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How to Write a Speech

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Compose a Speech That Will Captivate Your Audience

Jerry Seinfeld once quipped that the average person attending a funeral would rather be in the casket than deliver the eulogy. For many of us, the fear of public speaking brings on quaking knees, damp palms and an urge to flee. It's an adrenaline response that, communications experts agree, can be channeled in a positive way to turn you into a great public speaker.

Write a Speech Outline

Experienced public speakers can spend hours preparing for a speech that sounds smooth and natural. The first step is creating an outline so you have a road map for what you're going to say. Begin with your main points. Studies show that listeners retain only one or two ideas from a speech, so think about what you want your audience to remember. Use concrete examples to support your main points.

Practice, Practice, Practice

We don't speak the way we write, so make sure you read your speech aloud to hear that it flows. Several short sentences are better than one long sentence. Memorizing your speech can make you sound stiff and unnatural, but you must know your speech well enough that you don't have to rely heavily on notes or, worse, read your speech to the audience. Practice out loud as much as you can. Record a video with your smart phone and make adjustments as necessary. Are you speaking too rapidly? Does it sound as though you are reading rather than talking? Will your audience be distracted by nervous gestures, such as pacing or twirling a lock of hair? Practice will help you look and sound polished and professional.

Start Strong to Get Your Audience's Attention

If possible, greet audience members ahead of time and start making connections before taking the stage. When it's your turn to speak, stand confidently in front of your audience. Make eye contact with people in different parts of the room. Don't apologize for being nervous (even if you are!) When you know your topic well and you've practiced your speech, chances are you'll soon start to feel more comfortable and in control.

Make Your Speech Memorable

The advice of philosopher and orator Aristotle can be summed up this way: Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you've told them. Your opening prepares the audience for what you're going to say. Use an eye-catching visual or startling statistic to grab your audience's attention. The body of the speech expands on your main points. Let your passion for your subject shine through. Incorporate movement in your talk instead of standing in one place. Be sure your voice is expressive, not monotone. Finally, your summary serves as a review and gives you a chance to show people why they should believe in you and your ideas.

Create a connection with your audience by sharing humor and personal experiences. Use vocabulary and jargon appropriate to the group you're addressing. For example, if you are speaking to students at your son or daughter's school, you would want to keep the speech simple and use concise language.

The Long and Short of It

Unless you're the keynote speaker, it is generally recommended that you keep your speech to 20 minutes or less. It's difficult for all but the most experienced speakers to keep an audience engaged for much longer than that. If you're required to speak for a given length of time and discover that you're coming up short, review the content of your speech carefully. Will your opening catch the attention of your audience and introduce your topic sufficiently? Perhaps you can provide one or two more examples to illustrate the point you're trying to make. Self-deprecating humor and stories from personal experience can help you connect with your audience and make you a speaker they'll want to remember.