Learn how to write a speech that will effectively reach your audience.
A good speech is a powerful tool. Effective speeches make people powerful, whether in the hands of a world leader trying to get people to believe their ideology or in the mouth of a teacher trying to inspire students. A well-written speech can lift the hearts of a nation in times of war, inspire people to action when complacency is commonplace, honor someone who has died, and even change a nation’s mind on a particular topic, which, in turn, can change history.
Excellent speech writing is a skill that you must learn. While public speaking may come naturally to some people, the sentence structure and nuances of a powerful speech are something you must learn if you are going to gain the audience’s attention.
So how can you learn how to write a speech? The writing process is a little different than the process you’d use to write a paper or essay, so here is a guide that can help.
- Materials Needed
- Step 1: Define Your Purpose
- Step 2: Determine Your Audience
- Step 3: Start Your Research
- Step 4: Choose the Right Length
- Step 5: Create an Outline
- Step 6: Craft the Introduction
- Step 7: Write the Body
- Step 8: Use Transitions
- Step 9: Conclude Your Speech
- Step 10: Add Some Spice
- Step 11. Implement Spoken Language
- Step 12: Edit Your Speech
- Step 13: Read It Out
- Research materials
- Topic idea
- Audience demographic information
Step 1: Define Your Purpose
Before you can write a speech, you must know the purpose of your speech. You can deliver many types of speeches, and the purpose will determine which one you are giving. While there may be more than these, here are some common types of speeches:
- Informative speech: An informative speech strives to educate the audience on a topic or message. This is the type of speech a teacher gives when delivering a lecture. “First World Problems” by Sarah Kwon is an excellent example of an informative speech.
- Entertaining speech: This speech strives to amuse the audience. These are typically short speeches with funny, personal stories woven in. A wedding guest giving a speech at a wedding may be an example of this type of speech.
- Demonstrative speech: This speech demonstrates how to do something to the audience. A company showing how to use a product is delivering this type of speech.
- Persuasive speech: This speech aims to persuade the audience of your particular opinion. Political speeches are commonly persuasive. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech is an example of a persuasive speech, as it called the government to make changes that protected civil and economic rights.
- Oratorical speech: An oratory is a formal speech at an event like a funeral or graduation. The goal is to express an opinion and inspire the audience, but not necessarily to persuade.
- Motivational speech: These speeches inspire people to take action, such as to improve themselves or to feel better and happier. For example, a coach may deliver this kind of speech to his players during halftime to inspire them to win the game. Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address is an excellent example of a motivational speech.
- Eulogy: A Eulogy is a funeral speech. This speech is given to the mourners at someone’s funeral and talks about the excellent character rates of the person who died. “Eulogy for Rosa Parks” is a famous example of this type of speech given by Oprah Winfrey in 2015.
- Explanatory speech: This final speech type describes a situation or item. These speeches often have step-by-step instructions on how to do a particular thing.
Step 2: Determine Your Audience
Your audience members are an essential part of the speech writing process. Consider taking notes about your audience before you start writing your speech. You can even make a fake audience member you are writing toward as you prepare your speech. Even though they do not directly impact what you talk about, they should impact how you talk about it. Therefore, you must write your speech to reach that particular audience.
For example, if you are writing a speech for an audience that does not agree with you, you will need to bring more facts and figures to persuade them of your opinion. On the other hand, if you are writing a speech for an audience already on your side, you must encourage them to hold the line. To get to know your audience, consider factors like:
- Income level
- Pain points
- Questions they might ask
Step 3: Start Your Research
Before you outline or write your speech, you must know some facts about the big idea or speech topic. So perform some research, and take notes. See if you can find any new or surprising information in your research. If it was new and surprising, it also might be to your audience members. You can use this research to make the essential points of your piece.
Step 4: Choose the Right Length
Finally, know the required length of your speech. Speeches usually have time limits, not word count limits. You will need to know the desired length before you can start writing the speech, or you will end up with a speech that is too long or too short. The length of your speech will vary depending on where you are giving it and who your audience is.
Generally, a 20-minute speech is standard when delivering a speech to adults in a professional or academic setting. However, if you are a student who is preparing a speech for a classroom, you may be limited to three to five minutes. Sometimes speakers will get booked to take on a 60-minute session, but if you talk for 60 minutes, you will lose the attention of some of your audience members.
Remember, some of the most famous speeches in history are very short. President Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” was less than 300 words long and took less than two minutes to deliver. President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech lasted less than 10 minutes. However, knowing your speech’s length can be challenging after you prepare it. Generally, a double-spaced page of writing will take about 90 seconds to speak. Thus, a 20-minute speech will take about 13 typed, double-spaced pages if you type out your entire speech.
Consider using a words-to-minutes calculator to determine how long your speech likely is. Remember that the average English speaker speaks 140 words a minute. You may get up to 170 words a minute if you speak fast. If your speech is slow, it may be as little as 110 words a minute.
Step 5: Create an Outline
Now you are ready to start writing. Before you write a speech, you must create an outline. Some public speakers will speak from an outline alone, while others will write their speech word-for-word. Both strategies can lead to a successful speech, but both also start with an outline. Your speech’s outline will follow this template:
- Introduction: Introduces your main idea and hooks the reader’s attention.
- Body: Covers two to three main points with transitions.
- Conclusion: Summarizes the speech’s points and drive home your main message.
As you fill in these areas, answer these questions: Who? What? Why? and How? This will ensure you cover all the essential elements your listeners need to hear to understand your topic. Next, make your outline as detailed as you can. Organize your research into points and subpoints. The more detail on your outline, the easier it will be to write the speech and deliver it confidently.
Step 6: Craft the Introduction
As you prepare your speech, your introduction is where you should spend the most time and think. You only have moments to capture your audience’s attention or see them zone out in front of you. However, if you do it right, you will cause them to turn to you for more information on the topic. In other words, the introduction to a speech may be the most memorable part, so it deserves your attention. Therefore, you must have three main parts:
- Hook: The hook is a rhetorical question, funny story, personal anecdote, or shocking statistic that grabs the listener’s attention and shows them why your speech is worth listening to.
- Thesis: This is your main idea or clear point.
- Road map: You will want to preview your speech outline in the introduction.
Here is an example of a good introduction for a persuasive speech from Jamie Oliver’s TED Talk about children and food:
“Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat.”
This shocking statistic gets the audience’s attention immediately. In his speech, Oliver details why America’s food choices are so poor, how it affects them, and how we can teach children to do better.
Here is an example of an informative speech about pollution and what can be done about it. This introduction follows the template perfectly.
“I want you to close your eyes for a minute and picture a beautiful oceanfront. The sound of the waves crashing on the sand while seagulls fly overhead. Do you have it? Now I am going to say one word that will destroy that image: Pollution. What changed in your mental picture? Do you now see sea turtles with bottles on their head or piles of debris washing on shore? Marine pollution is a massive problem because plastic does not decompose. Not only does it use up many resources to create, but it rarely gets disposed of properly. We must protect our natural areas, like that beautiful beach. Today I am going to show you how destructive the effects of plastic can be, how it is managing our natural resources, and what steps we can take to improve the situation.”
Step 7: Write the Body
Now you are ready to write the body of your speech. Draw from your research and flesh out the points stated in your introduction. As you create your body, use short sentences. People can’t listen as long as they can read, so short and sweet sentences are most effective. Continuing the theme of the marine pollution speech, consider this body paragraph.
“You might be thinking plastic isn’t a big deal. Let’s think for a minute that you’re at the beach drinking bottled water. According to “The Problem with Plastic,” an article by Hannah Elisbury, one out of every six plastic water bottles ends up in recycling. The rest become landfill fodder. Worse, many get dropped in nature. Perhaps you are packing up at the end of your beach trip and forget to grab your bottle. Maybe your kid is buried in the sand. Now it’s adding pollutants to the water. That water becomes part of the drinking water supply. It also becomes part of the fish you eat at your favorite seafood restaurant. Just one bottle has big consequences.”
As you write the body, don’t stress making every word perfect. You will revise it later. The main goal is to get your ideas on paper or screen. This body paragraph is effective for two reasons. First, the audience members likely use water bottles, which resonates with them. Second, she uses a resource and names it, which gives your work authority.
Step 8: Use Transitions
It would be best to use transitions to move from each speech section. This keeps the audience engaged and interested. In addition, the transitions should naturally merge into the next section of the speech without abruptness. To transition between points or ideas, use transition words. Some examples include:
- As well as
- Coupled with
- Following this
- In contrast
- For example
You can also use sequence words, like first, second, third, etc., to give the idea of transition from one thought to the next. Make sure your speech has several transition words to drive it through to completion and to keep the audience engaged.
In his speech “Their Finest Hour,” Winston Churchill uses transitions well. Here is an excerpt from his conclusion:
“But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Therefore, let us brace ourselves to our duties and bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
Notice that he uses “therefore,” “so,” and “but.” Each of these transition words effectively moves the speech along.
Step 9: Conclude Your Speech
Your conclusion needs to restate your thesis but differently. It should personalize the speech to the audience, restate your main points and state any key takeaways. Finally, it should leave the audience with a thought to ponder.
Here are some practical ways to end a speech:
- Use a story
- Use humor
- Read a poem
- State an inspirational quote
- Summarize the main points
- Deliver a call to action
Here are some examples of fantastic conclusions:
- Here is an excellent example of a concluding statement for an inspirational graduation speech: “As you graduate, you will face great challenges, but you will also have great opportunities. By embracing all that you have learned here, you will meet them head-on. The best is yet to come!”
- A CEO that is trying to inspire his workforce might conclude a speech like this: “While the past year had challenges and difficulties, I saw you work through them and come out ahead. As we move into the next year, I am confident we will continue to excel. Let’s join hands, and together this can be the best year in company history!”
- In “The Speech to Go to the Moon,” President Kennedy concluded this way: “Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there. Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.” Many speechwriters say something like “in conclusion” or “that’s all I have for you today.” This is not necessary. Saying “in conclusion” could cause your audience to stop listening as they anticipate the end of the speech, and stating that you have said all you need to say is just unnecessary.
Step 10: Add Some Spice
Now that you have the basic structure, you’re ready to add some spice to your speech. Remember, you aren’t reading a research essay. Instead, you are making an exciting and engaging spoken presentation. Here are some ideas:
- Consider giving your speech some rhythm. For example, change the wording, so it has a pace and cadence.
- Work to remove a passive voice from your sentences where possible. Active speaking is more powerful than passive.
- Use rhetorical questions throughout because they make the listener stop and think for a moment about what you are saying.
- Weave some quotes into your speech. Pulling famous words from other people will make your speech more interesting.
- Where possible, use personal stories. This helps your audience engage with you as the speaker while keeping the speech interesting.
You may not use all of these ideas in your speech, but find some that will work for the type of speech you plan to give. They will make it more exciting and help keep listeners engaged in what you are saying.
Step 11. Implement Spoken Language
Writing a speech is not like writing a paper. While you want to sound educated with proper grammar, you need to write in the way you speak. For many people, this is much different from the way they write. Not only will you use short sentences, but you will also use:
- Familiar vocabulary: This is not the time to start adding scientific terminology to the mix or jargon for your industry that the audience won’t understand. Use familiar vocabulary.
- Transitions: Already discussed, but spoken language uses many transition words. Your speech should, too.
- Personal pronouns: “You” and “I” are acceptable in a speech but not in academic writing.
- Colloquialisms: Colloquialisms are perfectly acceptable in a speech, provided the audience would readily understand them.
- Contractions: We use contractions when we speak, so we also use them in speeches, while some writing platforms and assignments do not allow them.
- Repetition: Repeating words and phrases makes them memorable. This helps emphasize the main ideas and works well in speeches.
Step 12: Edit Your Speech
Now you are ready to edit your speech. Remember, spoken language is acceptable, but grammar errors may not be ideal. As you edit, pay attention to the length of sentences. Shorten any long ones. Also, watch for those transition words. Add them in if you need to. Remember, a well-written speech takes time. Put in the effort to revise and improve it, and you will be rewarded with an effective speech that is easy to deliver. If you still need help, our guide to grammar and syntax explains more.
Step 13: Read It Out
Now that you have written your speech, you are ready to read it. Read it out loud at your average speaking speed, and time yourself. This will tell you if you are within your allotted time limit. However, reading it has another benefit. When you read the piece, you can determine if it flows smoothly. You may catch grammar issues or poor transitions that you can change. Look for places where the speech may be hard to speak and adjust those sentences to make them more accessible.
After you update the speech, practice it again. Reading it, revising it, rereading it, and repeating it will help you create a speech that flows well. This process will also help you become familiar with the speech so you can deliver it confidently when your speaking engagement comes.
Looking for inspiration? Read our round-up of argumentative essays!