As the founder of a speech writing firm, Inkwell Strategies, I’ve gotten used to drawing a certain amount of interest from new friends and acquaintances when asked what Ido for a living. After working in this somewhat niche profession for a number of years, I have come to expect questions about what the job entails, and even more frequently, inquiries about how to write a strong speech.
There are a lot of different ways to answer that question, but after crafting remarks for leaders in government, nonprofits, and the private sector, I’ve learned that there are essentially five rules that all writers should follow in order to write a winning speech:
1. Read your speech out loud
Unlike almost all other forms of writing, speechwriting is designed for listeners. So, when reviewing your text, read it to yourself, and pay attention to how the words sound and feel. Do they flow off the tongue, or are they clunky and awkward? If your phrases make you stumble, they are guaranteed to make your boss stumble as well. Just remember that good writing is not necessarily good speech writing.
2. Simple phrases are your friend
Keep your sentences short and sweet. Compound phrases with multiple clauses may look great on paper, but are likely to confuse your audience and decrease the effectiveness of your speech. Limit yourself to one or two ideas per sentence, and express them as clearly and powerfully as possible.
3. Do your research
Before beginning a speech, make sure to familiarize yourself with the subject, so that you can write about it with confidence and authority. The creative aspects of speech writing are only effective when backed by a strong foundation of knowledge by acredible speaker. The audience must trust your words in order for their meaning to sink in. If you’re well-prepared, it will show.
4. Mind the time
A man once said that the key to crafting a great speech is writing a good beginning and a good ending, and making the two as close together as possible. That might not always be true, but consider this: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address,arguably the most famous speech in American history, lasted less than three minutes. Compare that to the two-hour speech given directly before Lincoln by Edward Everett. If I gave you four-score and seven guesses, could you tell me what he said?
5. Know your audience
Your listeners should be a strong determining factor of the content, tone and style of your speech. Before drafting remarks, think about who you’re speaking to, the venue you’re speaking at and the timing of your speech. There’s a time and a place for every type of remarks. It’s your job to figure out when and where you are.
These are just a few tips to get you started, but there is alot more to speech writing than that. If you’re interested in learning more, make sure to check out my website for commentary and analysis about the world of speech writing today.
This is a guest post by David Meadvin, President of Inkwell Strategies, a professional speech writing and strategic communications firm located in Washington, DC. He was chief speech writer to the U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senate Majority Leader.
5 thoughts on “Five Tips for Writing a Great Speech”
Good advice! Reading any writing out loud is beneficial. Once you hear your words, you may not like what you wrote. Research and knowing the target audience is a must. You don’t want to open with a joke if the audience is filled with conservatives who won’t appreciate or ‘get’ the joke.
Who was responsible for all those typos? Could DM not find his spacebar? I certainly would not like to read a speech by such a sloppy professional wordsmith…
My reaction too, Tom!
I agree, David.
As a speechwriter, a simple thing I do when using Word to write a speech is to check the average sentence length and readability. I aim for an average sentence length under 20 words and readability of at least 60 (on a scale of 1-100). These statistics appear at the end of the spelling and grammar check (but must be activated in the settings).
Wow. It amazes me that people have nothing better to do than to nit-pick and criticize someone’s community offering. I applaud the author for being a giver. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. None of us are perfect. Don’t let the little nibbles get you down. Please keep giving.