How to write a speech: using words wisely in a presentation

Speeches have changed the world. They have won wars, overthrown governments, transformed policies and dictated societies. Undoubtedly, speeches hold powerful potential. Yet for every great speech, there is at least one terrible one. In this article, you learn how to write a speech that falls into the former rather than the latter category. I will explain how to use words to create influence in your presentation. And you will learn how to recognise the type of language that is most powerful and effective on an audience.

Let’s begin with the basics.

What makes a good speech?

There are many different types of speeches. A best man speech is different from a sales pitch. A politician getting votes differs from an informative business meeting. Yet every speech can be great in their own way. The first step is to make the intention of your speech clear.

What are you trying to do? How do you want your audience to react? What is your call to action?

Typically, the three purposes of a speech are to inform, entertain or persuade. Which one is yours?

If you’re informing, include useful and factual details. When entertaining, keep it light but include at least one serious element. If you’re persuading, use powerful words with an authoritative voice to portray a clear and concise meaning.

So you have an idea of what you want your speech to do. Now let’s find out how to do it.

How to write a speech

Signpost in speech

Structure is the foundation of your speech. Order your thoughts and ideas in a logical and connected way. From the beginning, outline a straightforward pattern. Then flesh out the details. Signposting is a basic technique that quite simply helps you not get lost. It provides a map through your speech so you and your audience can follow the main path of your ideas.

It helps you remember your speech. And it helps your audience remember you.

One traditional structural pattern is numerical order. You make your first point, then your second, and then your third. It’s the easiest but possibly the least creative technique. A more inventive style might include an extended metaphor or journey-type outline. Perhaps you are taking a walk past the major landmarks of your idea. Or maybe you are hopping between countries and applying your structure is geographical terms. Alternatively, you can create a time-related pattern, focusing on the past, present and future of your concept or message.

Whichever way you choose to signpost in speech is up to you. But the most important thing is that you provide a clear and foundational structure. Ultimately, your speech must have a beginning, a middle and an end. An intention, a purpose, and a final destination.

Writing a speech outline

 

Beginning

The first task of your speech is to make an impact. Grip your audience from the very beginning. One key way to do grab attention is by using a linguistic technique. Whether it’s a quotation, a question, a statistic or a story, have something solid to start you off. A strong and dependable opening line will also steady your nerves.

Another classic option is to promise your audience what they will get from your speech. Announce how your words will change their thinking and impact them. Or you can get your audience to participate. Many successful speakers ask their listeners to stand and loosen their bodies to raise energy levels before a speech. A brief physical exercise can create an immediate connection between you and your audience.

Our article “Give better presentations by harnessing the power of positive psychology” articulates the benefits of group participation on the positive psychology of your audience. Check it out for further advice!

But once you start talking, don’t waste time on fluffy introductions. Dive straight into the heart of your speech. The first 30 seconds of a speech is like the first few sentences of a book. If you don’t grip your reader on the first page, they won’t invest in the book. If you don’t grip your audience with your opening words, they won’t invest in you.

 

Middle

The middle is the core of your speech. It’s packed full of content and the key concepts of your message. But that shouldn’t make it too complicated. However much you have to say, when writing a speech outline, narrow your key points down to three. Feel free to add sub-points but limit your main ideas to the magic number. It’s far more digestible for the audience. It’s also easier for you to remember three clear concepts and relay them naturally.

Use clean, clean facts. Include figures, statistics and quotes to back your points. Entice the audience with funny anecdotes and warm them to your words using humour. Be punchy and powerful. Condensing your content down to its core will achieve this. Stretching out your speech into a tired, long list form will not.

Three is the magic number for a reason. Use it to enchant your listeners.

 

End

If the beginning of your speech aims to focus the mind of your audience, the end should aim to expand it. Leave your listeners with something to thinking about. Inspire them to remember your words long after you have finished speaking. The end is the final destination of your speech. Finish it with impact.

A key way to end a speech well is to close with a call to action. By triggering your audience to act upon your idea, you close the gap between speaker and listener. Now they can become as involved as you. Try to link your last message back to the beginning. Encourage a cyclical sense to your speech and make the reader feel like they have completed a whole and complete journey.

Consider the specific reaction you want to trigger from your audience. Focus on powerfully prompting that reaction with your final words. The desired reaction should be something hopeful and inspiring. So be sure to finish on a positive note. It should also be motivational. This is the end act of your performance. Save the best for last.

Finish in showbiz style with an unforgettable final scene.

Word Choice

So you’ve mastered writing a speech outline. Now it’s time to fill out that structure with words. Careful word choice is vital in speech writing. Language is a tool to inform, entertain or persuade your listener. Here are some language techniques that can be used in any and every type of speech.

 

Transitional language

The use of transitional language combines signpost in speech and writing a speech outline. Transitions are connecting phrases. They tie together the threads of your content. Short but effective, they are a key element of what makes a good speech. Like signposting, they ensure that your listening follows your thinking which flows naturally.

If you want to connect one idea with a new but comparable one, say something like “in a similar way” or “we see the same thing if we consider”. If you set up a contrast point, try “if we flip that around” or “on the contrary”. The phrase “as a result” can show the link between cause and effect. And the saying “to illustrate this” can lead into a real-life example to support your message. These are very simple yet valuable examples. They are the perfect way to signpost in speech and keep your audience en-route in a natural and connected way.

 

Emotive language

Emotive language is a popular and powerful tool. For example, it is often noticed in political speeches and advertising due to its highly influential power. Emotive language comes with its own sense of responsibility. Due to its effectiveness, it can be used to spread both negative and positive messages. Quite simply, emotive language isn’t always used for good. Because it teases the emotions rather than the logical mind, it can subtly alter perspectives and thinking without listeners even being aware.

For example, don’t just inform that you are introducing a fashion line. Describe how the cutting-edge design of your new collection will transform people’s wardrobes. Don’t just explain that profits support your charity. Explain how donations can change the lives of vulnerable and desperate members of society.

These details are what makes a good speech.

 

Repetition

Repetition is another valuable language technique to use when writing a speech outline. It is a clear and simple way of emphasising what is important. It highlights the key elements of a message. If someone repeats something, it’s because they want their listener to remember it. This memorability consequently enhances its impact and persuasiveness.

Repeated phrases also frame a speech wonderfully. A continuous refrain can encourage momentum and build a small idea into a grand one. If you’ve created a powerful phrase, repeat it! Say it with pride again and again until your audience understands its potency. It’s yet another way to be remembered.

Repetition, along with other poetic techniques like alliteration and assonance, also adds a musical tone to your speech. Musicality leads us into another vital aspect of what makes a great speech. Voice.

Tips for giving a speech

Words are important. But so is how you say them. So you know how to write a speech. Now let’s consider tips for giving a speech.

Voice

The musicality of public speaking is an interesting concept. Not only is giving a speech an art but a great speech can also be a pleasure to listen to. The balance between voice and words creates harmony. With the right phrasing, your listeners will tune into what you’re saying. And this can do wonders for your message.

Like any instrument, your voice requires practice and training. Learning to control pitch, speed and volume is vital. Along with word choice, this combination is what makes a good speech.

For example, a good public speaker will not have to tell the audience that they’ve finished their speech. The musicality of your voice should let them know it. The delivery of your final words should be the cue for their applause. Listen to great speakers and notice how the slowness and poignant release of their last sentences makes their message obviously closed in a holistic and complete way.

 

Vocal Exercises

You can train your voice in numerous ways. For example, hold out your finger in front of your lips and move it quickly up and down. Blow on your finger while making a high-to-low humming sound. This simple exercise relaxes your vocal folds. It establishes breath and airflow to give stability to your voice.

This Virtual Speech article outlines vocal exercises you can practice before a speech. Its diagram of the vocal cords and larynx help you understand the autonomy of voice. That way, you can understand what needs to be warmed up before a presentation.

Voice in business

Present Better offers plenty of advice on PowerPoint techniques to grip your audience. One key idea is that the style, font and visuals of your presentation are just as important as the content. The same goes for a speech. Your voice is as important as your word choice.

Voice is becoming more and more important with the rise of technology. Perhaps you are delivering a speech over a conference call. Or maybe you have a phone interview. Your body language may not be as effective over a small or pixelated video. In modern business, our voice speaks for us more than ever.

 

Voice and Perception

In her TED Talk, Jackie Gartner Schmidt explains how our voice affects people’s perceptions of us.

How your audience sees and hears you is vital to giving a speech. She highlights the importance of how we sound. It says heaps about our levels of confidence or anxiety at that moment. We want our voice to reflect our identity and strength. We don’t want our voice to distract from our words. The opposite, we want our voice to support our words.

This article has focused upon tips for giving a speech, rather than other presentation skills like PowerPoint or body language. Check out this article for more information on the importance of body language in giving even more impact to a presentation.

In conclusion, speech is one of our most valuable tools. You have learned how to write a speech. You know about writing a speech outline. You’ve also discovered tips for giving a speech. Now use that knowledge and harness the power of your voice to change the world.