Speechwriting 101: Keys to successful speech writing and delivery – Part 2

Now that you know what to focus on in terms of your speech’s content (see Part 1), you’ll want to concentrate on the mechanical and technical aspects. I cannot emphasise the importance of preparation and practise enough, and part of that preparation includes discovering what you will be working with (or against), for instance:

  • Will you be required to use a microphone (and do you know how to use one)?
  • What is the size of the venue?
  • What are the acoustics like?
  • If you are working with any kind of audio-visual presentation, do you know how to use the equipment and software?

 

You’re probably thoroughly freaked out, but don’t be. Start with the basics: Speak to the host/s and ask them how long they expect you to speak for. If it’s an informal occasion or event, cut that number in half (remember what I said about being a bore?). Chances are the organisers or hosts are working under immense time pressure and sometimes emotional strain. They are usually family members or friends who have been roped into doing something they have no real experience in. They may not have given enough thought to the real specifics – the very specifics you need to plan your speech properly. It’s thus a safe bet to cut the duration of your speech down to half because other people’s speeches are probably going to run over.

If it’s a more formal occasion, you will need to stick to the time allocation (although other speakers may not). Aim to finish off your speech 30 seconds before your time is officially up – not only will this keep things to the point, but the host or organiser will thank you for facilitating an easy and prompt off-stage exit.

The next step is finding out more about the venue. If you can, visit beforehand and see what it is like empty. On the day of the event, arrive early and test that every piece of equipment works properly. This is particularly true if you are using a computer: Save the files you need to an external hard drive or flash drive in case you need to use someone else’s computer at the last minute.

Part of your preparation is finding out exactly who your audience will consist of. You’ll then need to decide what language level you will use. For example, if you are addressing a group of primary school learners who do not speak English as a first or even second language, you are going to use simple, easy-to-follow sentences, enunciate your points, and select a moderate pace.

If you are delivering a speech at a wedding of a close friend or a family member, you may be more familiar with the attendees and audience: You’ll know who is more conservative and who isn’t, what kind of anecdotes most people would appreciate, and what kind of tone the hosts want you to stick to and convey (more on that to follow). You won’t use language that is too stiff and formal, but you also won’t be so informal that your speech will come off as a joke – remember that you still have to be respectful and maintain the atmosphere set by the hosts.

If you’re in a corporate or academic setting, it’s expected that you use formal language and terminology that your audience is familiar with.

When used properly, humour is an effective device to incorporate. Employ it tastefully and in keeping with the tone of the event. This is why knowing your audience is so important: You need to be mindful of generation gaps, cultural values, religious beliefs, and just be sensible about what you are saying and how it might reflect on you. As a general rule of thumb, steer clear of political references and sexual jokes and innuendos. In other words, be polite and respectful – no one wants or expects a one-person comedy show in speech format.

Once you’ve decided on the final draft of your speech, you will need to look over it for any spelling and grammatical errors. And yes, although no one except you will be reading the speech, it is still important to check your spelling: You may be thrown while trying to recognise what it is you were trying to say where you inserted your own word creations. You should also remember that punctuation is a useful tool: You’ll immediately recognise where you need a short pause, a long pause, or where a new idea or concept is going to be introduced. This will assist in you changing the pace, volume, pitch, and emphasis as required.

It is imperative that you spend time practising your speech before you deliver it. Whether you practise in front of the mirror, your dog, cat, or a long-suffering spouse or friend, you need to put in the time. Use a stopwatch to time yourself and ensure that you are consistently keeping to the time limit. Practising your speech over and over makes for a more convincing and confident speaker – knowing what you are going to say means you’ll spend less time reading off a piece of paper and more time making that all-important eye contact with your audience.

If you’re still reading this, I’ve saved the best advice for last: Relax and have fun! If it’s your first time delivering a speech, you can let the audience know: Sometimes admitting you’re nervous paradoxically calms your nerves. Since you are up there in front of all those people you may as well be yourself and let your personality win them over. Once you’ve hooked them, you’ll realise that they’re pretty amenable – so make the most of that by delivering the best quality speech you can. Oh, and if you need a handy checklist of the most important things you need to consider, you’re in luck! Download your copy here: Speechwriting checklist

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