How to Write a Great Speech Without Writing a Speech

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No one likes sitting at some fancy shindig, watching a plate of chicken beginning to congeal in front of you and listening to some yahoo drone on with his nose in a piece of paper from which he reads a stultifying collection of platitudes and clichés.

It’s hard to read a speech and make it sound natural. As much as you like the crutch of having every word in front of us, if you’re not in the habit of speaking to a crowd on a regular basis, written remarks can come off as stiff and artificial. So, how do you make your remarks seem genuine and unrehearsed? Try not writing them at all.

With some practice, you can deliver a compelling, genuine, and seemingly off-the-cuff speech working off nothing more than a rough roadmap.

1. Sketch Out The Big Ideas

In a few words, jot down the three to five key ideas that you want to make in your speech. What do you want your audience to walk away with? What is the essence of the message you’re trying to deliver?

2. Use Concrete Examples

Your key points will land much more solidly if they are accompanied by a handful of concrete examples. Find a specific anecdote or data point to support each one of your big ideas. It’s not enough to say that philanthropic growth has increased substantially – give an exact figure to drive the point home. Cite examples of programs, initiatives, and events that embody your organization’s success. Tell stories about staff or clients who bring your mission to life.

3. Build Your Structure

Your big ideas and concrete examples make up the content of your speech. Now you need a framework to give it shape. Decide how you will open your talk and how you will conclude. Will your audience appreciate a little humor and levity, or should you stick to business? What’s the final, most important thought you want to leave your listeners with? It may be helpful to plan your transitions as well. How will you move from one point to the next? Does the order of your points matter, or do they carry equal weight?

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

Preparing a speech using this bulleted roadmap approach can’t be done on the back of a napkin ten minutes before you take the stage. It’s vital that you take the time to practice – and then practice again, and then practice again. Each time you rehearse, you’ll find yourself stumbling upon new turns of phrase and internalizing them for the next go-around. The order and structure of your ideas will become second nature.

In addition to practicing the speech itself, try summarizing your main argument in one sentence. This exercise works best if you have an audience who can give you feedback and tell you if you’re making sense. If you can paraphrase yourself easily, you’ll have a much smoother time delivering the extended version.

Taking this approach to crafting a speech may take slightly more time, but it will pay tremendous dividends when you’re finally standing in front of the microphone. Your speech will seem more genuine and relaxed, and because your face isn’t buried in a script, you’re free to engage more authentically with your audience.

File under Communications, Public Speaking

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