Writing a Speech

Writing the Speech Body

Every speech should have one central idea around which the speech is built. If your audience remembers nothing else, they should remember this, essentially the point of your speech.

To support the central idea, your speech should have between 3-5 main points. Trying to squeeze in too many main points will just confuse the audience. Your main points should be clear, meaningful, and memorable and an equal amount of speech time should be given to each point if they are all of equal importance.

Once you have your main points, they need to be organized in a manor which the audience can easily grasp and follow. There are a number of common strategies for organizing main points:

  1. Time order- If you are speaking about something historical, someone’s life, or a process, it makes sense to organize your speech by starting in the beginning (first step, person’s birth, etc.) and finishing in the end (last step, person’s death, etc.).
  2. Spatial order- Just like it sounds, this refers to organizing main points by physical location. For example, a speech about visiting New York city might have the five boroughs as the main points.
  3. Problem/Solution order- Used mostly in persuasive speeches, the speaker presents the problem being discussed, then details a solution which addresses the problem.
  4. Cause/Effect order- Also used in persuasive speeches, the speaker describes the source of a problem and then speaks about the problem itself.
  5. Logical order- If no other organizational strategy fits, the speaker should develop a unique scheme for organizing the main points that will make sense for audience members.

The final consideration for main points is to find ways to transition between them effectively. Once again, as with the transition from the introduction to the speech body, the use of signposts (easily recognizable transitional phrases) is needed. Using numbers is a good way to transition between main points: “My first point…second point…etc.” or “First today….second today…etc.”. However you phrase your signposts, they should be perfectly obvious. Nothing about signposts should be subtle. Another great way to transition between main points is to use internal preview-review. This is a sentence which summarizes what you have just finished talking about and previews the next point you will cover. The next sentence on this page is an example of an internal preview-review.

Now that we’ve discussed main points, let’s move on to spicing up the language in your speech body. There are a few common rhetorical devices that can be used in this regard:

  1. Hyperbole – This is exaggeration for effect. It’s not lying, it’s for the sake of humor or to drive home a point.
  2. Allusion – This refers to drawing comparison between your speech and another literary work.
  3. Metaphor – An implied comparison between the unfamiliar concept that you are speaking about and a concept with which the audience is familiar.
  4. Simile – A direct comparison between the unfamiliar and the familar.
  5. Repletion – The rhythmic repeating of a key phrase throughout a speech. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream”, for example.

Writing a speech is vastly different than writing a paper. When someone is reading written words, they have time to reflect on each word and go back to previous words to enhance their understanding. Therefore, written language consists of much longer, more complicated sentences. Unfortunately, almost all of our writing training in school deals with written language. Here are a few brief suggestions for writing for spoken language:

  1. Deliver your speech extemporaneously, if possible. This means that you do your speech with a few written notes, but otherwise off the top of your head. This will naturally lead to a comfortable, conversational delivery style, free from long complex sentences.
  2. If you must write your speech use short, simple sentences and try to not to edit yourself too much. Write the speech as a train-of-thought exercise.
  3. Tell stories whenever possible. Not only do people enjoy hearing stories, they will sound natural and informal- exactly what you want.