How to write a speech

Table of Contents

Introduction

So you want to learn how to write a speech. Maybe it’s for a speech for work, or maybe it’s for a school project. You know that professional speakers don’t just make stuff up. They don’t write a few thoughts on a notecard and then shoot from the hip for an entire presentation. They take the time to write and carefully craft their material. And you’re ready to do that! You have an idea of what you want to speak about, but how do you actually create your talk? How do you give a speech? And what makes a talk “good”?

In this post, you can read answers to all of those questions. You’ll learn tips to go through the process to create a great speech from idea to completion. And you’ll learn how to write and give an inspiring speech. Ready to learn more? Read on!

Before you start to write your speech

A speech is simply a talk meant to get your audience to learn, understand or do something. 

The best speakers on the planet only have one or two talks they do and those talks are insanely good. Start by developing just one, really amazing talk that resonates deeply with your intended audience. The best marketing for your speaking business is a great talk, so it is worth it to put in the hours for this part. Yes, even if your first speaking gig is a free talk at a community center.

Keep in mind: Your audience is always going to be asking two questions: “so what?” and “now what?” So what means, what does this have to do with me? Now what is what you want the audience to do as a result of your talk. Give them action steps to implement what you taught them. If they hear you speak but literally don’t do anything differently, what’s the point?

Giving a speech is almost like mapping for a road trip. If you are going to go on a road trip, it’s easier to have a paper map or Google Maps to tell you where you’re going. But if you just get in the car and you start driving, and people are in the car asking you where we’re going, you’re in trouble! But by organizing and structuring your talk, you can lead the audience to your conclusions. And you can effectively answer those two questions: “so what?” and “now what?”

How to write a speech

Want to learn how to write a speech? Read on for 3 steps to make it unforgettable:

1. Begin with the end in mind and tell a story

Have you ever been left at the end of a speech wondering, “What was the point of this talk?” Don’t do that to your audience. When creating your talk, determine the destination that you want to take them to. Once you pick a point, then you can work backwards and reverse engineer how to get your audience to that place.

The best way to do the point of your talk is to find where your audience’s needs converge with your passions. Think about what problems you like to solve and what topics you want to talk about and look out into the world. Who is asking for solutions to those problems? Become the expert on that audience and commit yourself to meeting their needs. (for more on finding your big idea, check out this episode of The Speaker Lab podcast)

Okay, so now you have your topic, the idea you want to communicate. Now what? One of the best ways to create a memorable, relatable talk is by integrating first-person stories. You don’t have to have lost a limb or scaled Mount Everest. Keep an eye out in your everyday life for little moments that can contribute to your message. Write them down and integrate them into your talk. As you get more speaking gigs, you will very quickly learn which stories are a hit and which are total flops…which is all part of the process!

Humans relate to stories. We connect to stories. Funny stories. Sad stories. Inspirational stories. We love stories. So tell them. Lots of them. Stories will keep your audience engaged and are also easier for you to memorize. Telling stories that you lived and experienced generally makes the story better for you and the audience. For the audience, they can often times find themselves in your story. For you as the speaker, it’s much easier (and more powerful) to tell a story that you lived versus one you read in a book.

2. Write out your speech from beginning to end

As Grant Baldwin discusses in this video on preparing your talk, you want to write out your talk to have a basic structure: beginning, middle, and end.

In the beginning, you’re going to want to introduce the problem that your talk is going to solve and ultimately start to capture the audience’s attention. One thing that’s important to remember is there’s a difference between an audience that wants to be there and an audience that has to be there. When you get on stage, you want to be able to answer for the audience: Who are you? Why should I pay attention? Why does this matter? What am I supposed to do with this information? Can I trust you? You want to give the audience a reason to engage with you and where you’re going with the speech.

The next part of the process is the main body. This is where you will provide the solution to the problem or elaborate on the idea you’ve presented, and then share the action items that transform the audience. These action items should be specific, tangible, actionable, and realistic. You want to give something that the audience can leave with knowing exactly what to do now. So you want to make it specific, tangible, actionable, and realistic – not something that’s just vague or squishy, but something that they can actually understand.

The last part of the process is the closing. The purpose of the closing is to transition the audience to your main call to action. Remember, your audience is always asking themselves two questions: “So what?” and “Now what?” And this is where your closing comes in. Your closing is so important because the audience will remember what they learned and heard from you in the final minutes of your talk.

3. Structure your speech

Types of structures for writing your speech

Another step Baldwin recommended on our podcast on creating your talk is to break your talk into sections beyond the beginning, middle, and end. As you internalize your talk’s message, you can break the talk into sections that you either deliver in order or out of order.

But regardless of how you break it up, you should determine what the point of each section is. It may be to tell a story to illustrate some key thoughts. Practicing that section could include practicing telling the story aloud, delivering the punchline, and transitioning out of that story into the next point that you’re trying to make. This will make it easier to memorize your speech.

Each section should stack on to what you’ve already learned. So once you learn paragraph one, then you can practice paragraph two. Then you can go back and practice one and two together – again, everyone has their own technique, but oftentimes out loud is best! (Another tactic here is to record yourself and listen back to help you to not only learn the material, but to also help decide if the material works.)

Sequential structures

One method Grant Baldwin discusses in our podcast on how to write your speech is to use different types of structures. For example, a sequential structure for memorizing your talk can take the main themes you want to speak about and put them in a sequential form, so that it’s easier to remember the order. Grant gives the example of a talk he gave for college audiences called “Life is a Highway,” where he talked about an imaginary road trip. 

As Baldwin said, the way the talk was structured was to talk in the beginning about the past, and where the audience has been, then talk about the future, where they’re going, and to end by talking about where they are, right now. “It needs to almost happen in this certain sequence,” Baldwin said, “which also makes it easier for you to memorize because they need to go in this specific order.”

When you use this structure, you can deliver your speech in any order, Unlike a singer, whose audience may know all the lyrics to the song she sings, if a speaker goes out of order, it may be impossible for the audience to notice – after all, they don’t have a script!

Modular structures

Another type of structure you can use to write your speech is a modular structure. This allows you to go in order, but it also allows you to jump around. This could be especially helpful if you’ve got a couple of main thoughts or ideas and they don’t necessarily have to go in a certain order. You can kind of mix and match them around, similar to how a band at a concert can switch songs around in their setlist.

Baldwin gives the example of topics he covered in a book talk for high school students, answering questions such as, should I go to college? how do I pay for college? What classes do I take? What do I major in? Job interviews, resumes, internships, credit cards, budgets, taxes, etc.

Similar to the sequential structure, it may be helpful for you to think of the content as telling a story, so that you don’t leave anything out. If you have five key themes, for example, that you’d like to cover, they could be five elements of a story you would like to tell. Remember: stories will keep your audience engaged and also make it easier for you to write your speech.

Conclusion

By following these steps, you can set yourself up for success. Many external variables help make a speech go well. Beyond working these steps before giving a speech, you should try to put as many of those variables in your favor as possible. Don’t stay up late the night before at a reception. Don’t eat a massive pasta bowl before you go on stage. Try to avoid speaking during a slot when most of the audience will be distracted. If all the variables are stacked against you but you crush your talk, it can still come across as “meh” to the audience.

Keep in mind: Speaking is like playing jazz – you don’t have to give a talk the same way every time. You can improvise and mix it up sometimes, and you don’t need to plan out every hand gesture or movement or exact line you’ll use. Some of that is fine, but also be present enough with the audience that you can play jazz when the moment calls for it.

If you have a dream to inspire others with your message, you’ve probably considered taking your passion to the stage. Becoming a speaker might sound like a charmed life in many ways. And while it does take hard work, it totally is. 

In the meantime, here are a few rapid fire FAQs about speeches. Happy speaking!

How much money can you make as a professional speaker?

The runway to a successful business is often slow. But many professional speakers make 6+ figures a year within a couple years of starting their speaking business!

What degree you need to become a professional speaker?

It does not matter! You can have no degree or a PhD in whatever field you like and still be a great speaker.

Can anyone become a professional speaker?

Absolutely.

How long does it take to become a professional speaker?

This may vary quite a bit, primarily based on your state in life.

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