The first thing to remember when composing a speech is that it is for the audience. It is not about you – the speaker. It is not “your time”.So, think about your audience.
We’ve all heard lousy speeches. Try to remember these “forgettable speeches”. You cannot. But, you will remember that the speaker rambled on with self-indulgent tangents or pointless details? Where you bored? Did you want to leave? Did you tune them out?
Consider the audience first. What do I have in common with them? Is it age, circumstances, or interests?
Think about talking to a friend. What would you say? Remember, the audience is made of individuals and they will respond to what you say as individuals.
Understand that by the time you deliver your speech, you will have heard it dozens of times. But, your audience is hearing for the first time. Speak a bit slower as the tendency for less experienced speakers is to talk too fast.
(We have all heard receptionists answer the phone with a rapid, inaudible listing of their firm’s name and their name, followed by “How can I direct your call?” or “How can I help you?” It continues to surprise me that they don’t realize that we could not understand what they said.)
In How to Write a Eulogy, I discuss the importance of pauses. Of course, in a eulogy, the setting is likely to be somber and more formal. But, the pauses are extremely important in any speech.
My favorite speaker is the late Zig Zigler. At the start of one of his speeches, he said:
That example, delivered with a Texas drawl, was more effective because of the pauses. Use them.
Try to develop a 15 to 20 word epigram to build your speech around. Remember, JFK, in his inaugural speech said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. That was an epigram.
A metaphor (“phrase that means one thing and is used for referring to another thing in order to emphasize their similar qualities”) or analogy (“comparison between two situations, processes, etc that is intended to show that the two are similar”) or axiom (“a saying or proverb”) will also work.
The introduction should contain something that gets the audience’s attention. Some call it a “hook”. In a successful song, there is always a “hook”. That’s the part of the song that everyone tends to know and sings over and over again.
Other successful introductions use a big statement and the use of the word “our” to indicate a sense of belonging.
Nelson Mandela used this opening in one of his speeches: "Today we celebrate not the victory of a party, but a victory for all the people of South Africa."
One other thing. You need to thank people who invited or introduced you. Make it as short as possible as audiences suffer through these “thank you’s”.
Now is the time to follow the path and destination that you said you would in the introduction. Tell your audience where you are going and why. They will appreciate your organization.
Make your strongest point first and your second strongest point at the last. Carefully transition from one point to another. It is okay to repeat, but never to “ramble”.
Do not talk about extraneous, contradictory, or confusing issues. Stay on topic.
Always put your heart and soul into your speech. Your audience will notice.
If you’ve got their attention – keep it. Be persuasive.
Use visuals, when possible. If you use numbers, use a graph or a pie chart. Think visually for those that learn that way. Do a demonstration.
(Did you ever see the speaker who was describing a “balanced life” and used a fish bowl partially full of sand to demonstrate? He attempted to add some rocks to the bowl, but all the rocks would not fit. The rocks, small and large could not all be added to the bowl because of the sand. The sand demonstrated all of the day-to-day busy things occupying our days. But, when the rocks [different sizes to represent important functions and events] were added with the sand – the rocks and sand fit into the bowl - representing “balance in one’s life”.)
There two mistakes that a speaker can make that surpass others.
There is an old saying:
Close with a strong declarative sentence about what you hope your audience is now passionate about. Make a firm and powerful statement about that which you do not want them to forget.
Your ending will be natural and without the usual and typical “thank you”.
Read your draft aloud. Record it. Listen. Recite it in front of a critical observer. Ask for feedback. Eliminate anything that is confusing or unnecessary.
Ask if your selected audience is able to follow and agrees with your premise. Clarity is the most important component.
Return to top of How to Write a Speech.
JOKES, QUOTES & POEMS