Whether it’s your first speech or your hundredth, you might be feeling the anxiety build as you stare at a blank page. You need to wow your audience, but you’re not sure how. It can be stressful to create a moving speech from nothing, but you’re not alone. Below, I’ve compiled a killer list of speech writing tips from seasoned pros.
By the end of this article, you’ll know how to write an awesome speech from start to finish. So, let’s not waste another moment!
Speech Writing Tips: The Audience
Before you begin writing your speech, you need to consider several factors about your audience. Without taking these points into consideration, your speech will fall flat or may even offend your audience, so don’t rush past this part.
#1 Who is my audience for this speech?
This is the first and most important question you need to ask yourself. The answer will dictate the path your speech should take. This first tip has everything to do with the people you’re talking to and nothing at all to do with you.
Why does your audience even matter? Isn’t your speech all about you?
No! If a speech needs to touch an audience, move them, or inspire them, the speaker needs to recognize the audience and adapt to them. Your job, before any other, is to figure out who your audience is and then write your speech around their needs and expectations.
For example, if your audience is a room full of young mothers at a convention aimed at small crafting businesses, you don’t want to come at them with a bunch of sports metaphors. That’s not to say they won’t understand or appreciate one of those thrown in for contrast and a new twist. However, it’s safe to assume they’d rather hear crafting anecdotes or small business stories instead of quips about the latest sports news.
On the flip side, if you’re speaking to a room full of lawyers on a retreat intended to relax and entertain them, you wouldn’t want to fill your speech with depressing cases and stories of judicial frustration. More on that in a moment though.
The bottom line is that you need to gauge who your audience is before you write a single word.
#2 Why is my audience here?
I touched on this briefly a moment ago, but I want to dig into it a bit deeper to drive my point home. Knowing who your audience is, is only half the equation. Understanding why they are there is the other half.
The “why” matters almost as much and who they are. For example, if the audience is there because it’s required, they may come into the speech feeling hostile and tense. A hostile audience is a closed-off audience; they’ll need to be handled with care.
If the audience has paid to be there, on the other hand, they are more likely to be receptive and open right from the start.
So, why are they there?
- Is their attendance voluntary or compulsory?
#3 What does the audience want from my speech?
You know who you’ll be speaking to and why they are there. Now, you just need to figure out what they want from your speech. If you know what they want to walk away with, you can deliver it.
In my previous examples, we saw mothers at a convention for small crafting business owners, and we saw a bunch of lawyers on a relaxing retreat. Each of those groups will be at their events for a specific reason, and you need to know what that reason is.
They are both groups of professionals, but they each have very different expectations for your speeches. One group expects to learn from you or be inspired. The other group wants to be entertained.
How you handle these two situations should be based on their needs. So, what do they want to get out of your speech?
- Are they there to learn?
- Are they there to be inspired?
- Do they want to be entertained?
- Do they want to be challenged?
- What do they hope to gain from your speech?
- Why is this topic important to this particular audience?
Remember, this isn’t about what you want them to get out of it; it’s about their needs and expectations. Your job is to make sure your words resonate with them, and that won’t happen if you don’t understand what they need.
How do I utilize these speech writing tips for my audience?
So, now you know who your audience is, why they are there, and what they expect from you. But what do you do with all this information?
#4 Research demographics
Jump online and research your audience’s specific demographics. Important factors may include:
- Political affiliations
#5 Be informed about the industry
Pay attention to current trends in their industries as well as past ones. Doing some research now can help your speech writing process in the long run, so take the time to dig deep.
#6 Understand the mission
Every event has a mission. Speak to the event organizers to get a better feel for the main mission of this event. This is a good time to ask more questions about the attendees, too.
#7 Check out the venue
Look up the venue and speak to the people in charge. Organizers often choose venues that are friendly to their causes or already have a good reputation in their circles.
#8 Research other speakers
It helps to look at past speakers for the group and how they were received. It’s also very helpful to do some research on fellow speakers at this particular event, if there are any.
Speech Writing Tips for Choosing A Topic
Though you will likely have instructions for the general theme of your speaking engagement, the specific topic will be up to you. Choosing the right topic for your audience and their needs can be a stressful part of writing a speech.
Choosing the wrong topic can make your speech a nightmare for you and your audience. So how do you choose the right speech topic for your audience? Using the previous speech writing tips to get to know your audience, you should already have some ideas about topics of interest to that group.
Just in case you’re still stumped, here are some more speech writing tips for choosing a topic.
#9 Explore relevant speech topics
While researching your audience, the event, and the venue, you probably stumbled across interesting tidbits of information about each. Use them. Even if they seem insignificant at first, everything is worth exploring at this stage.
Look at the bits of information floating around the group you’ll be speaking about. This can be something in the news, a hot topic on social media, or new legislation that could affect the group.
#10 Ask event coordinators for speech ideas
Event coordinators will have a clear picture of the event, the main focus, and the interest of the attendees. Ask the coordinator for suggestions on topics. They may be willing to share the list of topics already being discussed by other speakers, too.
Knowing what other people will be talking about can help you choose a smaller niche or expand on that topic. It can help you avoid redundancy, too.
Harness the power of social media by asking your followers what kinds of topics they’d like to explore. Even if these people won’t be in that audience, if they’re familiar with the main theme, they probably have an idea of what kind of speech they’d enjoy hearing.
Speech Writing Tips: Writing the Speech
You’ve done a lot of research, spoken to important people, and have a solid plan for impressing your audience. Now comes the hard part.
Getting your ideas and facts down onto paper can be frustrating and incredibly stressful. What will you say? How will the audience react? What if you don’t make sense?
These next tips can help you nail the writing process and produce your finest speech yet.
#12 Write your speech outline first
Outline your speech before you begin writing the words you’ll be speaking. This helps you stay on topic. It also gives you an opportunity to test out the flow of ideas and pacing.
If anything in your outline seems out of place, you have an opportunity at this point to make room for it, or just chuck it. Don’t hang onto stubborn bits past the outline stage. If it just won’t fit, don’t try to force it. You’ll only frustrate yourself. Save that bit for another speech.
#13 Write Your Speech Introduction Last
It may seem counterintuitive to write the beginning last, but hear me out.
Your speech introduction is one of the most important parts of your speech. This will set the tone for the entire speech. Sometimes, it’s hard to get past that first step and get to the meat of your speech because you aren’t entirely certain what your speech is about yet.
So, skip the intro and start working on the body first. You’ll edit that draft over and over, fine-tuning it to perfection. And once you’re done, you will know exactly what your speech is about.
That’s the point where you can nail your introduction, touching on a few key points, and getting your audience ready for the main event.
When you do begin your introduction, lay it out in a simple way. Introduce yourself, talk about your purpose, mention your key points briefly, and establish credibility so your audience can trust you. If you can add some humor at this point, that would help relax your audience, but only do so if it’s appropriate for the occasion.
Your speech introduction is your hook. This is the way you grab attention. Use this moment to engage the audience, too. Eye contact, body language, and asking questions right from start will draw attention.
But a good hook needs more than these tricks. You need to get attendees to want to stay and listen.
Some hooks include:
- A puzzling question
- Posing a dilemma
- Or a combo of all of these
If you’re still stuck on introduction ideas, you can watch a few speeches from popular orators to get a feel for it.
#14 Use personal stories and humor in your speech
After your outline is done, look at your subtopics and choose a few to add personal stories too. It’s best to put personal anecdotes with the most important parts of your speech to help those aspects stand out. Adding a personal touch keeps audiences engaged and interested.
Don’t waste your anecdotes on minor points, unless they add something bigger than entertainment to the mix.
Make sure your anecdotes don’t pull focus from your topic. If people are too connected with your story, it could pull their attention away from the real point of your speech. There is a balancing act here.
#14 Use repetition when writing your speech
Humans are creatures of habit and routine. Both habits and routine come from the repetition of actions, thoughts, and words. Use that to your advantage when you write your next speech.
Pick a short phrase to repeat throughout your speech. It will trigger a subconscious reaction in your audience and help them pay attention. It will help them remember your points, too.
An example of repetition in a speech is Winston Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches; we shall fight on the landing ground” speech. Everyone knows and remembers most of it. It’s the repetition of “we shall fight” that made this speech memorable.
#15 Remember that your audience is not you
You were asked to make this speech because you’re an authority. Your job is to impart your knowledge or to entertain your audience, but you have to remember that they’re not you.
The attendees may be interested in your topic, but they don’t have the same knowledge you do; that’s why you are up there talking and not them. So, this speech writing tip is here to remind you to be a teacher, a guide, and an authority.
Your audience is interested in what you have to say. They will want and need specifics, facts, sources, and information. It’s your job to give it to them. Though each person listening may have some knowledge on your topic, you need to be sure your words and points are clear to someone who might not know much at all.
#16 Don’t patronize or talk down to your audience
Yes, you’re an authority. People will be looking to you for guidance and information. However, you’re not their parent. You’re not above them or more important than they are. Be careful not to cross the line from friendly expert to overbearing know-it-all.
#17 Choose jargon carefully
You want to write and speak naturally, but using too much industry jargon can be just as bad as using none at all. Be sure to choose appropriate industry jargon sparingly, but not too little.
Jargon helps build your credibility, while too much makes you sound desperate.
#18 Nail your speech transitions
You’ll need to go from one subtopic to another in a smooth, natural, and flawless way. This can be a major sticking point for some people.
One of my favorite ways is to put an anecdote between two subtopics to help bridge the gap. Most personal stories have multiple meanings and lessons to be learned. Put an anecdote between two closely related subtopics to help.
You can also use the recap method to transition between subtopics. It’s as simple as saying, “We explored this and this, but let’s turn to this for a moment”, and then continue on. This works best with subtopics that are naturally close together.
#19 Write a great speech ending
Hey, no pressure, but you need to write an awesome speech ending. This is your chance to recap briefly, excite the audience, and add your call to action.
What did your audience want and need from your speech? What was the point of the entire thing? The ending of your speech is where you show your audience that you delivered exactly what they needed.
A call to action can be as simple as signing up for your mailing list or as complex as voting or buying something. Whatever it is, make it clear that your speech has been persuading enough to give the attendees what they need.
Speech Writing Tips for Keeping Focus
One major problem a lot of speeches have is that they wander. It’s a common mistake to let your speech meander back and forth over a variety of topics.
While it may make total sense to you as you write it and even practice it, you must remember that your audience will probably get lost with your ramblings or lose interest in what you have to say.
Here are some speech writing tips to keep your speeches focused.
#20 Keep a narrow focus for your speech
It’s exciting to get up in front of people and talk about your passions. The problem many speakers run into is the desire to cram too much information into a short span of time. This confuses audiences and muddies your point.
Instead of putting every idea into your speech like a blanket, think of your speech as a thread in a bigger tapestry. You aren’t there to show them the entire picture; you’re there to show them details on one important part.
If you stay focused and on topic, your audience will get more out of your speech than if you try to cover every possible point. Besides, if you stay focused now, you are more likely to be asked back for another speech on another part of your tapestry.
#21 Keep your speech simple
This speech writing tip isn’t as much about wowing your audience as it is to caution against too many of those tactics at once. It’s tempting to fill speeches with various “tricks of the trade” to keep attendees glued to their seats, but it can backfire.
If you keep your speech simple and to the point, listeners are more likely to remember what you said. That means they’ll get a lot more out of your speech than the generic memory of you being really fun to watch.
- Use short sentences
- Use simple language appropriate for the audience
- Don’t ramble
- Cut extraneous words that don’t add value
#22 Write your speech like you speak
Too many people ignore this speech writing tip—don’t be one of them! You need to write your speech like you speak. That means using everyday language and even colloquialisms where appropriate.
By keeping your speech natural, it’ll help you stay comfortable and confident, which then helps you stay on topic. Adding big words you don’t normally use will only distract you and your audience.
#23 Stick to the facts to write an impressive speech
Understandable, it’s easy to get sucked into the excitement of passionate topics. When people are excited about something, they tend to exaggerate. Since exaggeration is sometimes considered as one branch of lying, that tendency can get you in trouble when writing a speech.
Elaboration is one thing—and it’s a good thing to do in your speech—but it’s a slippery slope from elaboration to exaggeration. Be sure you can cite your sources at any given moment.
Stick to the facts and you won’t find yourself in front of an audience shaking their heads in disbelief. Even if your facts are wild, if you can back them up with sources, you’ll keep your audience listening.
#24 Try to sound normal
Another big issue speakers face is sounding unnatural. There is a stiffness or obvious discomfort to some speakers that can make the audience feel uncomfortable. Some of this is due to anxiety over public speaking, but some has to do with poor word choice while writing the speech.
These speech writing tips will help you write a more natural-sounding speech.
- Use common terminology for the industry, but avoid difficult to pronounce words.
- Ask questions to keep the audience engaged. Speakers and audiences are more comfortable when it feels like a conversation.
- Laugh, smile, and gesture as if you were speaking to a friend. Obviously, you don’t want to laugh and smile if it’s a somber event, but use socially acceptable emotions and behaviors to keep yourself relaxed.
- Be open, honest, and human. If you know you’ll be nervous, add it to your speech. Poorly veiled discomfort can infect audiences, too. Showing your vulnerability will help show your human side while setting the audience at ease. And writing it in the speech in advance can help alleviate some of the stress.
- Write your speech with contractions. Say things like “I’m” instead of “I am” and “they’re” instead of “they are” to keep your tone friendly.
Practice Makes Perfect
You’ve researched, outlined, written, and edited your speech. Pat yourself on the back, but you’re not done yet.
#25 Read your speech out loud
Seeing the same words over and over on the page can start to muddle your brain. It’s a fact. The more you look at your speech, the less likely you are to see the mistakes.
The only real way to overcome this is to read your words out loud. You can do this alone or with a friend, but you must not skip this part of your preparation.
When you read your words out loud, your brain will often autocorrect your mistakes, just like it does while writing and editing silently. The difference this time is that your ears will now catch the mistake and give you the chance to fix it.
So, for example, if you’re reading your speech and your mouth says one thing while the paper says something else, you know there’s an issue. Stop, examine the problem, and make corrections.
If you continue to stumble over places in your speech where it is grammatically correct and is mistake-free, your brain is telling you there’s still a problem. Maybe it doesn’t sound as natural as you thought. Maybe it’s the wrong tone.
Whatever it is, your brain, eyes, and ears are trying to tell you there’s an issue. Don’t ignore these situations.
#26 Record your speech
If you can’t figure out what the problem is while reading aloud, record yourself. This can be audio or video; it doesn’t matter. Just record your speech and then replay it.
You may be able to spot the mistake by listening or watching. If you’re still stumped why it sounds odd, ask a friend or two to help.
#27 Time yourself
When your speech is done, you have one more job to do. Time yourself. It seems so simple and obvious, but many people forget this step.
Writing a speech is an arduous task sometimes, and once it’s done, you may feel great relief. But if you don’t time yourself giving your completed speech, you may find yourself on speech day talking too long or not long enough.
While timing, if you keep coming up short, try these tricks to lengthen the speech:
- Add pauses for emphasis
- Speak slower
- Practice suitable gestures and body language
- Add more content
If your speech is coming up too long, try these tips to shorten it:
- Speak faster, but not too fast
- Add more contractions
- Remove extra sentences
- Check for the bad kind of repetition or overstating facts
- If all else fails, you may need to cut sections
These speech writing tips cover the planning, research, writing, and practice stages. No matter where you’re running into difficulties in writing your speech, there should be something here to help. And if you’re completely stumped or too nervous to even begin, just follow the steps in order.
I’m always looking for more tips and tricks to share with my readers. If you’ve developed your own processes and would like to share, I’d love to hear from you.
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