Last reviewed 7 October 2015

Speeches have different aims, and the audiences for them differ. Before you begin to write one, there are some things you need to know. Is the speech intended to give information, to persuade, or to inspire? Who is the intended audience? Val Moore, small business and education consultant, helps you answer these questions and gives some guidance.

Types of speech

The “informing” speech will be about giving information: an example would be a presentation to parents telling them about the new arrangements for the extended opening times, the new fee structure and how to book places.

The “persuading” speech may to be a local company to persuade it to block book and pay for a number of places for use by their staff. The “inspirational” speech may perhaps be made to staff about the benefits of changes and the new structure of the provision. The proposed speech may be a combination of these. Having been asked to talk to a local business group, the primary aim is to inform, but the speech could also be used to persuade the group to use the provision themselves or help promote the provision to others within their circle.

The audience

Should the audience be people who know of the provision (ie staff and parents), then there is little point in giving detailed information about it: they will have a level of knowledge.

Should the audience be a local company the provision would like to use its services (ie it would like the staff of that company to use the provision), then some background work on the size, type, background of the company and its staff profile needs to be done. The presentation will need to address its concerns and why using the provision will help its own business, personalising the presentation.

Having been asked to give a talk to a local business group find out more — ask the organiser who issued the invitation. Will the audience know much about the subject you have been asked to talk about? What is their profile (ie age, gender, business size). Are there any specific questions they would like answers to (often the audience has suggested topics they would like to hear presentations about)?

Writing the speech

While it is not usually recommended to read a speech, the preparation should be to write it out in its entirety. Write as you speak, this is not an essay. It need not be grammatically correct, but it will be human. Short, sharp sentences are better that a rambling monologue.

The basic structure is a speech in three parts.

  1. Tell them what you are going to tell them.

  2. Tell them.

  3. Tell them what you have told them.

An example of “tell them what you are going to tell them” would be:

This evening I want to tell you about our new extended opening hours: how to book places and the costs involved for places and hours not funded by the government. I will be happy to take questions at the end.

Then tell them. Take each item in turn and explain.

Then tell them what you have told them.

I hope I have explained about our new extended hours, the booking and payment procedures. Does anyone have any questions?

The first draft should be exactly that. Leave it for a few days and go back to it and re-edit it. Show it to a few people and welcome their comments. Take the comments seriously, but make your own decisions. Re-edit it and leave it for a few days. Re-read the speech imagining it is written by someone you do not like. Find fault with it, tighten it, and improve it.

Always avoid jargon, buzzwords and irritating phrases. The speech needs to be understood by an intelligent lay person who does not know the subject and who is not really interested. Avoid jokes unless you are good at delivering them.

Then lock yourself in the bathroom and present what you have written to the mirror. Speak it out loud; this will give a better idea of how natural it is. Some parts may be stilted or there may be repetition. Ask a colleague to hear you and mark on the script anything that does not sound quite right. Having had a couple of practice runs you should know the contents of the speech.

As mentioned above, it is not usually a good idea to read a speech (politicians do, as does the Queen, but they have had lots of tuition and practice).

Condense the speech onto a few cards

Write the notes on 6” x 4” cards. Clip them together using “treasury tags” so they are easily turned over and, if dropped, they can easily be picked up and are still in order. Avoid using large sheets of paper — if your hand trembles it will be far less noticeable with stiff, small cards than with floppy sheets of paper.

To get the speech under way, write down the first few sentences. These can be read and will give confidence to continue. Then, to keep on track of what you wish to say, mark down bullet points of trigger words that will act as prompts for each section of the talk. Write the concluding remarks.

On those cards can also be instructions to yourself: “Speak slowly”, “Smile”, “Pause”.

Using visual aids

If using PowerPoint or a flip chart, ensure that what you present is complementary to the speech. Do not have the same words on screen as are being said. However, the bullet points may help to remind the audience of your structure.

If figures are given, then these may be presented on screen to help the audience understand. It may be appropriate to make some information available as handouts.

Should you be yourself?

Yes, to an extent you should. Giving a speech (like writing it) is not an everyday occurrence for most of us. It is important that it is written by the person who is going to give it. It will have some of their personality in it, their phraseology. It will also be a performance, hence the need for practice.

William Penn (1644–1718), founder of Province of Pennsylvania, USA, advised: “speak properly and in as few words as you can but always plainly, for the end of speech is not ostentation but to be understood.”