Speech and Presentation Writing should not be a “Fate worse than Death”

It is true that everyone is not made for the stage.  It is also true that, at some point in your life, and most assuredly at some time during your academic career, you will be asked to produce a speech or oral presentation.  While this strikes fear into the minds and hearts of many, careful preparation will reduce those fears to the normal “jitters” of unseasoned orators.  This careful preparation involves exceptional speech writing, and for this there are important tips that you can use to create an effective piece!

Speech and presentation are often used interchangeably and rightfully so.  Generally, however, a speech will use only words; a presentation may involve power point slides or other audio-visual media in addition to words, but the basic concept is the same.  You will need to have a perfectly prepared oral presentation if you intend to make your point and successfully accomplish the purpose for which the speech or presentation is created.

A Clear Purpose is the First Step

The purpose is defined by your objective for the speech.  What do you want the audience participants to know, to feel, to believe, or to do as a result of your presentation?  If you can answer this question, then you are well on your way to establishing a purpose.  Perhaps you want to impart important information or data that will alter their beliefs or understanding in some way; perhaps you wish to spur them on to some action; perhaps you simply want to entertain; perhaps you want to convince them that your point of view on a controversial issue is correct.  Sometimes the purposes meld together.  For example, it is not unusual for orators to use humor within a persuasive speech on a serious topic, in order to hold attention or to provide some relief from an otherwise serious and sometimes “dark” issue.  The point is this:  once you have determined the specific purpose for your speech or presentation, you will then be able to perform the important “test” for everything you include – does it support your purpose or not?  If not, don’t include it.

Stick to Three Important Sub-Topics

Before you even think about an introduction or a conclusion, you must narrow the content of your speech or presentation to three important components.  Unless you are giving a scholarly and complex presentation to a group of peers who share your enthusiasm for the topic, you are better served by choosing three most important points you wish to make.  Ranking these topics is generally the opposite of the written essay.  Whereas in the written essay, the most important sub-topic should come first, speech or presentation writing should introduce the sub-topics in reverse order, saving the most important for last.  This is because your audience will remember more of the end of your presentation than the beginning.

Generating an outline for the three sub-topics is important, for there may be a few smaller points with each sub-topic and you need to be certain that they are addressed.  Once the outline is generated, you may begin to write the actual piece. 

The Introduction

A story or anecdote is a good “hook” for an audience and will serve to gain attention immediately.  Barring that, an amazing or shocking fact can have the same effect.  Once you have its attention, of course, you must inform your audience of the topic and purpose of your speech or presentation.  For example, an argumentative speech presupposes that you will be taking a side on a controversial issue.  Introduce the issue with a personal experience or a shocker.  “Fifteen million children in this country go to bed hungry every night” is a statistic that will surprise most people and is a great start for a persuasive presentation meant to convince an audience that funding for Food Stamp and Free Breakfast Programs should not be reduced.

Make Your Three Points 

Beginning with the least important point of your speech, move in ascending importance, and save the most impactful point for the last.  Audiences tend to retain the last part of a speech more.  This is particularly important in an argumentative presentation, because you want the listeners to accept your position as their own.

The Conclusion

Dependent upon the purpose of your speech or presentation, the conclusion should serve that purpose.  If you have simply informed an audience, end with a summary of the most important points; if, on the other hand, your goal is to incite action, tell the audience what they should do.  You may have persuaded your listeners that families go hungry in this country, but so what?  They will simply leave the speech depressed.  On the other hand, if you give listeners specific actions they may take to help, they leave on a positive note, ready to take those actions.

Practice and Revise

Speech and presentation writing is rather like preparing an essay; however, unless the topic is a complex academic presentation, one’s language need not be as formal as it would be in an essay.  Once written moreover, the speech must be practiced.  Find a friend or family member willing to provide a critical ear to your speech.  S/he may have suggestions for improvement and certainly will be able to comment on the achievement of your purpose.  Practice more, until you are able to present the speech without the need to read from your script.  Seasoned speakers with great confidence often have only an outline at their podiums.  While this may not be practical for the novice, one should be able to deliver a speech looking more at the audience than at the paper before him.

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