The key to giving a great speech is actually writing a great speech. All the speech-related advice out there focuses on our collective (and completely rational) fear of public speaking. What if I told you that delivering a speech is a whole lot easier when you know that the writing is airtight and kick-arse? Welcome to my TED Talk.
We’ve all sat through some drab commencement speakers, or perhaps your company’s last town hall featured some less-than-rousing monologues. Despite all the speakers who have caused us to nod off in our seats, writing a good speech doesn’t have to be as hard as it looks.
I spoke with speechwriter Chandler Dean, director at West Wing Writers. Whether you’re trying to inspire some graduates, get a promotion, and/or achieve world domination, here’s what you need to know to write the best possible speech for all your persuasion-related needs.
The basics: Good speeches all follow the same formula
Dean shares that the vast majority of persuasive speeches all follow one basic structure: Monroe’s Motivated Sequence. To craft an effective speech, try to follow this five-step structure:
- Attention. Hook your audience.
- Problem. Present the issue that you’re going to address.
- Solution. Offer ways to solve the problem.
- Vision. Help your audience visualise your solution (more on that below).
- Call to action. Close out your speech by giving the audience action items.
The beauty of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence is that you use it all the time without even realising it. For instance, Dean pointed out that I used it myself when I messaged him requesting an interview. Even though this flow of persuasion is probably already natural to you, the five steps are a useful checklist to make sure you’re not skipping anything in your speech.
Spell things out for your audience
Dean explains the old adage of telling people your main point three times: “Tell them what you’re about to say, say the thing, and then tell them what you just said.”
Dean explains that although this might make your speech look repetitive on paper, keep in mind that this argument is meant for the ear, not the eye. The reason this is so important is that in a live, oral medium, people can’t go back and re-read the most important bits.You need to be a little redundant in order to help your audience organise and process what you want them to hear.
So, let me reiterate: Hit home your main point not once, not twice, but three times.
Tips and tricks to take your speech to the next level
Dean offers up these final reminders to ensure your speech is as compelling as possible.
Address the elephant in the room. If there’s anything out-of-the-ordinary about the event you’re speaking at, address it up top and your audience will find you more relatable
Write chronologically. Information should be relayed to the audience in the order that it happened, unless you’re deliberately withholding details for effect
Use visual metaphors. Find language that evokes some kind of visual, rather than speaking in abstract or theoretical terms. Dean brings up Conan O’Brien’s speech to the Harvard Class of 2000 as a fun example of using specificity to paint a picture. This not only grabs your audience’s attention, but ensures they remember what you say.
Tailor your speech to your audience. Remember who your audience is, and use details to speak to them specifically. Eric Schnure, author of The Political Speechwriter’s Companion calls these moments “howdahells,” as in “How the hell did they know that?” If you can find something specific to address that your specific audience finds relatable, that goes a long way to endearing you to the crowd.
Brevity. Use the fewest words possible to make your point. Done.
Finally: Is your speech running long? Do what my editors do and cut out all the adverbs. Quickly!
If you want to see these tips in action, check out Dean’s own close reading of his eighth grade graduation speech.
Follow Dean on Twitter @chandlerjdean.