Writing a Speech – the process

1. Have an idea for a general topic – something that interests you. You can refine your topic later as you get more information and find out what “YOU” really have to say. Ideally you want to talk about a subject that you already know well and that will be of interest to your audience.

If you aren’t an expert, you want to put in the time to become an expert. I have a general guideline of one hour of preparation and practice for each minute you speak.

Note – I have a “new” speech to give in April and I’m starting to work on it in December. It’s 60 minutes long, so I’m going to need lots of material. I’ve never given this speech before so I need to put in lots of preparation and practice.

2. ALWAYS – Keep a pencil and paper with you to write down ideas as they come to you about your topic. Always be thinking about your speech as you go about your daily tasks and be ready when ideas come to you. You can certainly use a recorder also, just remember to move your ideas from the recorder to the computer.

3. On your computer, write down each note as a speaking point. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation – just get the basic idea down.

4. Start this process as soon as you have a speech assignment.  It’s never too early to start. If you procrastinate – you’ll get poor results.

5. As you write, be ready and willing to change your speech topic a bit. You will get insights that help you refine your topic into a more specific area.

– Albert Mehrabian – Verbal – Visual – Vocal

Visualize your opening – see yourself in front of your audience – try it out – what works – what are potential problems?

As you flesh out your speech you want to make sure that you write in your “natural” voice. You don’t want to write as if you’re turning in a book report. You want to learn to write as if you’re telling your story to your best friend. If you have trouble in this area, try using a recorder and tell your story, capture it, and then listen to the recording and type it into the computer.

My favorite book on the writing is, “A Writer Teaches Writing,” by Donald M. Murray. Invest in the book and take the time to go through it slowly. The 1985 version only costs $2 + shipping on Amazon!
Rewrite – there’s no such thing as good writing – only good re-writing.(anon)

One way I like to “write” is to initially use a recorder and give your speech or talk about your ideas as if you are talking to you audience. When you’re through, listen to your recorder and type in the good parts – leave out the junk. Usually my first run through is terrible, but you’re not trying to be perfect, you’re just trying to capture ideas.

Make sure you include at least one or two stories, personal if possible, which illustrate your point. It’s very hard for the audience to remember facts and figures, but if you do give them a well told story – they will remember that.

Divide your material into sections – is it  “A-excellent,  B-good, or C-fair material?
Make sure you have attention getting “A” material at your opening and “A” material for your closing, “B” material is in the middle and get rid of your “C” material.

Cutting – one of the hardest things to do is find ways to cut out parts of your speech to fit into your time period. For my Toastmaster speech, I only have eight minutes, yet it looks like the speech is going to run nine minutes – I need to cut out about 11% of my material.

Practice your speech by section. Learn each section well, then move onto a different section. A speech is just putting all your sections together. When you practice, do it out loud with gestures and emotion. Stand up and visualize your audience. If possible practice in front of a different group ahead of time and ask for feedback. Toastmasters is a great place to practice  a business presentation you have to give later. Don’t ask your best friend – they won’t be honest with you. Make sure you video record your presentation so you can watch it later and look for ways to improve.

Try and practice every day prior to your speaking date. You’ll find that you’ll change your wording slightly and even come up with new ideas to incorporate. If you can give your speech once a day for a month, when it comes to speaking in front of a group, it will be much easier.

If you re using a laptop, projector and Power Point, practice at home just as if you were giving your presentation to the group. If you have a projector hook it up and see what the program looks like on the screen. Are the colors ok? Are the fonts large enough? Practice looking at the laptop and not the screen. Also practice with your remote so you will know how to use it professionally when the time comes. If you don’t own a remote you might consider buying your own.

If you practice your speech in front of a group, make sure that you video record your performance. Many times you will enhancer your speech and do things which you have never thought of before. The next day, go through the recording and write down everything new you liked. Of course you need to notice things that did not go well and figure out what might need to be deleted.
One of the things I noticed from my practice at Toastmasters, is that for my closing I need to include a black slide or hit the “B” key to darken my screen. I want the audience looking at me and not at my slide.

While I usually do write out my speech word for word, as I practice each section, I try to summarize each section into a single phrase or word. You don’t want to read your speech to the audience, but want to be able to glance at your notes, see the next word or phrase and then talk about your next section.

Question and Answers
How are you going to handle questions? Let the audience know ahead of time. should they raise their hands to ask questions during the presentation or hold their questions until the end of the program? I like to include detail as part of my introduction.

You want your ending/closing to be the absolute last thing you do. If you do have a Q/A period after your presentation, keep your closing to after your Q/A period. You want to end on a high note. I like to do a quick summary and possibly have a humorous or motivational closing.

– Try practicing in front of a mirror and watch your use of gestures, facial expression and eye contact.
– Try using a recorder and listen to your voice – does it have vocal variety? I also like using a recorder because many times when I’m practicing a section, I’ll come up with a great line and will want to put it into the speech.

– if possible check out the room ahead of time. Size, lighting, lectern. PA, internet access, screen and it’s location, electricity, which room will they use, seat placement, etc.
– If you can’t view the room ahead of time, make sure you arrive at least 60 minutes early to check it out and go through your list and be ready to make adjustments.

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