Just about a moment ago, you found out that you need to make a speech at an important event in a few weeks, but you don’t have a clue what to do. The only clear question in your head is, „How to write a speech that the listeners will be interested in? What should I do?”
So, how to wrtite a speech? How to write a speech depends on many factors. For example, type of event (official or unofficial), listeners (acquaintances or strangers), time (short or long speech), etc.
In today’s blog post, I’ll highlight the most important elements to consider when writing a speech. If you mark these easy-to-follow tips, then speech writing should not terrify you anymore. On the contrary, you’ll be able to prepare something that your listeners will remember as a positive example.
How to write a speech if I don’t know anything about making a presentation?
“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” – Dale Carnegie
Each great journey starts with the first step, so let’s first take a look at some of the things you can do to prepare for a speech.
1. Pick a topic you know
The best topic is always the one you are ready to passionately talk about for hours. However, it’s not always the topic your listeners like. Therefore, you should be able to find a balance between what’s exciting for both you and your listeners.
Sometimes, you have to talk about something that is as interesting as watching turtles run. Here, think about how you can add colour to the topic with exciting stories or examples.
For example: my high school history teacher was the one who would bring such brilliant examples and turn a history lesson in such an exciting class that I wanted to learn more in my free time. At university, our history lecturer was extremely boring as we could have read his PowerPoint slides at home.
2. Define a clear objective of your speech
Any person is as lazy as they’re allowed to be and, unfortunately, it also applies to speech preparation. Some overestimate their improvisation skills instead of thoroughly preparing their presentation plan.
Be sure to make it clear to yourself what you want to achieve with your speech. Try to avoid the two goals of the regular speaker, „I have to do it somehow“ and „As soon as possible“. This approach doesn’t offer anything to the listeners.
Make a decision whether you want to persuade the listeners or share information with them. Then, take a A4 paper and put down the clear purpose of your presentation. This will help you write a speech that better supports a particular thought.
You should be able to define your objective with one sentence that passes on the most important thing you want to achieve with your presentation. If you can’t sum up the objective with one sentence, your speech must be too long. Normally, I get the objective on paper thinking, „What do I want my listeners to do or think differently after my presentation?“
To learn more about how to prepare for a presentation properly, read these posts:
3. Put down the sub-topics you’re planning to talk about
There’s one common joke, how does one eat an elephant? The answer? Piece by piece. That’s exactly how you should think about your topic. Namely, researchers believe that people are able to focus on a maximum of one main and three secondary questions. There you have your main topic, so make sure to add two-three sub-topics.
Put down the sub-topics in as much detail as possible. I usually write them in short words or phrases, sometimes, in short sentences. This way, I’m going through the main idea of one or another sub-topic I want to convey.
4. How to write a speech on a topic I know nothing about?
It may happen that you have to make a presentation on a topic you don’t know or know superficially. In this case, use the time you have wisely to prepare properly and explore the topic as much as possible.
If the topic is too complicated for you and you feel like not getting it at all, check out how to write a speech that makes this topic more suitable for you.
For example, if I had to give a 20-minute speech on maths, I’d be in trouble big time as I don’t really know much about it. Thus, I’d adjust the topic and focus on the aspect of maths I know very well. So, I’d tell a couple of stories about how I didn’t much like maths at school and that there’s one thing I’m really good at. I can calculate percentages by cross-multiplying. Then, I’d talk about how it really helped me and how the listeners could use it to their advantage.
How to write a speech that sparks interest?
I think around eight presentations in ten starts with the boring „Hello, my name is…“ and „I’m so lucky to be here“. Yes, this message is also important, but from the point of view of your presentation, an effective introduction must do a bit more.
5. Grabbing attention
Before the start of a presentation, the listeners usually do their own stuff: talk to each other, browse their computer or mobile, walk around, talk on the phone, etc. If you start your speech with the usual „Well, let’s start. I’m …“, people from the third row may not even notice you.
Therefore, attracting attention is important, so think carefully about how to do it. In short, I’ll say that, basically, you can do anything you want to draw attention. As long as it meets the two requirements below, everything is fine. These requirements are:
- The activity is related to the topic
- The activity is appropriate for the particular audience
If your plan doesn’t meet at least one of the two requirements, you have to come up with something different.
6. Your introduction should spark interest
I believe the main purpose of an introduction is to awaken interest. If your introduction leaves the listeners thinking, „Meh? I wonder what that’s about!“, you’ve slipped. But if you’re able to spark interest right from the start, it will be much easier to keep the audience hooked later.
Broadly speaking, the purpose of the introduction can be divided into three objectives:
- Grabbing attention
- Sparking interest
- Sharing background information and clarifying the „rules“
The regular speaker never follows these three objectives as they have other objectives. These are:
- „I must do it somehow.“ Note that the emphasis here is on the word „somehow“.
- „I must finish it as soon as possible.“ For the listener, this means a 30-minute speech made in 15 minutes.
These two anti-objectives have nothing to do with the interests, needs, and expectations of listeners. And so it happens that in addition to the introduction of such speaker, the whole presentation is quite boring. Your task is to be a better speaker.
Here are some thoughts on how to write a speech with an introduction that sparks interest: How to make a presentation? 10 short (but thorough) steps
Tell a personal story related to the topic
As I always say, „Make a point, tell a story“. Listeners love personal stories, and if you’re a good storyteller, it’s even more fun to listen to. If you can make a joke about yourself (say, how you screwed up in a similar situation), even better.
What is the purpose of your presentation?
Have a clear understanding of your message and why you have set this or that objective. A clear description of the purpose of your presentation gives a nice answer to the question („How can I benefit from this?“) going round and round in the listener’s mind (slightly swirling).
How is your presentation structured?
Here, you can highlight the main topics you’ll be talking about. Don’t forget to mention why you chose particular topics as you’ll emphasise in the beginning why they are important.
Why are you making a presentation on the topic? If you need it, introduce yourself, but do it briefly in a few sentences. Don’t start telling your biography, but explain briefly why you are the best person to talk about this topic.
How to write a speech that has strong content?
„Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people“ – Eleanor Roosevelt
The purpose of developing your topic is not to talk broadly about nothing for a long time, but to present your key points, explain, and, if necessary, justify them.
7. Choose an appropriate speech style
When it comes to how to write a speech that has a strong content, it’s worth thinking about which style to choose or which method you could use to structure it. Here are some key methods used to structure a speech.
Speeches made in chronological order are narrative, historical, autobiographical, or developmental. All elements of the narrative come in some sort of chronological order, e.g., „Born in 1977, graduated from high school in 1995. Then went to Stanford University…“
The deductive method is most commonly used. This means that, first of all, you tell the audience what the purpose of your speech is and you prove and justify it during your presentation. The reason why the deductive method is most commonly used is that the audience will know right from the start what is expected of them, which will make it easier for them to follow you.
It would be wise to use the inductive method if you know that the audience is obviously against you. If you start with telling them what the purpose of your speech is (e.g., „buy my product’), it’s likely that no-one will listen to you.
As much as you want them to just listen to your arguments, start with good explanations and arguments, and then say what you want to do next. This way, you’ll be able to convey your reasoning calmly.
The problem method begins with a description of a problem or an analysis. To ensure it’s not just pure criticism and so that it’s easier for you to persuade people, make sure to provide possible solutions.
The comparative method compares similar or different things, e.g., US and Canadian hockey teams, US and UK tax systems, etc.
The narrative method is very good for speeches that consist of events and their vivid descriptions. Here, try to avoid dry storytelling and avoid clichés: „On my way here, a funny thing happened to me…“ and the like.
Remember that you can’t write a speech that works well in every situation. Therefore, you always have to consider which method would be best for a particular audience.
8. Don’t forget proper transitions
A clearly structured speech and proper transitions from one part to another help listeners perceive the structure and, therefore, better understand the content of the speech. Your presentation should feel like hovering down a good road. This means that the listener knows during your entire presentation, where you are moving, where you are at the moment, etc.
Some thoughts on how to write a speech that is easy to follow:
- Move from easy things to more complicated ones and always make a connection between new information and the information mentioned previously.
- If it is a product presentation, where the listeners can touch or do something themselves, it would be wise to use the explain-show-let do method. For example, if you distribute the products at the beginning of your presentation, the listeners may get distracted, testing the products. So, first, you explain and show, and only then let the audience have the products.
- Try transitioning from one part of your speech to the next smoothly, form a large and well-functioning whole.
- Different parts of your speech can be emphasised by pausing, numbering sub-topics („first“, „second“), using visual tools, etc. For the most important parts of your speech to be better remembered, make sure to repeat them.
If you want to know how to write a speech that is persuasive and well argumented read a blog post here:
How to write a speech that is exciting to follow?
At this point, it’s worth recalling the so-called “phone game” often played in childhood. Someone whispers something to the first player in line who would then pass it on to the next player, etc., until the end of the line. As a rule, the information that reaches the end of the line is significantly different from the original…
Have you ever thought that if, for example, the first in line could take notes and would be shown pictures or things to illustrate the original sentence, would the end result be better? Now, we’ll have a look at how to write a speech that is well-illustrated.
9. Use all the senses of your listeners
Using different tools helps listeners better focus on what you’re talking about. If you’re planning to use tools, try using a lot of them, and remember to use all the senses of your listeners when making a presentation (pictures, stories, examples, questions to the audience, engaging the audience, etc.). This way, your message will hit home more effectively.
Instead of a regular text slide, show a slide containing only one image and tell a relevant story related to this image and your topic. Deliver it in a cool, humorous way, making a joke about yourself, if possible.
10. Engage the audience to think and contribute
Engage the audience by encouraging them to express their thoughts, asking them questions and doing everything to encourage them to ask questions. The cooler environment you manage to create, the more the audience will listen to you.
If the format of you presentation allows it, do some group work and practical exercises. Don’t be afraid to do something unusual – it will be remembered.
11. Personal stories are better than vague examples
All of us have have great stories to tell that can be used when making a speech. If it’s a relevant and humorous story that happened to you, it’ll work well. Especially if it’s a story where you show, based on your own experience, how you failed at something and learned from your mistakes. Many people don’t like to be joked at – you’ll be making a joke about yourself in front of the audience, and believe me, it’s worth it.
Telling a story, try to make it more personal for the listeners. For example, instead of saying „I went to a city…“ say „Two weeks ago, I went to London and…“
Also, name places, people, objects, etc., that people know. The more true details (but don’t overdo it), the more powerful the story is. If the listeners can relate to your story, the message will hit home sooner.
12. Use your body language, facial expressions, and emotions effectively
Use your body language and facial expressions when telling stories. Give your story a different emotion, don’t speak monotonously. Show related humorous video clips. In other words, use all the senses of your listeners.
If you manage to make a colourful presentation like that, even a boring and uninteresting topic will absolutely wow the listeners. But if you perform as described in the first paragraph, be sure that even the world’s most interesting subject will appear so boring that the listeners will be wishing you death in a few minutes.
13. Use visual tools only if it adds something to the message
When writing your speech, think about whether and what kind of tool you need for your presentation. Do you plan to show slides?
You need to ask yourself an important question, „Will the visual material add anything to my presentation?“ Don’t do it if the answer is negative, it always has to have some sort of purpose.
Ask yourself how you will present the visual material. Timing is always important – remember not to do it too early or give it out to the listeners. I mentioned it in one of the chapters above.
Read more rom this blog post: 7 good public speaking tips you should use
How to write a speech that will be remembered?
„No matter what goes wrong, there is somebody who knew it would.“ – Evans and Bjorn’s Law
The structure of a presentation is similar to writing an essay: it must have an introduction, the body, and a summary. Many speakers manage the first two parts, but forget about summary, which unfortunately, ruins the overall impression.
Have you ever attended a presentation that starts out fine, works great, but ends so suddenly that you’re confused? Typically, it ends with a single phrase, „That’s all! Are there any questions?“ Do you think it’s the right way to end a presentation? Let’s talk about how to write a speech that the listeners will remember.
14. Avoid the abrupt summary
For example, I like to compare a proper presentation with a flight, in which introduction can be compared to take-off; topic development, to flying over the ocean; and summary, to touchdown. If all this is done smoothly, the travellers applaud sincerely.
Based on this example, think about what type of summary is „That’s all“? It’s like the pilot thinking, „Enough is enough“, abandoning the wheel, and telling the passengers, „That’s it!“
Not very funny, right? Because passengers (read: listeners), are panicking, „But what about the summary?“ When talking about presentations, some call this approach to making a summary „like a bolt out of the blue“. It was all going so well, what happened?
15. Bring out the main thing to keep in mind after your presentation
The story above is meant to show you that the purpose of a summary is not to say „That’s all!“, but to briefly summarise the main points of your speech. You should clearly state what’s most important and what you want the listeners to remember.
For example, if you’ve been making a presentation for an hour or two, full of complicated information, many listeners may not understand what’s important and what’s not. You, however, point out the most important parts of your presentation in the summary, so that everyone understands it.
A summary is like putting the last nail in the wall of a house before you move in. You know everything is ready, suitable for living. And when you finish your presentation with the last relevant bit, story, or a brilliant thought, it’s the „last nail in the wall“, leaving the listeners thinking, „Wow, this was fierce!“
How to write a speech that works out great when making it?
As mentioned above, people tend to get comfortable and lazy. This is also the main reason why most speakers prepare themselves for the presentation thinking, „I just made the slides ready and will now be waiting for the presentation“. Not the world’s best preparation method. Now it’s time to talk about how to write a speech that works out great already when making a presentation.
16. Practise your speech before making the actual presentation
Once you complete the first draft of your speech, you need to practise it in a loud voice already at home. This will help you get rid of the sentences that are too long and spot complex words that can break your tongue.
Even if you’re at home at your computer, practise when standing. This is how you get used to a situation where you can’t hide your trembling body parts from the listeners. In addition, you’ll be able to practise your hand moves. And most importantly – when standing, you appear more of an influencer than when sitting at the table.
17. Practise with the camera
The fastest – and surest – way to improve your body language is to record your presentation and watch it on a big screen later. Today, nothing could be easier thanks to smartphones, so I strongly recommend to record your presentation already at home. The camera reveals movements that we make uncontrollably.
Read more about how to be comfortable in front of a video camera here.
18. Don’t exceed the time scheduled for your presentation
One of the biggest sins is exceeding your scheduled time – the listeners become lazy, the general schedule shifts, etc. If something was left unsaid developing the topic, don’t add any new information in the concluding phase, as it only creates confusion. Keep that in mind and consider my recommendation next time.
Thus, if your presentation is limited time-wise or it’s a short speech, when practising at home, use a stopwatch and see how long it takes for one or another topic to go through. Also, check the total time of your presentation. If you tend to exceed the time, make sure to work on it.
19. Repeat as many times as it takes to make you grow tired
The more you practise, the more flawless your speech will be and the more confident you will become. It’s really helpful if you need to introduce changes to your presentation (for example, you need to leave something out). Knowing the content of your presentation throughout makes it easier.
Practise as many times as it takes to grow tired of your own presentation. Why is that good? Because it acts as a counterbalance to stress – so you can talk calmly and confidently. No, not expressing boredom, but in a confident way of a well-prepared person.
How to write a speech that takes into account the unexpected?
The military leaders know that even the best battle plan will expose a flaw after the first gunfire. Thus, it’s hardly possible to prepare yourself for all the unexpected things, but just like the military, think about what you can do if everything doesn’t go exactly as planned.
20. Answers to the question „What do I do if..?”
When writing your speech, it’s wise to ask yourself what to do if (…). Replace the dots with all the possible issues and then think of the possible solutions.
The main questions you might want to ask are:
- What do I do if I’m running out of time?
- What do I do if I have much time left?
- What do I do if the equipment doesn’t work?
- What do I do if the room isn’t suitable?
- What do I do if I get stuck?
- What do I do about the questions I can’t answer?
Bonus tip: After the presentation, adjust the schedule
When you’re done with your presentation, don’t bask in your success. Get back to your original schedule and write down how the presentation went and what should be changed. You will also see how your original schedule worked out in practice. Say, if chapter 1 took 25 minutes instead of the scheduled 15 minutes, adjust your schedule immediately.
Do you know why it’s good for you? Next time you need to make a presentation on a similar (or even the same) topic, you’ll have a ready-to-use schedule – all you need to do is adjust it to your audience.
Summary: How to write a speech the listeners can benefit from?
As you can see, writing a speech depends on many factors, but none of them should make you desperate. The more you prepare, the better the end result will be. Using the tips above, you’ll be able to write a great speech that your listeners will remember.
What is elevator pitch? An elevator pitch is a well-thought, meaningful, and repeatedly practisced brief (about 30-60 seconds long) overview of who you are, what you offer, and how your partner can benefit from it (full article here).
What is persuasive speech? The main objective of a persuasive speech is to make your listeners do what you want them to do. For example, „buy my product“, „vote for me“, „believe what I’m talking about“, and so on. (full article here)
What is an impromptu speech? An impromptu speech is a speech which given without any thorough preparation. It is five- to eight-minute speech with a characteristically short preparation time of couple of minutes. (full article here)