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 raising their eyebrows in dismay and possibly wrinkling their nose as if at a malodorous smell. The underlying meaning is, "Please tell me I don't have to write a speech. Can't I just wing it?"
Why is 'winging it' never a good idea? And what's the big deal about writing a speech?
For some people, sitting down and organizing their thoughts into a coherent message just feels too hard. Or perhaps they're a bit lazy and don't want to put in the time and effort. The truth is that writing a speech is a skill you've been practicing 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," you've been putting down your thoughts in an organized, coherent way. You learned a formula with a beginning, middle and 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?
Here are a few suggestions to make it easier to organize your thoughts. Creating a speech for any occasion can be an adventure, like going on a treasure hunt that will bring a great reward when you face the audience. The Treasure Map is the key questions you ask yourself before you begin to write.
Who will be in the audience, why are they there, and what are they expecting to learn from you? 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?
How many minutes will you actually speak? What's the 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?
What are the three most important items the audience must hear in order to understand your point of view? Use these as your bullet point outline. Do you have the evidence to support each one at your fingertips or do you need to do a bit of research?
What stories, analogies, metaphors, or humor can you enliven your bullet points with? Can you paint word pictures to make it easier for the audience to feel they understand you thoroughly?
Will you have a rousing finish that 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? Will the audience feel they know something when they leave that they didn't know when they came in?
The answers to these questions will create a roadmap to guide you through the writing process. The feeling of overwhelm will disappear. The words you need will come to you trippingly on the tongue, as Will Shakespeare liked to say. Best of all, when you take the time to prepare, you'll give a much better speech than you ever would if you just winged it. You'll be proud of yourself and your audience will admire you, too.
Next time you're asked to give a speech, smile like the Cheshire Cat and reply, "Sure! When, where, and how many minutes?" And then get out your Treasure Map and start writing!