Writing a well-organized speech might be as puzzling as writing an academic paper, or a short story. It’s not enough to just present information. You might present a brilliant idea, but you need to ensure that people will hear it. In this article, Best Edit provides a list of simple speechwriting advice to refine your next speech.
Tip 1: Identify your style.
It’s important to identify your style at the early stages of writing a speech. The style will depend on your audience and the goal you’re trying to achieve. The most typical styles would be persuasive or informative speeches. Another important type that is mostly used in politics is a commemorative speech.
While choosing your style, you might also take into consideration the location you’re presenting at and the date it is happening. So, if you’re giving a speech in front of high school students in a classroom, think about mentioning the difference between you and a typical schoolteacher. This little detail can win over the audience.
Tip 2: Use simple words for complicated ideas.
When writing your speech, you need to use simple words to express complicated ideas. Often, your goal for a speech is to attract as many people as possible. Therefore, your language should be understandable for most listeners. While writing a speech, assume that your text will be presented to eighth graders.
You need to simplify your speech not because your audience is less knowledgeable than you, but because your audience can’t re-listen the speech. Because of this concern, you must ensure the first time will be enough to understand your point, relate to it, and remember it.
Tip 3: Short paragraphs. Short sentences. Short words.
Use short paragraphs. Use short sentences. And, most importantly, use short words.
This tip continues the previous advice about simplifying the message for your audience. When writing a speech, every sentence should be simple, yet strong. Thus, the most known speeches contain short words, usually monosyllabic ones. For example: “I have a dream,” or “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down the wall!” This technique allows a speaker to give enough power to each word.
Words, sentences, and paragraphs should be short so that a speaker understands where to stress, and where to take a pause. If a sentence lasts for numerous lines, and a paragraph is half-a-page long, the speaker will lose the flow and, eventually, the audience’s attention. The best way to separate a paragraph from a paragraph is by putting only one thought per paragraph.
Tip 4: Repeat the words.
As we explained in the second tip, it’s important to make the audience remember your speech. It is even more important for you to make the audience remember specific words and ideas from the speech. Structure the text in a way that you’ll repeat particular words multiple times.
Speechwriters use two main techniques: repetition within a sentence/paragraph or repetition throughout the speech. The first option makes every new phrase more powerful than the previous one. For example, in 1940, Winston Churchill gave one of his most memorable speeches commonly known as We Shall Fight on the Beaches. This phrase comes up at the last part of the speech, leaving the audience on a high note.
“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,” Churchill said.
Would this phrase be as powerful if Churchill didn’t repeat “we shall fight”? We might only assume that his message would’ve lost its energy, and the words wouldn’t be quoted 70+ years later.
The second technique of repeating a phrase or an idea throughout the speech can be shown by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech I Have a Dream. Throughout the speech, he used this phrase eight times, making it the most quoted part of his speech.
Looking at these two examples, you might think about different ways to recite a particular phrase. Don’t be afraid to repeat words and phrases. This isn’t lazy writing. It’s a feature of speechwriting.
Tip 5: Use parallel structure.
Besides repeating certain words in your speech, you can use and re-use them in different manners, contrast one word with another, and change the order of the sentence to convey the message.
Contrasting two words allows the speaker to emphasize the effect of a word. Thus, some people might compare popular combinations such as easy – hard (e.g., Robert F. Kennedy’s “Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”). Others can contrast unrelated words such as liberty – death (e.g., Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death!”).
Another way to convey a message is by changing the grammatical order of the sentence. This technique allows a speaker to change the meaning of a well-established phrase and highlight the importance of the new phrase. An example of this technique is seen in Joseph Biden’s inaugural speech: “We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.”
Tip 6: Use transitions in your speech.
Use transitions in your speech to navigate the audience. Going back to the second tip make sure the audience is engaged in your speech. Help the audience by explaining at what point of the speech you are. Unlike in a written piece, the audience can’t just take a look at how many words are left until the end. Nor can they go back to the previous pages. Therefore, you need to use transitions from one paragraph to another. You need to use phrases like “During my speech, I will…” or “Before my last point, I’d like to…”
Tip 7: Use skills from other writing techniques.
With this final tip, we’d like to remind you to use skills from other writing techniques. Don’t forget, speechwriting is still a form of writing. And while some rules don’t apply to speeches, others do. Therefore, you might use our advice from journalism writing techniques, or take ideas from screenwriting. For example, you might use the technique from the hero’s journey by finishing the speech with the same ideas you started the speech with.
If you like what you read, check out more articles on writing advice in our blog where we offer micro-guides on semicolons, commas, and typos.
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