How to Write a Speech

Five Parts:Sample SpeechesThe BasicsMaking It EffectiveForming Your SpeechAfter Your First Draft

You may find that you are expected to speak at a public gathering or social event, and being prepared to speak at these occasions requires planning and preparing the text. Here are tips to help you plan and write a great speech.

Sample Speeches

Sample Political Speech

Sample Speech Asking for Donations

Sample High School Graduation Speech

Sample Retirement Speech

Part 1
The Basics

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    Choose your topic. A good speech is focused on a message, which needs to match the occasion. It should resonate well with the audience's interests, and it should be important to the listeners.
    • A speech for school is usually open-ended, so choose a topic that you are passionate about. Good speeches depend on delivery and the heart put into it by the speaker. If you are enthusiastic, odds are your audience will be, too.
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    Find purpose or thesis. Why are you giving a speech on this topic? ("My teacher told me to!" or "I have to" is not a valid reason.)
    • Thesis is the main point to emphasize. If you are writing a speech about an event in your life, what's your message? Your topic may cover your near-death experience, but your thesis or purpose could be advocating the use of seat belts. You need reasoning to back it up; "It saved my life" is pretty hard to argue with!
      • A good speech is made for a good reason: to inspire, to instruct, to rally support, to lead to action, etc. These are noble purposes -- and not merely to sound off; feed the speaker's ego; or to flatter, intimidate, or shame anyone.
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    Get organized. All good speeches require shape: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. A speech is not an amorphous blob or tangled strings of thought.
    • Body of the speech. State at least three points to support your argument. If they build on each other, good. For your first draft, you can make a list and pick out the strongest arguments later.
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    Get persuasive. If your points are illogical, don't attempt to pad them with other reasons. Make sure your reason is sound, and then you can try to add persuasive techniques.
    • Plato's appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos come in handy here. Persuade your audience to agree by gaining credibility (ethos) or by using others' (when you think of Hanes, do you think of quality underwear or do you think of Michael Jordan?) By manipulating their emotions (pathos), or by simple use of logic (logos). Neither is necessarily stronger or more effective than the others; it all depends on the situation.

Part 2
Making It Effective

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    Choose words wisely. When giving a speech to 8th graders, it's important not to get esoteric -- in other words, use words they will understand and appreciate. Cater your speech to your audience -- what do they want to hear?
    • That being said, what do they know? Don't waste time explaining concepts to them that they already know; or worse, assuming they know the basics and confusing them horribly. Put yourself in their shoes as you write -- what background knowledge do they need before you jump in to the meat of your argument?
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    Grab their attention. "Shake hands" with them -- figuratively, of course. Personalize your speech by hooking members of your audience. Build agreement with your topic and a sense of rapport with you.
    • Former Ambassador Robert Strauss used to begin his addresses like this: "Before I begin this speech, I have something to say." What's your hook?
    • Wear your sincere smile, even in your writing. Audiences will be able to tell. You may want to begin with an amusing one-liner or thought-provoking anecdote that can be connected to the situation.
    • As you're writing, think about what you would say to a friend. The more comfortable and open you are, the more your audience will feel drawn to you. Choose how you express yourself as if you were having a discussion with someone you feel at ease with, someone you're comfortable showing emotion to. A speech with "heart" is the most moving kind.
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    Focus on your message. For some, it's easy to get side-tracked or to try to attack too many things at once. Your speech has one message and it is the only thing that needs to be addressed thoroughly. Don't focus on the details or, what's worse, something completely unrelated. Your audience will be left wondering what the heck is going on.
    • Rambling will lose their attention. When you have a point addressed and taken care of, do not be afraid to move on. You have more points that deserve the spotlight -- give each its evenly-spread due.
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    Illustrate. Make your writing graphic. Your goal is to make the main points of your writing in the speech stick in the minds of your audience. If someone asks or compliments your speech afterwards, it'll probably sound something like, "I enjoyed the story Tom told about his sister," or "The pie chart of this year's earnings was helpful." They probably won't say, "Your second point in the body of your speech was well thought-out and logical." So think visually.
    • This can be taken a number of ways. If you are talking to your business team about the year's poor numbers, painting an image of their starving families to drive them to work harder isn't a good idea. Images should be used appropriately. If you're talking numbers, use graphs. If you're talking emotions, paint a picture. Know your context.
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    Think in pauses. The best actors are equally effective (if not more so) in between their lines. Write pauses, or beats, when you really want a point to sink in. People will automatically take notice -- looking, straightening up and cocking their head to the side and actually hearing the silence. Now that's commanding a room.
    • Speeches need to be natural - not read off of a paper. And when you talk, you have pauses. This is not slowing you down or showing your weakness, it shows that you have this down so well, you're talking about it like an old pro.

Part 3
Forming Your Speech

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    Start off with a strong introduction. Open with a big statement that will grab the attention of the audience. Remember that engaging hook we talked about? That goes in now. Dive right in, getting personal and showing your human side.
    • Opening with important remarks or quotes will immediately establish credibility. Just don't use Merriam Webster as your go-to expert; avoid cliches at all costs.
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    Use inclusive terms for individuals. Point to "our" things -- our team, our city/state/country, or our school, our class-year, our work, people, and product/candidate, etc. Your audience will feel more included and a sense of belonging. If "we" feel that way, they'll feel the pressure to feel that way, too.
    • In a speech by Nelson Mandela, he started off with, "Today we celebrate not the victory of a party, but a victory for all the people of South Africa."[1] Now that's a man whose oratorical prowess cannot be questioned.
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    Build the body of the speech. This part should contain the main points of the issue and support for each one. That list you made earlier? Narrow it down to about three. Which ones are the most convincing?
    • Start off with your strongest point. You want the audience to start off seeing zero holes through your argument. Get them on your side before they get the chance to nitpick what you have to say.
    • Put your weakest argument in the middle. You're sandwiching it here to make it the most forgettable. And, indeed, it will be.
    • End with your second strongest argument. You want to vamp it up a notch towards the end. Reel them back in, rounding out your argument with your last piece of evidence.
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    Be aware of your transitions. Build clear and sensible transitions from one thought to the next. The biggest mistake speakers and writers make is to assume people will follow leaps of logic -- place, time or changes of ideas. Spell out to the audience when you are taking a turn in your thoughts with phrases like: "As an example of this, we can see..." or "This brings us back to the larger problem of...," and so forth.
    • Transitions should not only go in between points in the body, but also after the introduction and into the conclusion. Again, your speech is one cohesive work, not a series of points that work independently. Show your audience that by transitioning clearly.
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    End with a firm conclusion. Conclude with a powerful nail-down, summarizing what you came here to say. Leave them with a question or thoughts of implications; leave them with something -- what do you want that something to be?
    • Repeat key ideas. Make the audience recall and get on the mainline. Be sure they leave with the ideas you don't want them to forget.
    • Give your audience a sense of completion in what you write. Bring them back to the beginning, but with a louder spirit -- after all, they have all the knowledge necessary to be passionate now, too. This can be done by starting the last paragraph with a strong, declarative sentence that re-makes your point.

Part 4
After Your First Draft

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    Deliver it to someone. This will be the most beneficial thing you can possibly do. Try to get someone that's as similar to your audience as possible. If they have a similar background, there's a better chance of them having the same impression.
    • Ask them for feedback. Did they find anything confusing? Unnecessary? What questions were they left with? Did they follow your logic and end up agreeing with you? What impression were they left with?
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    Monitor for clarity. Often when we write things, there's a much easier way to say the exact same thing. Go over your work with an eye for this. Take each sentence as it stands -- could you make it more crystal?
    • If you're not clear, you could have a good point that goes unappreciated or completely missed. Clarity is possibly the most important quality to look for in your work.
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    Ensure your tone is constant and appropriate. If it sounds like three different people wrote it, it'll be difficult to follow. What's more, if you slip into language that's condescending or simply over their heads, you're in an equally hard place. How will the audience find your speech?
    • Don't be tempted to get crass or nasty to get their attention. It'll work, but after you stop the finger-pointing and yelling, they'll tune you out completely.
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    Write out your final draft. Once you have all the content ready, get it in its final form. This is where you may want to start employing tactics for delivery.
    • Write in your pauses. Though the speech should not be directly read from, rehearsing from it with pauses written in will help you remember when you are actually delivering it.
    • Write in body cues. Though these ultimately need to be natural and can't be scripted, making little notes where you might want to emphasize a point with your body (be it with your face, hand, etc.) can help jog your mind in the rehearsing process.
    • Outline the speech on notecards. Since you won't be reading your speech, it's a good idea to have a written outline of the presentation as a reference so you don't leave something out .. like thanking the audience for their attention and the committee for asking you to speak.


  • End it: Let the final, forceful sentence be the natural ending of your speech. People remember the last point or emphasis; so hit it strongly!
  • Avoid a flat or pathetic: "Thank you" to signal that, "Yes, the speech is over". This is unnecessary.
  • Insist on your important points! Don't make any changes to your speech just because you think people will judge you (stand up to peer pressure). Make changes because you want them, and are comfortable with your edits.
  • Think hard before incorporating flip charts or a dry-erase board into your presentation. Eventually you may find yourself talking to your flip chart and not to the audience. The audience might be distracted by your illegible scribbles -- or watching you fumble with your exhibits. Insecure or shy speakers like stage props because they take the focus off them. Whatever best suits your situation is fine.
  • Each person in the audience experiences your speech as an individual. Speak to them as individuals, by using words like "you" and "your" -- instead of "all of you" or "everybody here"; it is more direct and compelling, and will engage each member of your audience, whether it be five or five thousand.
  • Start writing as if you are creating an essay or informative article. When you are comfortable with your draft, read it aloud. Listen to a recording. But, the style should be different than a typical essay or article. You can't have complex paragraphs that drone on. Rather than pack your talk with boring facts and figures, give them a supporting handout (after your talk, unless you have to present that document as such -- if so, then give it out beforehand). It's okay to repeat or revisit important points for emphasis.
  • Almost everyone can remember an early experience when s/he was obsessed with memorization, and reciting and suddenly drew a blank. It can derail a speech. Be comfortable with your subject and have the bullet points on a few numbered 3x5 cards, tied together by a string or special ring. Relax and don't be petrified about flawless delivery; people won't hold a slip against you.
  • Ronald Reagan had a rule that he would always bring an extra written copy of his speech in case something happened during the speech -- and be ready to give that to the host/hostess.
  • The type of event you are attending will determine the length of your speech. Consider that the average speaker speaks 100 to 135 words per minute. Below are sample speech lengths:
    • Standard keynote speaker: 18 - 22 minutes (est. 1800 to 2970 words)
    • Motivator: 12 - 15 minutes (est. 1200 to 2025 words)
    • Ceremonial speaker: 5 - 7 minutes (est. 500 to 945 words)
    • News conference: 2 - 3 minutes (est. 200 to 405 words)
    • Wedding toast: 2 - 3 minutes (est. 200 to 405 words)
  • Consider your audience's frame of reference. A simple way to do it is to think about: Who's in the audience? Why are they here? And after hearing your speech, what's the first thing you would like them to do or say to someone else, perhaps?
  • Who better to write your introductory "bio" (profile) to the audience than you? (This is not the speech-intro that you make in your own speaking). Before your speech, contact the person who will be introducing you and send or read them your suggested introduction. Unless the person is a total novice, s/he will be thankful that you saved them from the chore of drafting a personal introduction of you.
  • If you have cue cards, (pieces of paper/card with bullet points) then sometimes you spend the whole time looking at them. Don't make too many bullet points or cards!
  • Don't let the speech be too long. Conclude after a short while. The audience gets bored of long speeches.


  • Don't be a windbag. Time your speech in a few practice runs. If it goes more than five minutes you had better be a spellbinding speaker. The typical amateur speaker will have the audience checking their watches after about three minutes. Remember, Abe Lincoln only needed a minute or two for the Gettysburg Address.
  • Don't give a lengthy and boring speech. Otherwise people will literally fall asleep during the speech. Always have a sense of humor to liven up the place a bit.

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