From the moment of being asked to speak at an event, many people feel anxiety. But being properly prepared will give you the confidence to deliver a winning speech. Give yourself plenty of time and practice it as much as possible. Following these points will help you put together a winning speech that will inform, persuade, motivate and entertain.
The place to start is to know your audience and your topic. What do audience members have in common, why are they at the event? What do they want? Writing a good speech involves meeting the expectations of others, and to do that you need to have the right tone. Once you feel you have an understanding of the audience, research your topic thoroughly. The more you know your topic, the more comfortable you’ll be and the more confidently you’ll come across. Seek out scholarly sources, such as books, academic journals, newspaper articles, and websites to find information and support for your claims. If it’s a more personal speech like a wedding speech, speak to the bride and groom and people close to them and gather as much information and anecdotes as you can.
Before you start writing the speech, put together an outline in bullets. In general, you should have an introduction, 5 main points with supporting evidence (such as statistics, quotes, examples, and anecdotes) and a conclusion. You can always refine your outline later, but this approach will help you stay on topic and concentrate on the key message of your speech. You want to be clear about the core message you want to get across, this is what you will need to concentrate on without veering off into tangents that will lose your audience.
Then you can start writing the actual speech. The first minute is absolutely critical, as this is where the audience is most receptive and will decide if they want to listen to you or not. Share a shocking fact or statistic, tell a humorous personal anecdote or open with an engaging question. For example, if you are writing a motivational speech about weight loss, then you might say something like, “Five years ago, I could not walk up a flight of stairs without needing to take a break halfway up.” If you hope to persuade audience members to reduce their use of fossil fuels, then you might start off by saying, “Petrol-powered vehicles are the reason why global warming is threatening to destroy our planet.”
You can then unfold your argument using facts, statistics and quotes to support your statements. But don’t over-use stats as you can easily confuse your audience, and keep them simple and in plain language. Use one or two powerful quotes to add flavour, but don’t overuse them, as at the end of the day – it’s what YOU say that counts. Always connect your points back to the larger issue. What is the big picture? Why should the audience care about this topic? How does it affect their lives? Repetition is an important part of leaving an impression and driving your core message. Many people drift off during speech, and repeating key points can bring them back and reinforce your message. For example, if you are writing a motivational speech about how running can help people to overcome emotional hurdles, then you might repeat a phrase in your speech to emphasize this idea, such as, “Run through the pain.”
Your overall structure should have a clear path and destination. You should start by telling people what you are going to tell them, then tell it to them and then tell them what you told them. Remove anything that’s extraneous, contradictory, or confusing. Remember: If it doesn’t help you get your core message across, drop it. Keep the language of your speech simple and conversational, avoiding jargon as much as possible. For example, instead of saying, “Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is the pinnacle of human existence because it enables you to accomplish physical feats that boost your confidence and give you a sense of accomplishment,” say, “A healthy body weight allows you to do more physically, and this may make you happier overall.” Keeping your sentences short helps you to deliver the speech smoothly and will make it easier for the audience to digest.
When you come to the end of the speech, try to end on a call-to-action. People will hopefully be motivated and inspired by what you have said, and ready to act. Encourage your audience to find out more and participate in a solution to the problem you have described by telling them how they can do so. This is a great opportunity to share resources with your audience and to give them some direction for how they can participate. If you have just shared your weight loss story to motivate your audience, tell them what they can do to start their own weight loss journey and share resources that you found helpful.
Once your speech is written, practice it out loud as much as possible. Get someone to listen and give you feedback. Your tone and style should work for listening, not reading. Remember to time yourself and make sure you are not going to go over your allocated time.
At the end of the day, you want to be memorable. Nelson Mandela had many quotes that he is remembered for, such as “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. If you can condense your theme into a 15-20 word slug line and build everything around it, and repeat it a few times in your speech, you’ll be well on your way!