If you're a writer but you've never written a speech before, you don't need to go back to square one. Whether you get roped into writing your boss's speech at the company Christmas party or you're a freelancer who has just received a lucrative offer to write speeches for a politician, remember that you already know how to write. However, there are some pointers to keep in mind when making the transition to professional speech writer.
Writing the Perfect Speech
There really isn't a such thing as "the perfect speech." There are, however, some guidelines that you can follow. These are tried-and-true, time-tested tips from professional speech writers like Paul Begala and Bob Lehrman. Give the speech your own flavor, but follow some guidelines from professionals working in the field.
- Begin your research early. Research is perhaps the biggest part of speech writing. The sooner that you begin the process of collecting information for your speech, the sooner you can begin collating the information together and the sooner you can begin writing.
- Formulate the central theme. Speeches with the sheen of professionalism have a clearly identified central theme -- and get to it right away. After you have determined the central theme, you can ensure that your writing sticks to this theme.
- Be clear about your topics. A central theme is a broad area that encompasses speech topics the speaker will touch on or elaborate. A speech should have no more than one central theme that all topics relate to. However, you should not have too many topics in your speech, either. One or two topics is perfect. Three or four is okay; any more is asking your audience to take in too much, too quickly.
- Start with the point. You can certainly begin with a short anecdote that relates to the central theme. However, you should enumerate this central theme almost immediately at the beginning of the speech. This will set the tone for the rest of the talk.
- Be specific. Whenever you bring up a point, have specific examples culled from your research. This helps to keep things concrete. While you don't want to inundate the listeners with lots of facts and figures, a few carefully chosen statistics and concrete examples can really help to hammer a point home.
- Write like people talk. A speech is far different from communication that is meant to be read. When writing a speech it is a good idea to picture the client reading the content aloud. You may even wish to stand up in front of a mirror and read the speech to get an idea of how it sounds when read aloud. Even if you aren't the world's greatest public speaker you should get an idea of whether the the prose comes off as engaging or stilted. Spend some time listening to how your client speaks and try and craft the copy in her voice.
- Talk to one person. Audiences don't like to feel like they are "just another face in the crowd." They want a personal touch. In addition to writing in the conversation style of the client, try and create prose that makes each member of the audience feel like she is the only person in the room.
- Don't be afraid of humor. Even a speech to a political constituency or a shareholder meeting can have a bit of humor while maintaining an overall air of professionalism. Humor can get otherwise guarded listeners to open up a little bit. The more specific to the situation or location you can make your jokes the better. Remember to stay on topic, but there's no reason to not make the audience a bit more comfortable and break up some tension in the air with laughter.
- Remember to be persuasive. Speeches exist to make a point. No matter how general or uncontroversial that point may be, the fact that it is so specific means that you will be doing a little persuading even among people who already more or less agree with you. You can do this by keeping the speech on topic, supporting your claims with evidence and anticipating counter-arguments.
If you feel like you need more help than just a few guidelines can encompass, pick up a book or two that will help you cull your craft. Look for books like The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write One--How to Deliver It by Richard Dowis and On Speaking Well by Peggy Noonan.
Speech Writing for Beginners
Speech writing is like any other kind of writing. It's largely about knowing the format and the target audience. Similar to other forms of writing, you will want to get a good deal of practice writing speeches. The more speeches you write, the more comfortable you will become writing them and the better you will be at writing speeches for a wide and varied customer base.