Writing a speech can be extremely difficult, especially if you are the kind of person who usually improvises and feels better handling things along the way. If that is the case, we have some bad news for you - good preparation is half the battle. But there is some good news, too. Maybe you hate preparing a speech just because you haven't found a way of doing it that suits you? Depending on your personality, you can try out various methods of organizing your speech.
Basically, there are three main types of speeches: impromptu, informative, and persuasive. An impromptu speech has a basic structure which includes the introduction, two main supported points, and the conclusion. It is usually around five minutes long, so it is a quick, two-point argument. An informative speech is longer, somewhere between five and ten minutes. Here, you are mainly driven by the idea you’re eager to share with others. The main purpose of the informative speech is to inform or educate your audience, so a speaker should communicate his genuine interest in the topic. A persuasive speech is similar in length to an informative speech but has a different purpose. Here, you are more focused on your argumentation (that is – evidence that supports your position) because your goal is to raise awareness about something, to challenge your audience, and to call to action. In the persuasive speech, your main goal is to identify a certain problem and to discuss possible solutions.
These three types of speeches are different mainly respecting two points: their length and their purpose. However, you should follow some universal rules regardless of what type of speech you are delivering and what method of preparation you are choosing. You should always be aware of the conditions under which you are supposed to deliver your speech (the occasion, the topic, type of audience, what is expected from you, the environment, your own credibility as a speaker, the time you have, etc.). Needless to say, no matter what type of speech you are preparing, your presentation and your ideas should be clear.
Now, here are some basic, creative ways to organize and prepare your speech. You will notice that the offered methods are not mutually exclusive, and it is desirable for you to combine them and adjust them to your needs.
- The 6Ws + How (taking context into consideration)
Just like in journalism, here you can use the 6Ws questions + How, and adjust them a bit. This method is useful to start with because you will take the context of your speech delivery into consideration. Sometimes, if you don’t think this through, it could end in a disaster. For example, you might have fully prepared your speech, but you haven’t thought much about your audience. So, your speech about quantum physics has been fascinating to the experts in the field, but it has slipped your mind this will actually be a public lecture. If you use too much jargon in the speech, your audience might not understand you. That is a bit pointless, don’t you think? So, here are some questions to help you with thinking this through:
- What do I want to present or say?
- To whom will I be speaking?
- When will I be speaking?
- Where will my speech take place?
- Why am I doing this?
- How will I do it, and how much time do I have?
These are all the questions you need to know the answer to if you want to give a great and memorable speech.
- Visual mapping (associative method)
Visual mapping is great if you have a way with words and also have experience in public speaking. If you have a problem with noting down your thoughts in strict order, and word structuring isn’t your greatest strength, you could use visual images and concept words. This particular method does not have strict phases, but it is usually used at the beginning of defining the frame of your speech. With visual mapping, you are categorizing the elements of your speech, layering them, brainstorming ideas, and deciding what facts are important and what can be excluded from your speech.
This method helps you to distinguish key points and ensures that you won’t forget anything by pointing out the essential items at the beginning. Some people are able to deliver their speeches just by preparing this way: usually, it is in cases where they are speaking of a topic they have great knowledge of and also they’ve spoken about it hundreds of time already. So, in order to save time and organize their thoughts, they use only keywords to arrange ideas and to determine their order in the presentation.
- Outlining and flowing (preparing a speech and learning in the process)
If you have time on your hands and are a perfectionist, then you might try this method out. Outlining a speech means you are preparing a speech in a hierarchical structure. Flowing means taking notes on a speech in an outline format. It could be a good idea to watch and listen to other people’s speeches and flow them, so you can learn from them. Learn lessons from great speakers (for example, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, John Kennedy, Lou Gehrig, etc.) and try to analyze what made their speeches great. Outlining is basically putting ideas to paper as they come to your mind, and then focusing on emphasizing your main points. This process can take a long time, but it leads to best results. The first step is to figure out what your main points are and whether they have proper argumentation. This method demands your dedication since the main issue here is finding the core of your speech and then working up to developing it by enriching it with your personal style.
- Good old fashioned way – drafting and cutting chunks of your speech
Maybe you like preparing your speech the proven way: by writing it all down. But there are two main things to take into consideration here.
First, do not expect to write a full speech on the first try. It takes a lot of drafting, as well as rehearsing the speech – before that happens. Keep in mind that words on paper are not the same as spoken words. Something may feel well said on paper, but it may not feel natural when spoken. Your speech delivery should be smooth and fluid. That is why you’ll need to rehearse the speech several times before getting to the final draft. You will see yourself writing tons of ideas on paper and then cutting out chunks of your speech gradually.
Second, do not write your speech from the beginning to the end. This may sound a bit crazy, but you should focus on the main part of your speech (argumentation) and deal with introduction and conclusion later. Linear thinking in a chronological manner just won’t work here: writing an introduction first doesn’t make any sense since you don’t even know yet what you want to introduce your audience to! Stick to planning the main core of your speech, and then you’ll easily come up with the introduction and conclusion. In the introduction, you should set up the audience for what’s going to happen, that is – introduce them to your topic, set their expectations. You could hook their attention by telling a personal story or by offering some good examples, inserting a good quote or sharing some facts or statistics. In the conclusion, you should remind your audience of your key ideas and let them know you are closing up your speech. One of the ways to do this is to reaffirm the topic and wrap it up that way.
When developing key ideas this way, do keep in mind three things: simplicity, balance and order. When thinking about simplicity, ask yourself if you’ve eliminated all unneccessary content. When it comes to balance, think about the length of different parts of your speech. And lastly, think through the order in your speech: is there a logical arrangement of the parts, does one argument logically follow the other one?
- Organizing your time (four phases of your speech)
This method is great if you already have an idea of what you’ll be talking about and maybe even a draft of your speech. By keeping in mind the time ratio for different phases of your speech, you will be able to polish your draft and rehearse it.
Every speech contains four different phases: exposition, positioning, argumentation and conclusion. The first two parts of your speech are actually your introduction. Exposition is the phase of opening your speech, where you greet your audience and try your best to connect with them and leave a good impression. This is where you’re supposed to hook your audience’s attention and set their expectations. It is a certain promise to them that your speech will not be a waste of their time. In the positioning part, you get more concrete on what you will be talking about. This is where you’ll inform your audience of your topic and ideas. Argumentation is the main part of your speech: that is when you share the ideas that are the core of your speech. In the conclusion, you are supposed to wrap it up and sum up your ideas so that the audience is clear on the point of your speech. Of course, at the end of your speech, you are expected to thank your audience politely for their time and attention or to present a call to action.
These four phases demand a different amount of time. Exposition should take around 10% of your time, positioning around 16%, argumentation around 60%, and the remaining 14% goes to the conclusion. Of course, this does not mean that you should hit the calculator when preparing your speech, but you should try to stick to the approximate values for the mentioned phases. Keep in mind the balance, as we have already mentioned.
- Preparing – drafting – practicing – delivering
It is important to write and rehearse your speech simultaneously. Remember what we said about words on paper and spoken words? So, the best way to write a speech isn’t in silence. You should brainstorm, but you should also find out what your written words actually sound like. The needed phases here include drafting your speech, then rehearsing it, revising it, and reflecting on the changes. Here’s how you can do this:
- a) draft a lot of content; realize you’re way over the time you have; focus on the big parts of your speech; cut down the less important parts; repeat.
- b) reflect on the good and bad parts of your speech; cut down some more and revise; rehearse
- c) rehearse it twice in a row; focus on time; cut down more chunks of speech if needed
- d) rehearse it again, twice in a row; see if your structure is coherent, eliminate unnecessary digressions; revise and make small changes; focus on style
So, basically, it is all about the process of rehearsing the speech, reflecting on it, and making changes, first the big ones, then the small ones. At the same time, you will be adapting your written speech to your spoken one.
EXTRA TIP: Depending on the occasion, you are allowed to have notecards, outlines, or even manuscripts when delivering your speech. When using notecards, make sure you don’t put too much content on a card. You should write in a font that is big enough to be read at arm’s length. Don’t use full sentences, but rather use key words. Notecards are there just to remind you of what you’re going to say next. Don’t write double-sided cards, since this can be confusing. Shorten the words and number your cards, just in case they get mixed up. Outlines work in a similar way, only you have more text on your hands. Manuscripts imply even more text: focus on organizing the text so that it’s visually compact, so that you’ll know where to look if you happen to stumble in your speech. Minimize page breaks and focus on phrasing groups instead of writing full sentences.
These are just some of the basic methods you can use to write and prepare your speech. Depending on the type of speech and many other factors, you may want to use two or three of the offered suggestions. The most important thing is to use a method that you feel suits you and to rehearse the speech several times before the event.
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