Spitfire Strategies

So, You Want to Write a Speech

Great visionary speeches often have the power to spur people to action or to help them think more deeply about the issue you are trying to promote. Writing your own visionary speech doesn’t have to be a daunting process. Here are Spitfire’s top-tips for writing a great, cause-worthy speech.

  1. Identify your goal. Before you begin to write your speech, you must determine the goal. What do you want your audience to get out of your speech?
  1. Know your style. Think about how you want your speech to strike your audiences. There are typically two types of visionary speeches: imaginative and foresight. Imaginative speeches call your audience to action to help achieve a vision that you have set out. Speeches using foresight, on the other hand, ask audiences for immediate action due to an impending event. One example of an imaginative speech is President Obama’s remarks after the Trayvon Martin verdict when he spoke about racism in the United States in a deeply personal way, and his words – “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” served as the starting point for his call to action to end racial injustice.
  1. Pick your target audience and narrow in on your ask. It’s important to know who you are talking to and what points will resonate most with that audience. Once you know your audience, you can determine what it is you want them to do once they’ve heard your speech.
  1. Tell your story. All good speeches not only need a narrative arc – a clear beginning, middle and end – but they also need the elements of a good story infused throughout the speech. Remember to consistently reinforce the facts about your issue with visuals and emotional language. Make sure that your speech paints a picture that’s emotionally compelling and relatable. Include rhetorical techniques, such as dramatic pauses and engaging anecdotes.

    Mark Bezos, senior vice president of communication at Robin Hood, a charity dedicated to fighting poverty in New York City, did a good job of this in his Ted Talk. In it, he tells the story of an experience he had while volunteer firefighting. His language is simple, compelling and emotional, drawing his audience in and connecting them to the story through phrases such as: “Don’t wait until you make your first million to make a difference in somebody’s life. If you have something to give, give it now. Serve food at a soup kitchen. Clean up a neighborhood park. Be a mentor.

  1. Be careful of common speech writing pitfalls. While you’re writing, keep in mind that you are writing for people to hear you talk about your issue, not for them to read about it. Make your language simple, punchy and emotional. You want your audience to be able to relate to what you’re saying. One good way to tell if a sentence is too long: Read it out loud. If the sentence is so long that you’re gasping for breath afterwards, you should shorten it.
  1. Practice, practice, practice. Once you’ve written your speech, it’s important to take the time to practice it. Remember that strong delivery matters. Practice will help you to know when to take the right pauses, what words or phrases to really emphasize and allow for a punchy delivery that doesn’t sound scripted.

Now that you have the five critical elements of a great visionary speech, it’s time to get to work! Don’t worry – if you find yourself in need of additional support, we are here to help.

“This is a truly transformative program and there is no question that it is preparing leaders to be courageous communicators.”

- Colleen Bailey, Executive Director, The National Steinbeck Center

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