Writing a speech
Has anyone ever asked you to say a speech at an event? Or have you only had to give a speech for marks at school? Do you feel terrified when you have to do one? If you do, you’re not unusual. Almost everyone is nervous about giving speeches. The best way to combat those nerves is to plan and then write the speech first. Once you’ve practised it a few times you will feel more confident in its delivery.
The key to giving a speech is to know your material well enough to not feel nervous. This doesn’t mean that you need to know what you’ve written off by heart!! This is a big mistake as you will be so scared of getting it wrong that you will still be nervous. Remember that nobody knows what you have actually written down so you don’t need to get it 100% right. All you need to know is what you want to say and in what order you want to say it, then relax, breath and go for it!
How do you start planning a speech?
Before you can start writing your speech there are three things that you need to know first:
- WHO are you writing the speech for?
In other words, who is your audience? Is it learners in your class, is it for friends at a wedding or birthday party, is it to colleagues at work? The way you write your speech depends entirely on what will interest your audience.
- WHAT is your speech going to be about?
What is your topic? What is the purpose of the speech? Is it to inspire your audience to be successful? Is it to inform them about something you’ve researched? Is it to persuade them to agree with your ideas about something (often used in politics)? Is it to entertain the audience when celebrating a special occasion?
- HOW long does it need to be?
Is it 3 minutes or 5 minutes? It’s important to keep it within it’s time frame. No-one wants to listen to a long rambling speech. Often, people’s attention span starts to wonder off at 10 minutes, even if the speech is reasonably good so don’t be tempted to go on and on!
Once you’re clear about these three points, it’s time to start writing your speech.
How is a speech structured?
Like most good writing (or, in this case, speaking) the structure consists of three main parts (three seems to be a lucky number!)
- The Introduction.
- The Body where most of the information is given.
- The Conclusion.
Think of it as if it is a sandwich. The introduction and conclusion are the bread between which you find the body or yummy bits (meat, cheese, jam!) of the sandwich.
When planning a speech start with the BODY of the speech first.
It consists of:
- The main point/s that you want to tell your audience about.
The number of point you’re going to make will depend on the length of your speech. It may be one point, three points or even five points (for a longer speech).
- Each point needs to be fleshed out with examples or personal anecdotes (stories). People love to listen to personal stories. It gives what you are saying ‘heart’ and draws them in emotionally. If you’re speaking at your sister’s birthday party, one of your points might be about her sense of fun. Once you have made this point, go on to give a personal experience that you had with her which shows this. (Try not to be too embarrassing!)
If you are informing your audience about some research you’ve done, tell them one of the points that you learned from your research and then give an example/demonstrate/show a picture to consolidate that point.
- Each point needs to be written in a way that will appeal to your audience.
If your audience is teenagers, then you’ll write in a way that is appropriate for them. Keep sentences short (actually, a good idea for all types of speeches) and use informal language.
If your audience is your colleagues at work you may want to keep it a little more formal in terms of the words you use. However, as this is going to be a speech (ultimately you will speak it), you will always use contraction such as ‘I’m’ or ‘can’t’.
Once you’ve completed the body of the speech you need to work on your CONCLUSION.
You want your speech to end with a BANG; to live on in the minds of the audience once you have finished.
There are two parts to a conclusion:
- A very brief summary of your main points.
- The memorable bit right at the end of your speech. (The BANG.)
Some ideas for that:
- A call for action.
- A powerful quotation.
- A challenge.
- A call back or reminder of something important that you said before in your speech, ‘Remember that the most important thing is …’’
People often remember what was said last so don’t let that opportunity go to waste.
And finally you need to write the most difficult part of your speech which is the INTRODUCTION.
Although your introduction is as short as your conclusion, it needs to immediately attract the attention of your audience. Without a good introduction, your audience might slump and switch off and not listen to your speech. Alternatively, if it’s a strong introduction, they might sit up alert and drink in everything you have to say.
How do you catch your audience’s attention? We call it the HOOK (as in a fishing hook that catches fish). The hook depends on your audience. What will catch his or her attention?
Here are a few ideas:
- Use humour.
- Ask a rhetorical question. (one that doesn’t actually ask for a reply).
- Use a catchy phrase or quotation.
- Start with an amazing fact.
- Start with the word, ‘Imagine’.
- Arouse curiosity. You can start with a ‘story’ or ‘confession’ that will make you audience want to hear more.
Once you have written this all down, read it through slowly and time yourself. You might need to cut or add information to your speech. Then practise, practise, practise until you’re comfortable with it. Even the best of actors need to rehearse their lines!