Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The Writing Life: How to Write an Effective Speech
Speeches are heard rather than read, so to keep your listening audience engaged your speech must be well organized and easy to understand.
1. How do you want your listeners to react? Why are you making this speech? Are you providing information for people planning to vote in an election? Are you asking listeners to consider a new perspective on an existing product or issue? Are you honoring or eulogizing someone your listeners love or revere? Know what you want your listeners to do before you begin.
2. Who is your audience? What do your listeners have in common? Are they all the same age or gender? Are they students, colleagues or teammates? The tone you choose, the language you use and the information you share will depend on who is listening and what they already know about the topic.
3. Grab their attention. You may be an expert on your subject, but if you don’t hook your audience with a good opening, they may lose interest early in your speech. Provide an anecdote that will resonate with your listeners, open with a shocking statistic or ask a direct question? Your goal is to captivate your listeners.
4. Cut to the chase. Get right to the point of your speech to keep people listening. Make it easy for people to understand what you are talking about and why it is important to them. You should be able to summarize your speech in one sentence.
5. Make your speech easy to follow. Use previews and summaries. State the points you intend to cover, cover these points and summarize the points. For example, I’m here to talk to you about four strategies to protect the environment . . . , list the strategies, and end with, I’ve spoken to you about the four strategies to protect our environment, now I hope you can see . . . . When making a transition you might say, One fact that supports my main point . . . , or Another study that supports my argument . . . .
6. Keep sentences short and words clear. People will not have a chance to go back and review what you just said. Use active verbs, repeat proper names or use nouns instead of pronouns like they or this.
7. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Advertises know that for key words to stick in our minds, these words need to be repeated. If there are certain key words that drive your point home, use the same word or phrase, rather than a variety of words. If you are talking about the threats to our environment, repeat environment, rather than saying ecology or ecosystem.
8. Keep your audience involved. People don’t respond to statistics; use a colorful analogy or anecdote to show, rather than tell an important fact. Speak a bit more slowly and enunciate each word. Be sure your tone is appropriate for the speech; you will use your voice differently when appealing to a listener’s logic or reason, than when appealing to a listener’s emotions.
9. Know when to quit. If you are supposed to speak for three minutes, end on time or a little early. Plan your conclusion by restating your main points without repeating them, as illustrated in item 5 above.
10. Call to action. This is the time to urge your audience to take a specific action, such as cast their vote, test a product/service or donate time/money. Your goal is to relate the purpose of your speech directly to a listener’s life and connect each person to a larger issue.
Writing is only one part of the speech. You need to practice reading your speech out loud. Listen for where you trip or stumble. That might be evidence of an unclear thought, a tongue-twister or a stray tangent. If you have listeners, watch for their responses. When do they chuckle or nod; when do they fidget or doze off? If you are alone, tape record your voice and practice in the mirror. Stick with your time limit.
You care about your topic, so enjoy the process of sharing your passion by speaking to people who have assembled to listen to what you have to say.
JJ Murphy is a nature writer, blogging hiker, locavore curriculum creator and tree-hugger currently based in Harriman, NY. Visit http://www.writerbynature.com for more information on JJ's writing services and her favorite places for gear and supplies.