June 10, 2021
Writing a speech can be extremely daunting. Not only do you have to come up with content, but you also have to deliver it convincingly to your audience.
Follow these basic guidelines to make this a smooth, stress free process. These simple steps will have you writing a meaningful speech that your audience is sure to remember.
Get Clear About Your Vision
Your most important first step is to actually take a step back. Yes, you have a deadline and a moment when you will be stepping on stage but if you don’t lay some basic groundwork in advance, your speech will fail to land in the way you are hoping.
When I’m working on a speech, I always consider two thoughts: what is my vision and how am I going to connect with my audience in a powerful way that allows them to understand and care about my vision?
This step is where many speeches simply fail. The presenter is keen to demonstrate progress, so they will create a list of accomplishments that prove their point and tick through them one by one as the audience’s eyes glaze over.
You have to know your “why” and you have to develop proof points that illustrate the importance of your why and reasons for your audience to care.
Choose A Strong Structure
As you focus on your vision, you also need to consider how you will bring your audience along. Nancy Duarte in “The Secret Structure of a Great Speech” explains the shape of the most compelling speeches throughout history. Each has a similar pattern. The speaker starts with what the current state is and then moves to what the future state might be if the audience adopts the speaker’s vision. The speech moves back and forth between these two choice-sets to continue to provide insight on current state and then the (much better) future state until the conclusion where the speaker (you) shows clearly how much better the future is with your vision adopted.
Notice how the structure that Duarte reveals has tension built into it that brings energy both to the speaker and to the audience.
Here’s another structure trick: use a ladder metaphor. One of the very best speech givers I ever knew (he never used notes and always held the audience in rapt attention) told me he thought of a ladder when he constructed his speeches. He started at the base (current state) and, rung by rung, drew the audience up with him until, together they reached the top.
Share the Stories Behind the Facts
Another important aspect? Get personal. Tell a story. For as long as we have been communicating with each other, we have been telling each other stories. A story has an ingrained power, it draws on pathos more so than an infographic with stats. Sure, you can share stats, but if you have a human-centered story at the heart of those stats – you’ve created a much more compelling argument for your audience.
In fact, one of the very best ways to grab your audience is to start with a story. Maybe you are the CEO of a large hospital system and you are speaking at your annual meeting. You need to convey the wide impact your system makes and its potential for growth so that you can rationalize your envisioned expansion.
Start small. Start with the young mother, whose life your doctors saved in the ER (or through your groundbreaking research). Shine a light on that young mother’s children, her fear, her trust in you. Bring in all the feels. And then broaden the perspective to demonstrate how this is but one, of many similar stories thanks to your system’s operations. Success stories that could be multiplied tenfold through your vision of expansion.
You have your “why” and your structure. You’ve picked some impactful stories to illustrate your points. You’ve only just started. Now, you need to delve into the nuance and details of the writing.
Pay Attention to Rhythm and Flow
Think about the rhythm and flow of your sentence structure. You don’t want a series of long, complicated sentences. You want to vary the length of your sentences. Using a very short sentence that is declarative breaks up the flow and brings the audience back to attention.
You can also repeat a key phrase that represents your theme. The most famous example of this: “I have a dream.”
Use Multi-Media Intentionally, Not as a Crutch
Consider multi-media as another punctuation point. Use video to illustrate and bring in different emotions. Use slides if you need to, but don’t rely too heavily on them. People tend to read the slides, stop listening to you and go into a sort of PowerPoint trance.
Unless you use D&E’s tips to tell a more powerful story with PowerPoint.
Steer Clear of Jargon
Finally, once you’ve written your speech, give it a once over with an eye to your intended audience. In general, unless there are terms of art that you have to use, you should steer far away from jargon, acronyms and other exclusionary speech.
Got a speech coming up? Reach out to us for impactful speech writing that effectively conveys you and your vision. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.