Through the ages, mankind has motivated, enlightened, moved and inspired audiences large and small with the power of speech. A speech can be just as powerful today as ever. It takes organization, focus, well chosen words, and good oration skills.
Great speeches can carry through the ages. We still hear of historic speeches such as Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”, John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, and countless others. Your speech may not have quite the same impact, but then it just might have a big impact on a few people at least. Think about making that your goal.
What to include in your speech
To begin with, always think of the audience. Speechwriting should take into account the demographics of the audience (age, subject knowledge, etc.), and the audience’s expectations (humor, education, wisdom, etc.). What could you tell them, from your own unique experience, that might benefit them? How can you convey that to them in words and tone so that the speech is well-received?
What makes the difference between a good and bad speech? In short, its all in the words; which words, how they’re organized and how they’re presented. Make sure there’s a central idea that you want to convey, and focus on conveying that idea effectively. You can develop that idea with stories, anecdotes, insights, humor, or other devices.
What to avoid
Sometimes, speeches can be dry, boring, and soporific. Rambling speeches, stilted vocabulary, stumbling oratory might get to be remembered by the audience, but for the wrong reasons. Organize well, and don’t try to cram in too much. Make sure you’re well prepared. Few people are successful when they try to “wing-it”.
Make sure there’s some life in your speech, even if the topic is technical or covering a complex subject. Even with an audience where you expect familiarity with jargon and acronyms, it’s often best to use a less jargony word or phrase to introduce a concept. Consider also breaking out an acronym into its individual words the first time you use it. If your speech is hard to understand, you will risk losing or alienating some of the audience from the very beginning.
Oration skills are important for conveying the message. Practicing the speech can be very helpful so that you get pronunciations, pauses, and pace correct. Make sure you know how much time you have and make sure, through practice, that your speech has an acceptable length. Avoid stooping over, staring at the paper, and stiff posture. Rather, stand up straight, and practice speaking so that a person seated in the last row can hear and understand you.
It helps your cause if the audience is providing their full attention. If they’re not paying attention at the start, it will be harder to get their attention later. Hold off with the formal part of the speech until you have their attention. Make eye contact with people in the audience. If you can, try to lead with some remarks that give them some confidence they can expect something worthwhile.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and get help if you need it. The ideas can still be yours, and the speech is still yours to give. If you just don’t have the time, or you need a second pair of eyes to help with organizing and editing, then reach out to a professional. Think of Whiting would be glad to help with speechwriting services.