Tuesday, Jul 27th

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Writing Your Speech

Speech outline

A speech outline helps the audience to follow your speech, you should tell them at the start of the speech what your key points are going to be. After you have delivered the bulk of material in the speech, remind them of what the key points are.

  • Open with an introduction, which lets the audience know who you are, what you are going to be speaking about and why, and what you hope to achieve by the end of the speech.
  • Provide a preview of your points, telling the audience what you will be saying which will help you to achieve your aims, and in what order. Think of this as a ‘map’ for the speech to help the audience follow you.
  • Move on to your main points, covering them in a logical order. Start with the most basic or fundamental points or a description necessary to give your points context. Remember all the time to support your claims with evidence, and then show how that evidence supports your conclusion.
  • Conclude. The conclusion ties together everything you have said and reminds the audience what you wanted to convince them of and why they should be persuaded. Try to link each step with your statement of intent. This does not mean reading out your statement repeatedly, but simply ensuring that everything you say is necessary to prove your statement and that everything necessary to prove your statement is said. Your conclusion should reiterate the main points you made in your introduction and show how the evidence provided in your speech support the overall conclusion at which you have arrived.

Let the audience know when you’re moving from one part of your speech to the next with transition words or phrases, like “So we’ve looked at the effect of global warming on poorer countries. Now I’d like to examine the effect on richer countries...” .

Summarise the points you have made so that the audience can feel confident that they have understood everything in your speech.

Using notes

Having a clear outline and structure to your speech enables you to make very simple notes. Each person will find a particular notation style that suits them, but remember never to write out any of your speech in full. Having a few large key words written on a card in front of you will enable you to pick up your speech more easily if you stumble or get lost. Because different people think and organise thoughts in different ways, it’s important to try different approaches until you find the one that works best for you. Some things to try might be:

  • A hierarchical structure – open up a computer filing system and you will notice that it begins with a small number of folders, each of which opens out into sub-folders. In a similar way, a hierarchical structure begins with your statement of intent, branches out into the points you will make in your speech and then the sub-points that make up each argument;
  • A mind map – sometimes seeing the flow of your argument graphically will make it easier to understand;
  • Pictorial representations;
  • Use of different colours to identify important points, or types of argument;
  • Cue cards;
  • Bullet points or key headings.

Different approaches will help you in different ways, so try combining the methods to find an approach that works best for you.

Giving your structure a theme

Your speech acquires a sense of unity if you can find a single theme that links the names you are using for your different points. This theme may be an analogy to a familiar ‘set’ story, song or well known person or event. It may even simply be a set of words.

Churchill once used a garbage pile of all things as a theme on which to base a short speech on European history before the War. It began by discussing how history often fails to capture the attention of the public, because at a glance it is impossible to view the detail beyond the trash heap of random events. On closer inspection however, you can identify the items of interest,a globe, a spice from the Far East, a bayonet, in the same way that history rewards inspection with revelation. It concludes by arguing that both are highly flammable, and a failure to pay it its due attention may yield disastrous consequences in the future.

Introduction and conclusion

The start and end are the most difficult, and in some ways the most important, parts of your speech. You should plan them carefully and know them perfectly. Your introduction is the very first impression you will make on the audience. Rather than explaining what your topic is about, try to grab the audience’s attention by making the topic relevant to them.

For example, compare the impact:

“Today I want to talk about global warming caused by carbon emissions. I will show how the rise in global temperatures will lead to inundations of floods, droughts and food shortages in some areas, disruption to the ecosystem and civil unrest. I will then tell you what we can do to stop these effects from occurring.”

With this:

“Floods; famines; plagues of locusts; war, death and destruction on a worldwide scale – no, not prophecies from the bible, not the scenes of some Hollywood disaster movie, but predictions for the real world in the next twenty years from top scientists, if we continue pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and altering the global climate. In my speech I want to show you how easy it could be to avoid this doomsday scenario, if we only wake up to the reality that this time it’s fact, not fiction.”

The conclusion is the last thing an audience hears, so it should leave an impression on them. This could be achieved, for example, by a rhetorical question to set the audience a departing challenge – but remember to ensure that you have already provided the answer to the question. Rhetorical questions are meant to be answered by you, not by the audience. Also remember that concluding on the question with which you started makes your speech more unified, and therefore more memorable as a whole, to an audience who has heard a number of speeches.

For example, consider the conclusion to Churchill’s WWII rallying speech “Blood, Sweat, and Tears”, which concludes in no uncertain terms:

“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory; victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, “Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”