How to Write a Speech

If it gives you any comfort, an old cliché tells us that most people are more afraid of public speaking than dying, yet as you’ll see in this article, learning how to write a speech is a simple process that you can quickly master. Once you’ve written your speech using the principles outlined below, your fear of public speaking will be gone forever, and Good Riddance to it!

Let’s start with seven basic steps. Please sit up and pay close attention to this bit, because you can’t really leave any of these steps out. Below the basic steps are three bonus ninja speaking tips I’ve picked up in the course of writing, delivering and listening to hundreds of speeches over the years.

Step Zero: STOP! Did you see what I just did? Please re-read that last paragraph again, because it’s vitally important. In just three simple sentences, I set your expectations about what to expect in this article, unobtrusively gave you some information about me to add to my credibility, and got you to sit up and pay SPECIAL attention to my basic points. In fact, just to leave you in no doubt at all, I asked you to do that in as many words! That’s really my first basic tip on how to write a speech: everything you say in a speech should be carefully planned, thought out, written and rehearsed. NO AD-LIBBING! With a prepared speech, your greatest asset, and one that your audience won’t even be aware of, is the luxury of having time to prepare and hone your wise words. So use it wisely, Grasshopper.

Here are the seven Basic Steps:

  1. Carefully write, rewrite and if necessary rewrite again your first three to five sentences. You will utter these words during the single most important moment of your speech.Your audience is getting to know you, and already form opinions about you, your style and how receptive they’ll be when you get to the point.So include in your intro all the elements you need to set the tone, introduce yourself and make the exact first impression that YOU want to give them.Rehearse this using specific words. Change them if they’re not perfect. “Try on” various tones of voice, tempos, volumes. Whisper. Pause. Shout. Rehearse all this until you can do it in the shower.In fact, prove it by DOING it in the shower. You can’t take your notes in there, so this will give you the confidence you need that you KNOW this bit. Feel free to scrub up a little while you’re in there!
  2. OK, back to work. Now, write a crisp summary of the points you made during your speech and a smooth transition to your closing remarks. I know you haven’t written the speech yet, so for now, use anything you want to represent your points, like newspaper headlines from this morning’s paper.
    Your mission here is to capture the tone you want to maximize the impact of your closing. DON’T CHEAT – you’ll only be cheating yourself. Your closing words are just as important as your opening. This and maybe one point you talk about will be remembered. So make it memorable. Shout if you have to. Rehearse it like before.
    REALLY IMPORTANT: Close with one or two very carefully crafted sentences. OK, practice time. Go back for another shower. No notes this time!
  3. You should now smell nice and have a Hollywood blockbuster opening and climax for your speech.If you’re at that point, you can get dressed again, you won’t need another shower till later. Sorry about all the towels we’re using in this lesson.Nothing I could have said in the title to prepare you for it would have kept your interest!
  4. What you need now depends largely on your speech’s purpose. So before you start cutting facts out of newspapers, be really clear about what you want to achieve, and write another few sentences, again using careful phrases, to establish your purpose beyond any doubt. Even if you don’t actually say these words in your speech, just writing it out concisely gets it straight in your own head. Having a polished phrase or two at your disposal can also be a life-saver if you’re asked questions at the end.
  5. Finally, you need to research the heck out of a small number of points you want to get across. Gather all the material you can on your topic. Don’t judge yet, just gather. You have no excuse for lack of relevant and memorable material, or unchecked facts with the Internet at your disposal.When you’ve done this, organise your material into sub-topics – very broadly, this isn’t your speech.
  6. Now comes the only hard part of the whole exercise. Out of your vast collection of web and print clippings, photos, audio clips, statistical tables, government reports, dictionaries of quotations, historical documents, DVDS…, select RELEVANT supporting material for NO MORE THAN THREE main points you’d like to make in your speech, and put the rest away for another time. Be brutal, you don’t need it all just now.Organise each of your sub-topics for maximum impact. The most important one should come first, then the others in INCREASING order of importance.There are various theories on why this order has the most impact, like catching people before they’ve had a chance to glaze over. That’s WAY too cynical for me. Your speech is already a dazzler, so just trust that this is the case and try it out. So just to reiterate that, if you had 5 points to make (and you don’t because I’ve said stick to 3!), numbered from least to most important, you should deliver them in this order: 5, 1, 2, 3, 4. If you see signs of glazing eyes , or hear any snores any time between 5 and 4, skip straight to your last point, do your well-polished closing and sit down.I’ll repeat that point about cutting out material. I know It’s tempting to find a place in your speech for some great anecdote or fact you want to share, even if it’s slightly off-topic and takes 3 mnutes to deliver. Less is definitely more when learning how to write a speech. You really, really, must keep your speech to three points. Don’t cheat: you need three (two is better) clearly distinguishable points. Otherwise you’ll dilute your excellent content and lose some of your audience.
  7. Practice, Practice, and Practice. I can’t emphasise this enough. Knowing how to write a speech, and delivering that speech effectively are two different things. I once gave the performance of my life and won a regional Toastmasters humorous speech contest, having never had the courage to even enter a contest before. How did I do it ? I rehearsed in front of an audience. A real audience, made up of several stuffed toys animals belonging to my son who was then a year old! Believe me, it’s quite scary trying to make Paddington Bear laugh, for all his renowned comic escapades.

Ninja Bonus Tips

We’re near the end of your attention span – I know. Never say I’m not paying attention to my audience! But I promised some bonus material, and after all the washing I made you do earlier, I think you’re due some good stuff, so here goes.

My first bonus tip is really just Step 7 in disguise. You have to practice. It takes away the fear. Don’t cheat, really – don’t. I thought this particular piece of advice was just patronising waffle, until my humorous speech contest incident. I was so terrified of being complete rubbish that I rehearsed that speech until I was sick of it, and ended up winning not just once, but three times, at progressively higher levels in the tournament. And I had no fear, because I knew every word, whisper, pause, gesture and smile of that speech. I could probably deliver it now, 10 years later. Maybe I’ll have a shower after I finish writing this and do just that.

My second bonus tip for ninja speakers. One more after this, then we’re done. Don’t stop at writing just your speech. Think big-picture. Unless you trust your host to introduce you really well and set the scene like Jay Leno’s warm-up act, you should really write your OWN introduction. Most hosts will be delighted if you hand them an index card to read, and you’ll be assured that the audience is properly prepared for you AND your speech before you get up. A good intro should include your name, one or two sentences about your background or expertise, and it should end with the title of your speech.

And that nicely brings us to my final ninja bonus tip. Ironically, this is the FIRST thing your audience will notice. Your speech NEEDS a great title. Your title is like your press agent – it goes ahead of you, and appears in any printed materials about the event. It sets expectations. Put as much effort into picking a doozie title as you did rehearsing your opening, and all will be hunky dory. Again – don’t cheat on this step – you’ll spoil the GREAT speech you’ve put together. Many a decent speech has been killed by poor pre-conceived ideas the audience got from a rubbish or absent speech title.

So that’s it. If you follow these basic steps, there’s really no need to be afraid of public speaking. Don’t confuse nerves with fear. Nerves under control will turn your new understanding of how to write a speech into a memorable event for you and your audience.

Lucky THEM, I say. Now, isn’t it time for your next shower?

Dave Curley holds the Advanced Toastmaster (Silver) award from Toastmasters International, an outstanding environment in which to learn not only how to write a speech but how to deliver one with confidence. Dave now speaks regularly as essential part of his business as an identity management and IT security consultant. He operates globally but always has a return ticket to Glasgow, Scotland.

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About David

Dave Curley holds the Advanced Toastmaster (Silver) award from Toastmasters International, an outstanding environment in which to learn not only how to write a speech but how to deliver one with confidence. Dave now speaks regularly as essential part of his business as an identity management and IT security consultant. He operates globally but always has a return ticket to Glasgow, Scotland.

Posted on August 31, 2007, in entertainment, how to write a speech, public speaking, speech writing, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Great timing for this post, with the humorous speech contests just around the corner. I’m just in the process of preparing mine now 🙂
    I used to think that adhoc delivery with just bullet point preparation was the best way for me to deliver a speech. I’ve learned over time that it can be much, MUCH better with loads of preparation. The trick is to keep prepping beyond the ‘sounding wooden’ barrier until it sounds like its off the cuff, but you know exactly where you’re going at evry single moment.
    Thanks Dave.

  2. Thanks for pointing out the timing! I’m preparing a post now on humorous speeches, so I’ll get that out soon and I hope to add something useful to help anyone preparing for contests. It’s mainly along the lines of noticing and adapting to the audience reaction. The contest is a great time to give the same speech more than once, and fine-tune it!

  3. Dave, what a gem of an article! I have given many speeches in my life and have used some of the techniques you described here. However, I must say that your humourous approach to explaining the steps in the process takes the fear away, brings it to life and makes it all sound so easy. Well done.

  4. Those tips were great! I have always pondered the notion of attending Toastmasters to master my striking fear of public speaking but…they meet at 6am where I live. hah hah. Thanks for the push on practice before you speak, very necessary.

    Great article!

  5. Very good advice. I am an ATM bronze and have also competed in contests and can attest to everything you have stated. I will read and re-read as a refresher and look for new ideas.



  6. You are saving my Toastmaster reputation with your brilliant distillation of how to prepare…thank you!!

  7. heather mcphee

    I am about to present my first speech, the ICE BREAKER, I am full of trepidation, after reading your hints, I feel I might be able to pull it off. Heather

  8. This is wild!
    Thanks for the post, But the ninja tips are are the best. Newer thought about writeing my own introduction. I do know thet the practice thing is what is going to make this work better. I never thought about a title that could be an interedting deal not quite sure how to work that in yet. I tend to wander off subject and thats what I’m trying to address how to stay on track. Even with an outline I can wander.
    Brad West

  9. I have delivered many talks but your concise and funny but very sound plan is still a great help as I prepare my next presentation. Thank you so much! terrific advice!!!

  10. Reblogged this on Road to 66.

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