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Good evening, ladies and gentlemen | Speech Writing By Helen Kohl Part 1

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Good evening, ladies and gentlemen

How to write a speech, part 1

By Helen Kohl

I write a lot of speeches for senior executives. For me, it was the logical transition from being a magazine journalist – grab your audience so they keep on reading/listening, lay out a case, then leave them with something tasty to chew on.

Along the way, I’ve picked up a few tips on how to write a speech that communicates effectively. Here are a few tricks of the trade:

  • Consider your audience. That’s my first question. A speech should appeal to the age, gender and values of those listening.
  • Help your client choose the subject matter. This is an extension of the above point. When working with clients, I set my own agenda to one side and weight what they want to say against what I think the audience wants to hear. Is this audience interested in your client’s business as a whole? Has your client been invited to present a point of view on a particular issue? Or would this audience prefer a little light entertainment before the main event?
  • Do your research. When writing for large organizations, there are people you can call for this. If not, you’ll need to gather together the relevant information from your own experiences, or from other people, books or the web. Whereever possible, I seek real life examples to illustrate facts. Success stories are my favourite. Examples to help illustrate complex topics are important too. (“That legislation had no teeth. So polluters flouted the law. As a result, Ontario suffered double the carbon monoxide emission rates throughout 2001.”)
  • If it’s a long speech, organize the material. I’m a linear thinker. If I’m facing 100 pages of research, I need to start by lumping like information with like information. Before computers, I literally cut and pasted information and glued it onto paper. Now I just create subject areas and throw information into them. I might then see I can pull together information on five major challenges in order of importance – and then the solutions. Or I might see that I can describe a problem, throw in examples to show why it’s a problem – and then five different ways to solve it, in order of priority.

The point is to create a logical progression of ideas – and IMHO, no speech should have more than five – all connected and each one flowing from its predecessory.

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