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Seven Simple Steps to Writing a Speech

Seven Simple Steps to Writing a Speech

Last week, my bookkeeper called in a panic. Her son Nick, captain of his college basketball team, had just been asked to give a speech. In two days. He had no idea what to say or where to begin. He was freaking out.

Has this ever happened to you? If so, the seven simple steps we used with Nick will provide a process and framework, keep your stress in check, and ensure that your words are engaging and inspirational.

Step 1: Do not start by writing the opening lines of your speech.

Nothing will shut you down faster than staring at a blank page and feeling like you have to write the first words that will come out of your mouth.

Step 2: Identify the purpose and parameters.

Talk to the meeting host. Find out exactly what they need from you. Here’s what Nick told us:

Purpose: A generous alum had made a large donation to fund the head coach position in perpetuity. Nick’s job was to thank the donors and praise his coach on behalf of the basketball players.

Parameters: Nick’s speech would be five minutes. It should represent the feelings of the players. The tone would be professional, but there was room for appropriate humor.

Step 3: Brainstorm content

Brainstorm a list of everything that comes to mind about the subject. Ask questions and make notes. Be loose. Set your mind free. Have fun. Do not judge.

Note: Personal stories and unusual factoids often resonate best, so explore your memory and do some research if necessary.

Here are some questions we asked Nick to get his juices flowing:
  • What are your favorite stories about the coach?
  • Why did you choose this college?
  • Did the coach have anything to do with it?
  • Does the coach have a nickname?
  • Where are you, the coach, and the donors from? Do you have anything in common?
  • What are some common basketball phrases, buzzwords, and acronyms?
  • What are some funny/ridiculous things the team could do with extra money?
Here are some nuggets Nick came up with:
  • The donation was like hitting a three-pointer at the buzzer
  • The coach and Nick went to rival high schools. The coach once scored 30 points against Nick’s high school. Nick scored 31 points against the coach’s
  • Once Nick saw the campus and met the coach, he decided to attend that college and skipped visiting the others
  • On the college tour, the coach told Nick the weather is always warm (it is not)
  • The players would like to have a Powerade® machine in the locker room and travel to away-games by private jet instead of a bus
  • The coach is demanding but teaches valuable life lessons, such as teamwork, practice, and perseverance
  • The donors, the coach, and Nick all grew up in the same county
Step 4: Sketch out a framework

Once Nick completed steps 2 and 3, developing a framework was easy. It looked like this:

A. Thank the donor on behalf of the basketball team
B. Share a lighthearted factoid or two about the donors and the coach
C. Tell an anecdote or two about Nick’s relationship with the coach
D. From the heart, describe the life lessons the coach has taught the players
E. Thank the donor and coach again

Step 5: Put the content in the right sequence

Select the best nuggets and put them in the optimal sequence. Having a framework makes that easy. It’s like hanging ornaments on a Christmas Tree—move them around until they look their best.

Remember, the greatest works—speeches, books, and screenplays—didn’t come out perfect the first draft. Pulitzer Prize winner James Michener said, “I’m not a very good writer. But I’m an excellent rewriter.”

Step 6: Polish and Practice

Deliver your speech out loud several times like you would prepare for a championship game. It’s best not to memorize it word for word. That might cause you to stumble if you don’t remember which exact word comes next. It’s better to focus on delivering the heart of the message than the exact words. In Nick’s case, he had a printed copy of his speech and referred to it. This was perfectly acceptable and helped calm his nerves.

Step 7: Enjoy the ride

Nervousness is normal. The secret is to harness your nervous energy and ride it like a surfer riding a wave.

Academy Award winner Michael Caine said, “Rehearsal is the work. Performance is the relaxation.” Remember, the audience wants you to succeed, so when you walk on stage, pause and receive their energy. If you keep your focus on engaging and moving the people who came to hear you, you will surely be successful and get a rousing round of applause.

How did Nick’s speech go?

Nick came up with most of the content himself. The seven-step process gave him the structure and roadmap he needed to identify that content and deliver it in the optimal sequence. The result? Lots of applause and compliments. Even though he was shaking on the inside, everyone raved about how poised and confident he looked on the outside.

By conquering his fear of public speaking, Nick not only boosted his confidence, he developed a life skill that will serve him well in school, on the basketball court, and in life.

You can do the same.

When is your next speech? Send me an email and let me know how it goes!



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