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9 Tips on Writing a Compelling Speech
We'd like to start with a note on what can kill a speech so that you avoid this mistake for sure. Attention! It is the attitude. Well, yes, lousy speeches occur in both renowned speakers and newcomers, and this is the major reason to become a pro in this area. All you need to do is to avoid self-indulgent tangents, meaningless remarks, generalizations, and pointless details. Remember: it is the time of your audience, which should be respected if you want them to appreciate the speech. Moreover, it is the audience that should be interested in the speech. Hence, be succinct, yet vivid and persuasive.
Apparently, the prevailing majority of speakers tend to think that their speeches are so much different. Do not presume that just your presence or your alleged ingenuity can suffice to dazzle the audience. It takes much more, actually. Here is the reality: the audience usually remembers more about those sitting with them than vague details a speaker says. It is so even in case your speech has some lines capable of making Churchill truly envious. Regardless your charisma and incredible meaning of your claims, some people will still fiddle with those ubiquitous smartphones.
We have outlined two ultimate objectives that are crucial in writing a speech:
- to make a good impression initially;
- to leave the audience with two or three takeaways.
Is that all it takes? Nope. But the rest of it is just mere entertainment.
Here are some constructive strategies for you to make a good use of:
1. Have a Structure. It often happens that listeners lose track of the whole speech and it turns out to be a complete failure eventually. Hence do not veer off a logical path.
Remember that all the audience expects from a speaker are primarily two things: consistency in following a path and precision of a destination. Every person needs to know where the whole process is going and why. Therefore, set expectations in the beginning; remove anything that is contradictory, extraneous, or confusing; and learn the rule of thumb: in case it doesn't help you present your major message, drop it.
2. Be memorable. It is clear andeasy in theory, but quite harder in practice. Basically, one needs discipline and imagination for this purpose. Be prepared to be remembered by a single line, as it happened to be in case of John F. Kennedy and his declaration during the inaugural speech in 1961, "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." This sample line illustrates a good technique to employ, namely, contrast. Furthermore, this line encapsulates the core point of Kennedy's speech. Hence, it is recommended to condense the theme into an epigram of approximately 15 words and construct everything else around it top-to-bottom.
It is not only a contracting technique that works in speeches. We also recommend such impressive rhetorical devices as diverse associations. A vivid example is the reference to the USA as to "a shining city on the hill" made by Ronald Reagan in speeches. The given image evokes religious heritage, issues of freedom, and significant promise. Hence, the audience acquired rich and quite sentimental pallet of associations in Reagan's message.
On the contrary, a speaker can defy the audience's expectations. It all depends on the nature and the purpose of a particular speech. For instance, the valedictorian from the movie Say Anything undercut the conventional optimism of high school graduation speeches by means of two words, "Go back." The audience was stunned.
We recommend using analogies, metaphors, axioms, and surprising techniques. We also recommend using them in the end or so for a better effect on the audience.
3. Strike the Right Tone. You should definitely be aware of who your audience are, why they are here, and what they want. Writing a speech implies meeting expectations of others, and they may vary: from informing and entertaining to motivating and even challenging. To accomplish this, you need to find and employ the right tone.
4. Never Waste the Opening. While a speaker delivers thanks and uses introduction as the time to get comfortable on stage, the audience suffers. Severely and silently.
It is good to share a shocking fact or alarming statistics in the beginning. You can also tell a humorous anecdote that indeed relates to your big idea and does not make the whole speech a farce. A successful opening can also be made via a question. At this point, we recommend getting your listeners engaged in some ways: they can be asked to raise their hands, for instance. Above all: keep the preliminaries short.
5. Repeat Yourself. Drifting to the dream land or thinking of the daily chores is a natural process that occurs even during good speeches. We've all been there, right? Therefore, repetition is a key to leaving an impression on the audience. There should be key words and phrases virtuously tied back for reinforcement of the points made earlier. Repetitions of such kind in speeches resemble a musical refrain. Quite smart, huh?
Still, there is a danger that the audience may get annoyed when a speaker repeats core issues regularly. Try to make it in a light manner, paraphrase, and keep asking yourself a question, 'What will they remember six months from the current moment?'
6. Humanize Yourself. The unity of a speaker and a message is already a success. To be more precise, in case the audience doesn't buy into you as a speaker, they will most certainly resist your message as well. Evidently, the body language and the manner of delivery make a significant influence on the audience. Make it right and support it with relevant, solid words - and the audience will be yours. For instance, you can be sincere about being nervous right now, or share a personal story (not too personal, though). Never preach or sell.
7. Keep it Short. The worst sin in the scope of public speaking is trying to do too much. Well, do not hop over the maximum. The audience's attention will wane after a few minutes, and it is a natural thing. Your task is not to prevent it - because there is no possible way to maintain recurrent prevention of attention leaps - but to trigger interest and return the audience's attention back. Otherwise, you will resemble a person holding people hostage. Do not make yourself ridiculous on the stage. Also remember: the longer you remain talking on stage, the more likely it is that you can eventually stray and make unintended and occasional mistakes. Hence, make your points, thank the audience, and sit down. Always keep in mind: it is their time, not yours.
8. Employ Transitions. Transitional phrases are necessary to signal intent and make highlights. For instance, such a rhetorical question as, "What does this mean" can be a smart decision for unprepared audiences provided it is followed with a pause and consequent details. Silence gets attention. It also triggers anticipation and contributes to awakening of those who've drifted off. The same function can be performed by a phrase like, "So here's the lesson".
9. Conclude Strong. Audiences remember final lines and final moves. Hence, recap the biggest takeaway(s), and tie everything together. Take the extract of your whole speech and present it to the audience. It is also recommended to make a call to action. A successful speech is the one, after which the audience keeps discussing and starts doing.
All these tips are valuable and effective provided you do much practice. You should also remember that metaphors and anecdotes recommended above may never be effective if you are to deliver a serious speech on a political or military topic.