Why is it that when some folks are asked to say something at a special occasion, their first question
is, "Do I have to write a speech?" This is accompanied by squinching up
their eyes, raising their eyebrows in dismay, and maybe wrinkling their
nose as if at a malodorous smell. The question itself is often asked
in a querulous tone, the underlying meaning of which is "Please tell me I
don't have to write a speech. I really don't want to write a speech.
Can't I just say a few words off the top of my head?"
What's the big deal about writing a speech?It doesn't seem to matter how well they know the subject, some folks feel that sitting down and organizing their thoughts into a coherent message that an audience will appreciate is just too hard. It doesn't have to be. Writing a speech is a skill you've been learning since you first went to school, even if you never took a speech class.
From the time you wrote your first book report or a short essay on "How I spent my summer vacation" in elementary school, you've been putting down your thoughts in an organized, coherent way. Whatever the assignment, you learned a formula with a beginning, a middle and an end that would lead the reader or listener to understand whatever you were describing. This is a skill that served you all through your schooling. So why can't you use it now that you're an adult when you're asked to write a speech?
It's a truism that once we graduate, we forget half the stuff we learned in school. It's stored in our brain somewhere, but if we don't need to use it every day, we just leave it buried in storage. We even forget we ever knew it. What to do?
Here are a few suggestions to get rid of the reluctance and make creating a speech for any occasion a lot easier. There are several elements you need to be aware of.
First, who will be in the audience? Why are they there? What are they expecting to learn from you? Are they there because they want to be or because they have to be? Do they already know something about your subject or is this totally new information? Are they expecting a formal, hi-tech presentation or an informal talk without even a microphone? Will it be a roomful of strangers or a gathering of friends?
Next, how many minutes will you actually speak? Is your subject highly technical or are you giving your point of view about a topic others are familiar with? What is the premise and purpose of your talk? Are you going to educate, inform or persuade the entire group or is your job to honor an individual or the bridal couple?
Third, what are the three most important items the audience must hear in order to understand your premise? Using these as your outline, what kind of evidence do you need to support each one? Do you have the evidence at your fingertips or do you need to do a bit of research? Can you enliven your points with stories, analogies, metaphors, or humor? Can you paint word pictures of the points you wish to make? Will you go narrow and deep and tell the audience enough about the three items that they'll feel they understand them thoroughly?
Finally, will you have a rousing finish that recaps your key points and tells the audience what action you want them to take next? Will you have time for a Q&A? Are you prepared to answer questions from the audience, even challenging ones? At the very end, will you have proven the premise you started with? Will the audience feel they know something when they leave that they didn't know when they came in?
That's all there is to it. Knowing the answers to these questions is like creating a roadmap to guide you through the writing process. You'll have gathered the knowledge you need to write your speech, so the writing will be a lot easier than you'd thought. The feeling of overwhelm or insecurity about how to put down what you want to say will disappear. You'll find that the words you need will come to you trippingly on the tongue, as Will Shakespeare liked to say.
Next time you're asked to give a speech, you'll smile like the Cheshire Cat and reply, "Sure! When, where, and how many minutes?" And then get out your roadmap and start writing!