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Jul 20

Speeches

Speeches

One of the most famous speeches in history is only ten sentences long. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is recognised, not just by virtually every American in the world, but by thousands of other people worldwide. It is short, to the point, passionate, dramatic and relevant not just to the American Civil War but to the principles of human equality.
So a speech does not have to be long to be memorable. On the contrary it is best not to try to include too much. A speech is going to be listened to, not read by the audience which means they have only one chance to catch what it is about. You need to select a few ideas, and express them clearly rather that confuse the listener with long convoluted sentences and too many points. Do not include vocabulary that you would not normally use. The audience cannot turn back like a reader can to check what was said or meant, so give them clear and easy to follow statements.

It should, like an essay have an introduction, a main narrative and a conclusion and like an essay it needs an opening that catches the attention. You could start with a quote, something shocking or a short punchy anecdote or a reference to something topical.
It is not a bad idea to start with a question, which may be rhetorical but may invite audience participation, eg ´’Raise your hand if….’. Involve them from the start and ask them to engage with the topic.

Speech writing requires a more conversational style than some other types of writing. It is advisable to speak in short sentences, fine to use contractions; ‘You´ll….’, ‘We’ve….’ and even acceptable to break the conventional rules of grammar; we do not always speak in full sentences.

When you start planning your speech you need to consider what type of occasion it is for, the theme and, very importantly, the audience.
If it is for yourself it will be easier to write it in a style that suits you but if you are asked to write a speech for someone else to deliver you will need to know something about their style and to make it possible for them to personalise it if necessary. Before you begin you need to know how long the speech is supposed to last and to do some research on the topic, particularly if you are promoting something. If you sound confident it will be easier to sound as if you care about what you are saying and to be convincing.

Make the introduction strong and say the most interesting things first, whilst the audience are fresh and curious to know what you have to say. If they have come to listen then presumably they want to ‘learn’, to respond, to be made to feel, think, believe, agree or disagree, to benefit from hearing you, in some way. If you can, provide some drama, human interest, anecdotes and examples and create imagery with words, and, in longer speeches repeat the main points.
Try to end on a positive note with a memorable quote or quip if appropriate.

I once heard a great presentation from a bank manager to older pupils in a school where I was teaching. He was trying to show them that it was a good idea to open a bank account and start saving as early as possible. He kept coming back to the things they might want as adults, cars and homes, household goods and holidays and as part of his explanation for why things cost so much he mentioned the people involved, salesmen, lawyers, surveyors, agents, bank managers! After each of them he said, in a broad Lancashire accent, getting broader every time, ‘ He’s a professional man, doing a professional job and he ain’t gonna do it for nowt.’ By about the third time the pupils were joining in the refrain, enjoying his banter, recognising that just because he was a bank manager it did not mean he was stuffy and boring. They gave him a huge round of applause, a few cheers and asked loads of questions at the end. He had them in the palm of his hand, a really professional, effective and inspiring speaker. You can bet that every syllable was carefully planned, rehearsed, and timed, and it was delivered with a skill born of long practice.

Much depends on what the aim is when speech writing and you have to know your audience. There are obviously different types of speech.
Is the aim simply to entertain? You can take virtually any topic as your main thesis, such as ‘ Chocolate is a food group,’ or, ‘Wine must be good for you, it’s made of fruit.’ I am sure the WI circuit would love those.
Is it for an occasion such as a wedding, a thank you speech or a leaving speech? If so you will need some anecdotes and accolades.
It might be that you need to write a speech designed to persuade; ‘Taking our course will change your life,’ or, ‘The benefits of exercise.’
Or perhaps a speech to inform, and maybe to inform a specific group such as children or women; ‘How to be safe,’ or ‘Securing your home against intruders.’

Start with an outline but always write the speech in full, particularly if it is for someone else. Read it out loud, maybe even tape it to see how it sounds/feels/flows and time it.
Be prepared to edit down, if you ramble the point gets lost.
Repeat your main points in the conclusion and try to end on a high note with something really positive, amusing, thought provoking or memorable.

Blog 67 (Category:Advice and Information)Tags:Styles,Language,Writing

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