5 rules for writing a winning speech

Do you read your speech out loud or use short sentences? Win over your audience with these tips.

As the founder of a speechwriting firm, Inkwell Strategies, I’ve gotten used to drawing a certain amount of interest from new friends and acquaintances when asked what I do for a living. After working in this somewhat niche profession for a number of years, I have come to expect questions about what the job entails, and even more frequently, inquiries about how to write a strong speech.

There are a lot of different ways to answer that question, but after crafting remarks for leaders in government, nonprofits and the private sector, I’ve learned that there are essentially five rules that all writers should follow in order to write a winning speech:

1. Read your speech out loud

Unlike almost all other forms of writing, speechwriting is designed for listeners. When reviewing your text, read it to yourself and pay attention to how the words sound and feel. Do they flow off the tongue, or are they clunky and awkward? If your phrases make you stumble, they are guaranteed to make your boss stumble as well. Just remember that good writing is not necessarily good speechwriting.

2. Simple phrases are your friend

Keep your sentences short and sweet. Compound phrases with multiple clauses may look great on paper, but are likely to confuse your audience and decrease the effectiveness of your speech. Limit yourself to one or two ideas per sentence, and express them as clearly and powerfully as possible.

3. Do your research

Before beginning a speech, make sure to familiarize yourself with the subject so you can write about it with confidence and authority. The creative aspects of speechwriting are only effective when backed by a strong foundation of knowledge by a credible speaker. The audience must trust your words in order for their meaning to sink in. If you’re well-prepared, it will show.

4. Mind the time

A man once said that the key to crafting a great speech is writing a good beginning and a good ending, and making the two as close together as possible. That might not always be true, but consider this: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, arguably the most famous speech in American history, lasted less than three minutes. Compare that to the two-hour speech given directly before Lincoln by Edward Everett. If I gave you four-score and seven guesses, could you tell me what he said?

5. Know your audience

Your listeners should be a strong determining factor of the content, tone and style of your speech. Before drafting remarks, think about who you’re speaking to, the venue you’re speaking at and the timing of your speech. There’s a time and a place for every type of remarks.

It’s your job to figure out when and where you are.

David Meadvin is president of Inkwell Strategies , a professional speechwriting and strategic communications firm located in Washington, D.C. He was chief speechwriter to the U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senate Majority Leader.

This post originally ran on DailyWritingTips.com.


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