For a lot of people, the prospect of standing in front of a group and speaking is actually more terrifying than dying. That’s a pretty serious phobia to overcome! However, at some point in your life, whether at school or in the workplace, it is likely that you will be called upon to give a speech. If you are one of the many who dread such a task, fear not. The following steps will help you feel confident in the writing process that is integral to giving a good speech no matter what the situation may be.
1) Audience. First, determine who your audience is and customize your writing accordingly. High school students hearing about a great literary figure or a historical event will have a somewhat different vocabulary and level of knowledge than would a graduate class in literary analysis. Avoid terms or jargon the first group is unlikely to understand, and don’t dumb it down for those who are in the know.
2) Purpose and message. Two things must be settled in your own mind before you are ready to write your speech. First, what is the purpose of your talk? That is, why have you been asked to speak in the first place? If you are an expert in women’s literature, for example, you should emphasize your particular background and knowledge, mentioning that what you have to offer is something the audience probably would not be able to hear from anyone else. Secondly, what do you most want audiences to come away with after hearing you? You must decide what your main message will be and continually return to that primary point as you compose your speech. Doing so will help both you and your audience stay focused. As Winston Churchill said:
“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time with a tremendous whack.”
3) Brainstorming. It may take you some time to figure out just what the purpose and main message of your speech will be, especially if you have a lot of diverse knowledge about your subject. Make a list of all the things you might possibly be interested in speaking about. Once the list is in written form, it will be easy to see which points are not likely to fit into your time frame. Probably the biggest problem both writers and audiences face is not too little information, but too much.
4) Categorize. Your brainstorming session should yield several areas that will be subcategories of your main message. You can then move those pieces about like a puzzle, seeing which ones best fit together for your audience. Or think of the categories as stepping-stones. Leaving a gap too large between any two stones will sink not only you but your audience as well. Writing a speech is not all that different from writing a paper. You must have a topic (thesis), provide support, and give a conclusion.
5) Attention grabber. Remember your audience will not be feeling any of the anxiety you are likely to feel. After all, their requirements are few: sitting, listening. It may be tempting for you to launch into the meat of your material, eager to prove that you have something to offer from the get-go. However, do yourself and your audience a favor and have something interesting to say at the beginning—an anecdote, a joke, or a question that will allow them time to settle in and focus.
6) Introduction. After you’ve grabbed their attention, use the introduction of your speech to let the audience know what to expect. It will help you keep their attention, and they will know that you are unlikely to drone on endlessly. Experts suggest that between three and four topics are advisable along with a conclusion.
7) Body. Sticking firmly to the topics you’ve introduced will be easier if you create each section like a mini-paper. Have an introduction, main body, and conclusion here as well. No one likes to simply be read at, so you will help yourself to stay on-topic by having this outline in your memory, on a blackboard, or on a slide. Keep in mind too that all sections need not be equal in length. Spend time deciding and writing the ones that need the most emphasis and do not make a shorter topic longer than it needs to be.
8) Conclusion. This often seems to be the most problematic part for the speechwriter. Have you said enough? Too much? If you say “finally” or “in conclusion,” be prepared to end the speech pretty quickly. Audiences know that it’s over; to keep going can irritate them and may even lose any good will you’ve accumulated. So take care in your speech writing to draw an apt and memorable conclusion. And stick to it!
9) Questions. Be sure to allow enough time for your audience to ask questions. This may also allow you to avoid the dreaded phrases “and another thing” or “I forgot to mention,” pitfalls of stuffing everything into your conclusion. If you have written and delivered your speech effectively, then you and your audience will be pleased to see these other possibilities crop up during a question-and-answer period.
10) Practice, practice. Once you have your speech written, practice it several times until you feel comfortable with the entire process. If possible, gather a few trusted friends to listen to you and offer constructive criticism....We promise that you’ll live to tell the story!