Crafting a Speech

Crafting a Perfect Speech

Good speeches are not pulled out of thin air. If they were everyone would be giving them and I would be selling costume jewelry on QVC. Luckily for my children, and QVC viewers, the reaction that most people have when asked to give a speech is: “How do I do that?” 

The keys to a great speech are embracing preparation and avoiding procrastination. You need to start getting ready for your speech the moment you are confirmed to give it. This is not the sixth grade and you can not send your mom to the store for poster board at 8:30pm the night before and expect everything to turn out okay. It takes time to go through the three basic stages of writing a good speech. 

Idea Phase

You are very familiar with the topic of your speech. If you weren’t you wouldn’t have been asked to speak about it. In fact, you may know too much about it and having a hard time deciding what to include, and what would be too “inside baseball.” 

When deciding what to leave in, and what to leave out, you need to consider two things: who’s in your audience, and what you want them to leave knowing. 

  • Your audience Are they experts in your subject matter or relative beginners? Why are they interested in the subject matter? Have you made a promise to them in the title of your talk that you now must fulfill? 
  • What knowledge and take-away’s. Communication is the point. Sit down with a piece of paper (or at a computer if you have bad handwriting) and put down every important point related to the topic of your speech. Then go through and see how those points relate to each other. You will find many are repetitive or can be grouped under a single larger topic. Keep grouping and paring down until you have three to five key points. 

Now, you are ready to write. 

Writing Phase

Do NOT start with your opening sentence. It is one of the most important parts of your speech, and if try to write it first you may never finish your speech and/or go insane. Instead start off with a generic intro and then come back and refine it in the next step until it’s perfect. 

You should start by laying out your chosen key points and how they flow best. Once you have built that skeleton start slowly fleshing it out. Add in supporting facts. Then add stories to illustrate your points. Once you have the basic structure down start adding in transitions and correct sentence structure. 

When I say correct sentence structure I am not talking AP of Chicago style. You do not want to write like people read, you want to write like you talk. Use shorter sentences – a semi colon is not understood by an audience. Be humorous when appropriate – and sometimes when it’s not — depending on your audience.  

Throughout your speech you want to find as many ways as possible to repeat your key points – without outright repeating them. You should reiterate each key point at least three times in your speech. If you were ever in debate you are aware this is the “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” model. You need to be slicker than this though. After all, you are no longer a 15-year old with acne wearing your dad’s tie. 

The end of your speech is just as important as the beginning of your speech. Too many people give up at the end, or assume their points have been made. That’s not you. Once you have the majority of your speech done sit down and reread it. Then reread it again. What stands out the most? What do you like the most? Use those moments to craft both the opening and ending of your speech. And if they aren’t perfect? You still have time. 

Editing Phase

This is the longest and most important phase of the speech process. Technically, it’s not just editing, because editing is writing. You want to edit until it is perfect. And that doesn’t mean just reading the words on the page and crossing them out with red ink. 

The best way to edit is to read it aloud and see how it sounds. By doing this not only will you see how it flows topically, but you will also figure out where you stumble, and what jokes don’t work. Every time you read it you will find something new. 

Don’t just read it to yourself though. Your speech won’t exist in a vacuum, so your practice shouldn’t either. Read it in front of anyone who will listen. Take their feedback seriously. If they say it’s perfect they are lying so push them until they tell you the truth. Edit your speech every time you read it aloud or perform it for someone. Even the smallest changes (the to a, awesome to amazing) will make a difference in the final product. 

Constantly editing your speech via performance will also help you smooth out your performance. You’ll learn how not to languish in the parts where you are most comfortable, and rush through the parts where you are not. You will develop a better sense of timing and rhythm. Every time that speech comes out of your mouth it will be more and more yours. 

And then? You’ll be ready.