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How to Write a Speech

Written by Gavin Barrett, State President

The art of public speaking is often perceived as an on-stage talent reserved strictly for those with the best composure and poise under pressure; however, successful public speaking begins in preparation. While delivery inevitably plays a large role in your public speaking ability, a large portion of what individuals will take away from your presentation lies in not only content, but the way it is organized and displayed. From a good hook to a powerful call to action, a well-written outline is key to an outstanding speech.

The first step is to gather basic information about the circumstances you will be presenting in. Doing the extra work to discover details such as audience age and presentation time will help you orient your speech to ensure you can make a strong connection with your listeners. Once you have this information be sure to adjust vocabulary and timing to ensure engagement throughout your audience. Speaking for two minutes to a group of high school freshmen should sound remarkably different from a speech delivered for thirty minutes to a graduating class of literature majors.

The next step is to ensure that you are speaking with the intention of getting a message across. Anyone can stand on a stage and fill the air with big words and gravitas, but the difference maker between a speech that makes the listener walk away with a new attitude or purpose exists within the transparency and tangibility of your message. Before you start writing, step back and think what you want the audience to take away from your speech.

It is finally time to begin writing. Scientifically, the audience makes a decision about how interested they are in listening to your speech within the first five seconds. This feeling takes an average of two minutes to reverse, making it vital that the initial remarks in your presentation carry significant weight. Often, questions, audience involvement, and interesting or alarming facts are excellent ways to intrigue your audience quickly.

Throughout the main body, it is vital to think as your audience would. If you were in the audience, what portions of this topic would interest you? Would you be able to stay focused through this portion of your speech? These questions end up being important to the overall performance of your speech.

Next is your conclusion. In this portion of your speech lies the biggest lie in the literary world: “For your conclusion, just summarize what you said in your speech.” Do not, under any circumstances, simply summarize to conclude a speech. In the conclusion exists your final opportunity to make an impact on your audience, and it is often a good time to use the most powerful information you have to ensure the audience leaves with passion about your topic. Your conclusion should also include a call to action in which you should make very clear what you want your listeners to do with the information you have given them.

Before presenting your speech, it is important that you review and be on the lookout for a few common mistakes:

  • You are not speaking solely to sound intelligent. Complex vocabulary or jargon can often cloud your message, especially when the audience cannot follow do to age or education level.
  • You have written in transitions between paragraphs. While pausing can be powerful, it is not a replacement for a transition between topics.
  • You are well-educated enough on you topic to answer questions. With the exception of keynote speaking or large scale presentations, most speeches will have questions, whether planned or not.
  • You have practiced your speech for one hour for every minute you are on stage. A three minute speech should take three hours of practice. Remember practice makes perfect!

Now you have a fully-prepared speech. Remember speech writing is an accrued skill that will only improve with time and practice. The more effort you put into this area of your speaking, the better you will be on stage.