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Writing a Speech

Writing a speech is not difficult. The hard part is figuring out what you want to say. Recently I attended an outdoor concert and I learned to my delight that a surprise speaker was Bono, the lead singer or the Rock band U2 and an all around good guy and admirable human being. I still feel the same way about Bono but I wished I had skipped his speech. His motives were good but he never came to grips with his message, he rambled and fumbled and never really got to his point.

Making a speech is about focus and purpose. I learned this from a most unlikely source many years ago. I was walking my dog and talking to a neighbor who was scheduled to speak in front of a large and emotional community meeting. He was a blue-collar worker by trade, bright and spirited but not particularly articulate. I asked him how he was preparing for his big presentation. “I’m no speechmaker,’ he said.” But I KNOW I’m right so I’m sure I’ll be able get me point across.”

He was right. A good speech starts out with conviction. The speaker needs a strong point of view and he also needs to know something about the audience. After that it is largely a matter of focus.

Once you know what you want to say, here are a short list of tips that you can use to write (or deliver) a more effective speech.

Keep it Short

Complaints that a speech was “too short” are rare indeed. Unless you are giving the state of the union speech, or maybe if you win the Nobel Prize, you should generally keep you speech to less than 20 minutes.

Study the audience and the setting for your speech

Who is your audience? Is your speech a presentation, seminar or lecture? Are you the keynote speaker? Who else is speaking and when? These factors are the context of your speech. Keep them as mind as you prepare to write.

Avoid clichés and get right to the point

It is easy to fall back on clichés and humdrum statements when you get to the podium. Don’t do it. Have the courage to say what you mean in your own words. Start off quickly and get right to the point. That’s what your audience came to hear.

Be careful about jokes

Do you know that you’re funny? If you’re confident you can make your audience laugh go ahead and work in a joke or two but otherwise—if you’re not sure, it is best to play it straight. Your audience is coming to hear you speak, just give them what they want.

Find an interesting title

If I were giving a talk about the benefits of olive oil, I could call my speech “The wonderful world of olive oil” or I could find a title something like “The delicious ingredient that can lengthen your life.” Which speech would you rather attend?

Work from a plan

Whether you call it an agenda or an outline, you have to know where you are going and how long it will take you to get there. It is very important that your speech captures the audience and keeps them with you. Begin with an introduction, however brief, make your points logically and clearly and then summarize. There’s no magic to it. Tell them what you are going to say, say it, tell them what you told them.

Use conversational language

It is easy to get caught up with the writing when you are preparing a speech but it is much better if you concern yourself with your message – and then deliver that message as if you were having a conversation with a friend. The calculus of successful speech writing is simple: have a strong message, use plain language and deliver with conviction.

Giving your speech

After you write your speech there can be an impulse to read it to your audience. Don’t make that mistake. You can bring all the notes you want to the podium but when it comes time you open your mouth it is very important that you speak directly to your audience. –A good speech enables the speaker to make a connection with the audience. This won’t happen if you read your speech. Professional speakers deal with this issue by using teleprompters, but there is any easier way to make sure your speech is effective: practice! Rehearse your speech until it feels comfortable. Then look the audience in the eye and talk to them.

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