accomplish its purpose.
3 The universal structure
Getting hung up on Step 1? Here’s a structure you can follow for any type of speech.
Who are you, why are are you giving this speech, what is your main thesis?
The “who” and “why” can be longer or shorter depending on the context. For example, if you’re speaking at a wedding, you’ll want to explain your relationship to the bride and groom and why they mean so much to you. But if you’re presenting to your class at school, you may be able to head straight into your thesis.
If you’re presenting in a business or motivational setting, this is a crucial time to hook your audience’s attention and pique their curiosity. Typically someone else will have already introduced you and your accolades, so use this to your advantage and dive straight in.
“Hi everyone, it’s great to be here! As Kevin just said, I’ve been an urban beet farmer for 30 years, and a couple years back I got this absolutely crazy idea. What if…”
Idea 1, Idea 2, Idea 3…
The majority of your speech should be spent presenting your thesis and supporting material in a simple, organized way.
Whether you’re giving an inspirational talk or a business presentation, rambling is a sure-fire way to lose your audience’s attention. Don’t try to share absolutely everything you know on your topic, instead pick a few (two to five) key points to present to your audience.
Stick to one point at a time and finish the thought before you move on to the next. Build in clear, logical transitions from idea to idea.
Want to make your speech memorable? Studies have shown our brains are great at remember stories! As much as is appropriate, make your speech personal and include your own anecdotes and thoughts.
We’re also better at remembering big ideas if they’re condensed into a few memorable words, so do your best to sum up your thesis.
“I have a dream.”
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
“Make good art.”
What do you want your audience to walk out of the room remembering?
Wrap everything up and drive home your main idea, whether that’s through providing a few (one to three) key takeaways, or telling one last story that perfectly illustrates your point.
Here are some examples of how your outline might look
As a researcher presenting your findings…
Introduction: Explain the key problem or question of your research.
Main message: Describe the research process, then describe your three key findings.
Takeaway: Present your conclusions and their implications, then your next steps for moving forward.
As the maid of honor giving a speech at your best friend’s wedding…
Introduction: Explain who you are and how you met the bride.
Main message: Recount three funny and heartwarming stories about your decades-long friendship with her, plus your first impressions of the groom.
Takeaway: Wrap things up by expounding on how amazing the bride and groom’s love for each other is, how they’re meant to be together, and how you know their love will last a lifetime. …L’chaim!
What are your favorite tips for writing a great speech?