10 Keys to Writing a Speech

6. Repeat Yourself:

We’ve all been there. When someone is speaking, we’ll drift off to a Caribbean beach or the Autobahn. Or, we’ll find ourselves lost and flustered when we can’t grasp a concept. Once you’ve fallen behind, it’s nearly impossible to pay attention. What’s the point?

In writing a speech, repetition is the key to leaving an impression. Hammer home key words, phrases, and themes. Always be looking for places to tie back and reinforce earlier points. And repeat critical points as if they were a musical refrain.

As a teenager, my coach continuously reminded us that “nothing good happens after midnight.” He’d lecture us on the dangers of partying, fighting, peer pressure, and quitting. After a while, my teammates and I just rolled our eyes. Eventually, we encountered those temptations. When I’d consider giving in, coach would growl “Schmitty” disapprovingly in my head. Despite my resistance, coach had found a way to get me to college unscathed. He simply repeated his message over-and-over until it stuck.

Some audience members may get annoyed when you repeat yourself. But don’t worry how they feel today. Concern yourself with this question: What will they remember six months from now?

 

7. Use Transitions:

Sometimes, audiences won’t recognize what’s important. That’s why you use transitional phrases to signal intent. For example, take a rhetorical question like “What does this mean” – and follow it with a pause. Silence gets attention – and this tactic creates anticipation (along with awakening those who’ve drifted off). Similarly, a phrase like “So here’s the lesson” also captures an audience’s interest. It alerts them that something important is about to be shared. Even if they weren’t paying attention before, they can tune in now and catch up.

8. Include Theatrics:

During his workshops, Dr. Stephen Covey would fill a glass bowl nearly full with sand. From there, he’d ask a volunteer to place rocks into the bowl. In the exercise, rocks represented essentials like family, job, worship, and exercise, while the bowl signified the volunteer’s time and energy. It never failed: The volunteer couldn’t fit every rock in the bowl. The sand – which embodied day-to-day activities like transporting children, shopping, or reading – took up too much space. Something had to be cut. Usually, it was something essential.

Covey would then encourage his volunteer to consider another option: Start with placing a rock in the bowl, adding some sand, and then alternating rocks and sand until the bowl was full. Like magic, there was suddenly enough space for both, as the sand gradually filled any gaps between the rocks. The message: Maintain balance. Never lose sight of the essentials as you tend to the day-to-day (and vice versa).

Of course, Covey could’ve made his point verbally and moved on. Instead, he illustrated it with household items in a way his audience wouldn’t soon forget. If you have a smaller audience (or a video screen), consider incorporating visuals. Keep the props, storyline, and lesson simple. When you’re done, leave everything out to symbolize your point to your audience. Whatever you do, don’t play it safe. If you do, your speech will be forgotten in no time.

9. End Strong:

In 2018, I attended a conference. I don’t recall much about our keynote speaker, except that he was tall and southern. I can’t even remember what his address was about. But I’ll never forget the story he used to close his speech.

The speaker was a friend of Jerry Richardson, owner of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. A few years earlier, the Panthers had drafted a fiery wide receiver named Steve Smith. While Smith excelled on the field, he was a nightmare in the locker room. Eventually, Smith was arrested for assaulting a teammate during film study.

Already reeling from bad publicity from other player incidents, Richardson was pressured to cut Smith. But he chose a different path. Richardson vowed to spend more time with Smith. He decided that Smith would be better served with guidance and caring than further punishment. Eventually, Richardson’s patience paid off. Smith became the Panthers’ all-time leading receiver – and scored a touchdown in their only Super Bowl appearance. In fact, Smith still plays for the Panthers to this day.

If the speaker intended to remind me how powerful that personal attention and forgiveness could be, he succeeded in spades. Fact is, your close is what your audience will remember. So recap your biggest takeaway. Tie everything together. Share a success story. Make a call to action. Don’t hold anything back. Your ending is what audience will ultimately talk about when they head out the door.

10. Keep it Short:

What is the worst sin of public speaking? It’s trying to do too much! Your audience’s attention will naturally wane after a few minutes. They have other places to be – and don’t want to be held hostage. And the longer you stay on stage, the more likely you are to stray and make mistakes. So make your points and sit down. Never forget: This is their time, not yours.[/vc_column_text]

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Written by English Speeches