Here’s what you need to know to write a great speech


It’s an often stated fact that public speaking is said to be people’s number one fear – with death coming in at number two – yes you read that right.  The reality is, that at some point in your life, you’re probably going to have to write and deliver a speech.  However as they say in the military:  Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.   Get off on the right foot by following these six simple ‘rules’.

Understand your audience

Always remember, this speech is not about you – it’s about your audience. The type of speech you deliver will depend on the audience and that will determine the tone and style of speech you make. A business speech will have a very different tone to the one you give at your best mate’s wedding so think about your audience. We’ve heard it a million times before but in this instance it’s relevant – when you make a speech you’re taking people on a journey – so give them a head’s up about where you’re going and tell them what you’ll be talking about and why.


Deliver a powerful opening

Grab your audience’s attention early by starting with a funny anecdote, hitting them with a shocking statistic or even by asking a question and asking for a show of hands. The earlier you gain their attention and the stronger the emotional connection you create – the more likely they’ll hang in there with you for the remainder of the speech.  Authenticity matters and so do personal stories so make your speech relatable and memorable.   Check out Steve Jobs How to live before you die speech.

Keep the language simple

The best speeches use simple language and avoid jargon. Be human – talk to the audience as if you were talking to a friend. Use short sentences and write like you speak. What reads well on paper doesn’t always work in the verbal delivery. Read your speeches aloud and discard anything that doesn’t work – or that you find yourself stumbling over.  Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations used straightforward language but but it packed one hell of a punch.

Do your research

As you deliver your speech, your audience will be judging the credibility of it and of your authority as the speechmaker, so make sure you know your subject matter. Think about what you’d like people to take away from your talk and work that into your narrative. Limit your speech to two or three key points and repeat those points during the course of the speech. If you overwhelm your audience with too many stats and facts they’ll either switch off or they won’t remember any of them.  If you have to deliver bad or unexpected news in your speech make sure people understand why.  Check out Alan Joyce’s 2010 ‘Qantas grounding speech‘ where he makes the case for his decision (although he was widely criticised for it) – the speech itself ticks all the boxes.

Martin Luther King

Tell a story

All good speeches tell stories and it almost doesn’t matter what the occasion is. Think about what story you’re trying to tell and then weave it into your speech. For some occasions (for example at weddings or funerals) you will probably already have a wealth of stories to choose from. In business, you should link your new product or service back to the story of the company’s reason for being and its mission – paint a picture using words and walk people though the landscape. Authenticity matters and so do real life experiences. People won’t always remember facts and figures but they’ll remember a good story and it will make the occasion more memorable.

Keep it short

People have limited attention spans, even for subjects which interest them and after a while their attention will naturally start to wane. This is an audience so don’t make them feel like hostages. Rehearse your speech, stick to your messages and finish on time. Some of the most powerful speeches in history have been the shortest – like Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address which was less than 300 words.

It goes without saying that if you want to learn how to deliver a great speech, listen and learn from the best. Paul Keating’s former speechwriter Don Watson gives his tips on how to write a great speech here.

Finally practice makes perfect – take a deep breath, smile and enjoy holding the audience in the palm of your hand.  You’ve got this!

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