So, you’ve been asked to give a speech. Though exciting, the idea of writing and delivering a speech may be daunting. Sure, you could hire someone to help you develop and practice, but not everyone has this luxury, especially if you work for a small nonprofit or are part of a small team.
Here are some tips for writing and preparing an engaging speech, even if you haven’t had much experience doing either:
1. Don’t procrastinate.
Hopefully, you’ve been given ample amounts of time before you’re expected to speak. Regardless, whether it’s four months, four weeks or four days (hopefully not!), start the process now. Speeches take time to develop, write and PRACTICE. Don’t wait until the last minute. Preparation is key to developing a successful and engaging speech.
2. Ask questions.
If you’ve been asked to speak at an event, ask lots of questions up front. Some of these should include:
- What do the event hosts or planners want you to talk about? Knowing this will help guide your speech if you start to get off track as you’re writing (and you will).
- Who is the audience? Of course, this will depend on your industry or expertise, but it could range from educators to community leaders. You may be speaking to several different audiences with different expectations, life experiences and perspectives all at the same time. You need to find a way to relate to your audiences and talk about things that are interesting to them.
- What is the agenda? You’ll want to find out who is speaking before and after you, if there are several speakers. If you are doing a keynote, who is introducing you and at what point in the event are you speaking? How long are you expected to speak? If you know the other speakers, ask them what they will be talking about ahead of time, especially if you work in the same circles. You don’t want half your speech already covered by another speaker.
- How many people are they expecting at this event? Is it 500 people or 50? This will make a difference if you are using audio-visual (AV) aids and it will set the tone for your speech.
- What kind of AV set up will they have? If you plan to use any AV aids, try to go early the day you’re speaking to test it – or, a few days before, if you can.
Don’t be afraid to find out everything you can about the event – the more you know, the better prepared you will be.
3. Decide on an end goal.
Before you write a single word, decide what you want your audience to walk away with. Ask yourself: why are you delivering it? And don’t say because they asked you to. You’ve been given an opportunity to share your message and your mission with a captive audience – take advantage. Maybe this is a good time to educate the audience on your business or your industry. Think about what you want the audience to walk away remembering. It may even help to write your end first, so that everything you write after will have your goals in mind.
4. Map out your speech before writing.
Make an outline with time allocated for each section. This will get you organized and will help make the task seem a little less daunting by putting it into small bits vs. one big, long speech. Don’t think of it as a 20-minute speech; it’s five, four-minute sections.
5. Write like you talk.
I know, this is a lot harder than it sounds. But if you’re using the words and language you use in everyday speech, it will sound natural and it will be easier for you to remember and deliver.
A great exercise is to record yourself. Sit down with a friend or colleague and have them interview you. Later, listen to how you answered, and how you talk…this is the base, as well as general tone and language, you’ll use for your speech.
6. Tell stories.
Sprinkle your speech with stories and anecdotes. People love them because it breaks it up, may even make them laugh and shows that you’re human. If you can relate to your audience through shared experiences, they will be more engaged.
7. Phone a friend.
Ask a colleague, family member or friend to read your speech while it’s still a draft. Get someone else’s outside opinion before you get too far into the weeds or you’re too close to the event to make significant edits. Tell them your goals and ask if they think you’ve achieved them by the end of the speech. Ask them if the speech made sense and if it sounds authentic. As someone who knows you, they will offer feedback and may also think of something you’re missing.
8. Use AV sparingly.
AV can be a great way to add character to a speech and to break it up into chunks, especially for long speeches, but don’t use it as a crutch. There’s nothing worse than a speaker who presents an entire speech in 50 PowerPoint slides with bullets while reading off of each slide throughout the presentation. However, a cool video or a handful of interesting photos placed at just the right moment for emphasis can be very effective.
9. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
Practicing is part of the writing process. As you practice your speech, you will make tweaks until you have a final version. Practice on your own, reading your speech out loud and with proper inflection. Practice in front of people and practice with your AV aids. Record yourself and watch it. Your audience will be able to tell if you waited until the last minute.
The more you read your speech, the more natural you will sound. You’ll learn what is coming next and you’ll be able to look up and interact with the audience. Not everyone is a natural speaker and that’s perfectly fine. You can be an inexperienced speaker, but there’s nothing worse than an unprepared speaker.
Public speaking is no joke, and it can be terrifying for some people. But, a well-written, conversational and well-rehearsed speech will help make the experience that much easier. Try not to think of it as a burden, but an opportunity. Remember that you have a reason for speaking – your mission and your message.