When I write about “public speaking,” I necessarily put the emphasis on talking. Delivering a presentation to an audience certainly involves an awful lot of performance techniques: voice, gesture, audience interaction. Without these practical skills no speech will take off.
On the other hand, no amount of variation in tone or good diction will make a bad speech work well. A good presenter can make average material sing; but ultimately public speaking is about delivering content – and that content must be good if the speaker’s performance is to reach its full potential.
Speech-writing is an art as much as speech delivery is. A great speech-writer can turn memorable phrases and repackage ideas in such a way that they become more compelling. The good news, however, is that the fundamentals of speech-writing are fairly simple – so if you can’t afford, or simply don’t have access to, a speech-writer, you can do it for yourself.
In fact, I’d suggest always starting by writing your speech yourself if you can. Why? Because the best tip I can give is to write like you speak. For me, this is the fundamental principle on which all good speeches are based. Audiences like authenticity – they like to feel you believe what you’re saying. If the words you are speaking don’t match the rhythms of your natural speaking voice, they will hear that and interpret it negatively.
Once you’ve settled on your voice, you should focus on your ideas. Boil down what you want to say to a few key concepts, and introduce these very early on in your speech. Then proceed through each in term, relating them to each other and being clear when you’re speaking about each. Don’t make things too complicated, and don’t try to say too much. Keep things clear and concise.
Your ideas will provide you with a structure. That’s key: well-structured speeches, with clear signposts, are easier to follow. Make it clear what you’re saying, when and why. Your audience will take away, at most, one or two things from your presentation. Your structure ensures that those one or two things are the lessons you want your audience to learn.
There are some time-honoured rhetorical devices that can help you emphasise further these take-home messages. Repetition is one: don’t be afraid of using the same line several times if it’s important. Likewise, remember the rule of three – saying something three times, or using three examples to make a point, is more powerful than saying it once or only using two. And use analogies, little stories that compare your ideas to concrete objects or situations with which your audience will be familiar. This will help them remember and empathise with your points.
Finally: end strong. The climax of your speech rounds it off, so make it memorable. And there you have it: your first professionally written speech … written by you!