How to write a speech that's brilliant rather than boring

I love writing speeches but it’s always a challenge to nail the right mix of emotion and humour, tell a great story and leave the audience with something memorable to take away.

Here are a few things I’ve been focusing on to make the speech writing process easier:

  • Focus on one idea or theme. Great orators can juggle and weave five different story threads and bring them together with a bang at the end. For the rest of us, it’s best to keep it simple. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech is my favourite example of how simple, singular ideas can work so well. This brilliant speech makes a lot of powerful points but the single idea of “I have a dream” makes it hang together beautifully and makes it memorable.
  • Use your voice. It’s important to show your original thought – and clichés or hackneyed phrases can detract from that.
  • Write how you speak. When speeches fail it’s often because the writer has crafted a research essay, rather than a script. Always rehearse your speech before you deliver it. The writing should help your speaking to flow naturally and add expression in the delivery.
  • Don’t get trapped reading out a long list of thank yous. It’s boring and detracts from the main event. Keep the thanks simple, sincere and brief.
  • If you’re in a new culture, get advice on how to deliver greetings, thanks and farewells appropriately.
  • Follow your notes but try not to read it. My trick to delivering a speech without making it look like I’m reading the script is big font. I write my speech notes out in full but use bullet points in 25-point font. This gives me four to five bullet points on a page – about the right amount to juggle keeping on track with quality delivery.
  • Great speeches have structure, delivered through a beginning, a middle and end. Introductions and conclusions don’t need to be clever and gimmicky but they need to be clear and have meaning.
  • Jokes are great if you can do them well. But if you don’t feel like you can be funny then just focus on being sincere.
  • Time yourself. Know your word count. Stick to it. The audience and event managers will thank you.
  • Finally, don’t do or say any of these things.