A great speech can prick the emotions, bring people together, provide much-needed reassurance or profoundly affect individuals’ beliefs. The best speeches have even changed the course of history. Therefore, the power associated with public speaking should never, ever be underestimated and this knowledge can place a heavy dose of pressure on the shoulders of a speech writer.
While your upcoming address to shareholders / employees / peers / rich donors, etc, may not have cause to set the world on fire, no one wants to stand on the stage and deliver a lacklustre monologue. Writing and giving a speech is a task that can strike fear into most of us – from nervous grooms to even the most seasoned CEO. However, armed with a few helpful tips, you need never tear your hair out about it again.
Here are five top tips on writing a winning speech:
1. Write like you speak
Long words and meandering sentences will position you as knowledgeable and credible to your audience, right? Maybe if you’re writing something that will be read. Expert speech writers say you should ‘write for the ear and not the eye’ – using words and phrases that will be understood by all. It’s best to read your speech aloud as you write it, to ensure that it does sound all right. Use shorter sentences and pause where you need to pause. This will also help make you appear ‘human’ – which is so important if you want people to buy into your message.
2. Ensure you have a structure
It’s easy to get lost in a large numbers of words, to go off on a tangent and not return to that initial point. To ensure that your audience can not only follow, but get something out of your speech, it must be well structured. That’s one of the points Barack Obama’s senior speech writer, Adam Frankel emphasises. “It’s usually harder to figure out the right structure for a speech – the order of the points to make – than the words themselves,” he said. “The order of those points matters because an argument that’s clear and logical is more likely to be persuasive.” Experts say that starting with a list is a good idea as it makes it easier to order your points and keeps you on track.
3. Always prepare
It goes without saying that preparation is vital. Your speech should be proofed and read over at least a couple of times before delivery. There’s nothing worse than a typo-induced gaffe to completely undo all of your good work. Yes, your speech might be memorable, but not for the reasons you and probably your boss hoped (‘remember when the head of marketing said ‘pubic’ not ‘public’?’). Reading it over will not only identify errors, but could prompt you to make more impactful changes and will help you feel more confident about your delivery.
4. Keep it short
The average adult’s attention span is reportedly just eight seconds and while few people could deliver a hard-hitting speech in that short time, it does raise the point that length is everything; in this case, keep it brief. A long speech provides far too many opportunities for your listeners’ minds to wander, plus there’s a greater chance you could make a mistake, so ensure your speech is succinct for the greatest effect. One of Abraham Lincoln’s State of the Union Addresses comprised just ten sentences, conveying his ideas in only two minutes and making a real impression on his audience – unlike the peer who spoke before him for 30 minutes.
5. Close well
Your ending is the part of your address that most people will remember, so it needs to be good. Churchill’s unforgettable “we shall fight on the beaches” paragraph came at the very the end of his 1940 speech and it’s unquestionably the most memorable part – recalled 75 years later. Tips from organisational behaviour expert, Jeff Schmidt, include: “Recap your biggest takeaway. Tie everything together. Share a success story. Make a call to action. Don’t hold anything back.” Bear this and the other tips in mind and your speech will be far more powerful.