The Art of Speaking  

How to build a great speech

Preparing to speak

Wade Paterson/YouTube

Whether you’ve been asked to speak at your friend’s or a family member’s wedding, or you need to deliver a top-notch presentation in front of your customers, it’s difficult to know where to start when it comes to building an effective and impactful speech.

This month I share four tips to help you create a speech that captivates your audience.

Tip 1 – Don’t write it out word-for-word

Writing out your entire speech is a tempting thing to do as a new speaker. Many of us have an incredible fear we will forget everything we were planning on saying as soon as we step in front of the crowd.

While writing out the full speech can be a safety net to counteract forgetting your next line, the problem is that many elements of an impactful speech — such as body language and vocal variety — are removed when you stand in front of an audience and read the words you’ve written down on a page.

Instead, be purposeful with which words you choose to write down verbatim. My suggestion is to fully write down your introduction and concluding sentences. If you practice your speech enough, you likely won’t need to reference these notes, but they can sit on the lectern as a crutch in case you completely freeze in front of the audience when you begin speaking.

For the middle — or “the body” — of the speech, don’t write down everything you’re planning on saying; rather, jot down key words that will trigger your memory about what to generally talk about. If your speech is about your journey as an athlete, perhaps you write down “third grade baseball story,” as one of the bullet points. By seeing that on the piece of paper, it will jog your memory to tell that familiar story, and it will come across as much more natural than it would if you read sentences off of a piece of paper.

We often forget the audience has no idea what we’re planning on talking about, so if we slightly go off of our own prepared script, no one will know.

(One exception to this is if you have a few specific statistics or data points that are important to articulate factually. Feel free to write those down within your notes as well.)

Tip 2 – Start with a strong introduction

Regardless of the theme of the speech, a powerful introduction is a necessary ingredient if you want to win over the audience. Too many speeches start off weakly with the speaker stepping on stage and making small talk or casually introducing themselves before limping into the actual speech.

Audiences will be quick to make their judgements on whether or not your speech is going well. If you capture their attention and impress them in the first few seconds, you have a good chance of holding their attention throughout the duration of the speech.

To help illustrate this point, I’ll use an example of a fictitious speaker named Bob who used to be addicted to gambling, but worked hard to overcome that addiction.

Weak introduction example: Hey everyone. My name is Bob, and for quite a few years I struggled with gambling, so today I’m going to give you a few tips so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

Strong introduction example: There I was, standing in front of the roulette wheel. I had already put my money down, there was no going back. All of the money I had taken out of my bank account was on “even,” and as the ball bounced around and landed on a number, I came to the realization that my life was about the change forever.

As you can see, the second introduction is much more powerful and has a higher likelihood of capturing the audience’s attention.

Tip 3 – Choose the right speech body

Every single speech should have an introduction and a conclusion; however, the body of the speech will fluctuate depending on the context.

For example, a maid-of-honour speech at a wedding may have the following structure: Introduction, explanation of why bride is an amazing person, quick story about bride, advice for the groom, conclusion.

A persuasive speech, perhaps delivered to a prospective customer, may have this type of structure: Introduction, first point about why your product is superior, second point about why your product is superior, third point about why your product is superior, expected results if customer switches to your product, conclusion.

As mentioned earlier, your notes for the middle section of the speech should be brief and act as a quick reminder about what you’re planning to speak about next. In the maid-of-honour example, the speaker may choose to write down a few of the words that describe the bride for the first body paragraph, she then may write down a sentence that references the story she’s going to tell for the second body paragraph, finally she could jot down a couple of words that will act as pieces of advice for the groom. These subtle notes will be enough to get the speaker back on track if she forgets what she had planned to speak about next.

Tip 4 – End with a memorable conclusion

The best conclusions, in my opinion, are the ones that come full circle.

Within the second tip, I used an example for an introduction based on a man named Bob who was previously addicted to gambling. An example of a full circle conclusion could be something like this:

The number bounced around and final landed on number 11. The roulette dealer took all of my chips and left me with no money. But what I’ve come to realize is I actually hit the jackpot. While my money was taken away from me, I gained something money can’t buy: self-awareness, discipline and self-control.

If your conclusion ties together with your intro, you will take your audience on a journey and return them to a place of familiarity. In my experience, these are the most satisfying speeches to listen to.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Wade Paterson is an award-winning Toastmaster who is passionate about Impactful Communication.

His columns and accompanying YouTube videos are focused on helping others become more confident public speakers and communicators.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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