How to Write a Speech
At some point, you might face the need to write and deliver a presentation or speech on a topic of your choosing. Depending on your personality, this assignment may be the best or the worst thing you must do during your academic career. Thankfully, there are some tips and tricks you can use to take the guesswork out of writing an amazing speech. So, how do you choose the right topic? And how do you know what type to choose? This guide will help answer your questions about the basics of speechwriting and delivery.
Start with the Type
There are three main types of speeches: Informative, Persuasive, and Special Occasion.
Informative - are meant to inform. They are meant to teach the audience about a specific topic. This could be a five-minute broad overview of the causes of the American Revolution or an hour-long deep dive into the space debris cleaning technologies. When writing an informative speech, you should focus on presenting facts or telling a story in a concise and engaging manner.
Persuasive - are meant to convince of something. This could be a short speech on the pros or cons of a specific topic or a longer one, in favor of a specific candidate for public office. When writing a persuasive speech your job is to use facts and opinions to convince your audience to come around to your way of thinking.
Special Occasion - are meant to entertain or pay tribute to a person, place, or institution. These are the speeches we hear at weddings, funerals, parties, etc. They do not need to inform, though they can do that too, their intent is to celebrate the person, place, or institution being commemorated at the event. There is no persuasion involved.
The first step to writing any speech is knowing which type you’re writing. Once you have that information, you can begin the writing process by outlining your address.
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Step of Writing
- Outline your speech. Use whatever method of brainstorming and outlining works best for you. Make sure you are clear on the topic and the thesis, then outline the main points you want to hit on the way to your conclusion. This is also the time to find any supporting facts you intend to use.
- Draft your address based on the outline you created. As you draft, you may discover that you left something crucial out of your outline. That’s okay! That’s why we outline, draft, and revise. During the drafting phase, try to turn your self-editor off and just write. Get the words on the paper and worry about cleaning them up later.
- Revise and edit your piece. Once you’ve created a draft, go back and revise it. Look specifically for places where you can tighten things up or places where you need to add more information. Do at least one revision pass where you read your speech aloud. Speeches are meant to be heard, not read. Things that look fine on the page may sound weird when read aloud. This is the time to make any necessary adjustments.
- Practice, practice, practice. Then, practice some more. We know, it’s tempting to skip this step. Really tempting. Especially if speeches make you nervous, to begin with. Especially if you get to use notes while delivering it. But the more you practice, the better it will be. Practice in front of the mirror, practice in front of your dog, practice with a friend. It doesn’t matter, just practice.
- Adjust your speech based on your practice sessions. Maybe a friend tells you that something isn’t landing the way you intended. Maybe you have trouble saying a specific sentence without tripping over your own tongue. Whatever the reason, now is the time to make those adjustments.
- Practice some more. After you’ve made your final adjustments, practice again to verify that everything sounds the way it should.
Tips and Tricks
Now that you have a handle on the basics of speechwriting, check out these tips and tricks for writing strong, successful speeches.
Pick a topic you are interested in. If you sound bored, your audience will be bored. Pick a topic you are enthusiastic about, and your enthusiasm will come through your address. People will naturally be more interested in what you have to say if you sound interested in saying it.
Have a goal. The goal of the speech will determine what you write. Is it a celebratory speech at a wedding, or a persuasive one that is meant to argue a specific point for your debate class? Those two speeches require very different approaches.
Don’t overload. Pick a few main ideas and stick to them. Overloading a speech with too many ideas is a great way to make the audience tune you out. When outlining, write down all the main points you need to make, and any examples you will use to support your points.
Use the right tone and information. A speech given in Communications 101 has a vastly different audience than a speech given at a wedding or business conference. Know who you should write for.
Be yourself. Be personable. You aren’t writing an academic essay; you’re giving a speech. Let some of your personality shine through. This will help keep people engaged and focused. Anyone can give a speech on the American Civil War, but only you can give that address your way. Your specific interests and personality are unique; use that to your advantage.
Don’t try too much. It’s okay to use contractions and simple sentences. Shorter, simple sentences help the audience follow the speech with ease. When sentences get too lengthy and complicated, it can be easy for the point to get lost in words. That’s the opposite of what you want.
Be specific. There’s nothing worse than a meandering speech. Be specific with your words. Support any claims you make with facts. Provide dates and specific details when appropriate. Use more nouns and repeat yourself if necessary.
Get the facts right. Don’t write your speech based on incorrect information. But also avoid stuffing your speech with too many numbers as they are hard to remember. You want to strike a balance with enough facts to show people that you know what you’re talking about, but not so many that they fall asleep or pick up their phones.
Ask for help if you need it. You can always get assistance in editing or writing your speech from scratch that will really come in handy.
Repeat key points and terms. Don’t let your audience forget why you’re there or the point you’re making. Tie your main points back to your thesis frequently.
Make a case for why your speech is worth listening to. Giving a speech to a room full of people who can’t help looking at their phones is just no fun. When everyone has the internet in their pocket, you must make a strong case for why people should listen to what you have to say. Are you going to provide new and exciting information on your topic? Does your life experience allow you to approach the topic from a unique perspective? Why should people listen to you instead of going for coffee?
Use a visual aid or give a demonstration, if appropriate. Adding a visual element to your speech helps engage those who absorb information better visually.
Practice with a timer. You should know how long your speech is. When you are standing in front of a big audience, you are likely to speak faster than you are when practicing alone. Much of this comes down to nerves, so the more you practice ahead of time, and the more people you practice in front of, the easier it will be for you to keep your speed in check. You don’t want to talk so fast that your audience can’t keep up.
The best way to write good speeches is to practice. Like writing essays, you’ll improve the more you do it. Don’t skip the outlining step - having a clear roadmap for your speech helps the drafting and revising processes go smoother. And practice alone and in front of others. Once you think you’ve got it down, practice one more time.