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How to Write a Speech (5 Simple Keys)

I’ve spoken over 3,000 times to over 300 schools and mentored over 20 speakers in the last ten years. I also have 6 brothers, 2 Cats & 1 wife. Hi, I’m Jonny Shannon and below is my crash course on how to write a great speech. This is the 2ed out of the 3 part series I’ve done on how to become a youth speaker.

If you’re serious about writing a great message invest 5 minutes to get through this. By by the end, you will know more than about 90% of speakers I heard or come across in my travels. Public speaking is more than speaking. It’s about the writing process, communicating big ideas and sentence structures. Writing a good speech is more than moving from slide to slide but the flow of the entire speech and how it all wraps up together to communicate a major point.

Learning how to write is simple, but only if you don’t try to reinvent the wheel.  “Focus on the basic’s” is something I repeat to every aspiring speaker I’ve met. If you learn this system you will be able to make better speeches faster and communicate them better. Let’s go through the start to finish of writing a speech as you would write it.

5. Introduction to Self
4. Introduction to Presentation
3. Body
2. Structure & Flow
1. Conclusion

5. Introduction to Self

First off is your Intro. You want to introduce yourself in a way that is quick, relevant and personal to grab their attention & let them know you qualified to be speaking about this topic. A good introduction has the following:

Quick: 3 points maximum. Moving quickly into your topic shows the audience you want to give the topic the focus.

Relevant: Have you done anything relevant to what you about to speak about? Like at the start of this blog I quickly state why I believe I have that authority to write on this topic. People like to know the speaker’s background in relation to the presentation. I’ve found pictures on one slide is the fastest way to introduce yourself.

Personal: Let them know you’re human. Quickly state family, animals or other aspects of your life that others may be able to relate to.

Your introduction is really important because it sets the tone for the entire message.

If the audience has a laugh at the start and realises you interesting, personal and funny they are going to be more likely to want to listen to your message.

4. Introduction to Presentation

The easiest way to show value to anything including a presentation is to communicate the problem it solves. These are the 2 major ways you can do this. Hard Pitch or Soft Story. A hard pitch clearly Identifies the problem first. An example would be the following;
 
⅕ Americans suffer from mental illness yet, research shows over 90% of us do not feel educated enough to help in any way. It’s the largest issue in the country – yet most of us feel helpless to help. Today I’m going to go through the 5 top lessons I’ve learnt about mental health which has literally saved lives. 

Clear problem and clear solution. You will have an audience that will give you attention from the start if you start like this.

Stories are another great way to introduce a topic in more ways than one. A seemingly irrelevant story that keeps people guessing and links back to the topic at the end captures and keeps attention right to the moment of ‘reveal’. This is the best in my option as the audience naturally become quieter when hearing a story. It also gives time for latecomers to arrive & take their seat without missing the entire intro and causing disruption later in the presentation. My storeys are always in green which I’ll explain later. Example of one of my story introductions below:

When I 13 I wasn’t the best at making friends. It actually took me over 6 months to make one friend (called nick) and wasn’t long for him to realise he was my only mate. He walked up to me one day at lunch and said in his kiwi accent;

“Bro, you need to make more friends”.
I said “you’re my friend”
He looked around, almost shocked at how I didn’t understand the problem and said;
“I’ve got some friends which don’t go to this school. How bout on Friday night we all go mini-golfing?”

I was like “Yay! Mandate”. Friday night rocked around and Nick introduced me to his two friends. All I could think about was how much I wanted to impress them. We started but after 2 minutes Nick got bored and told us we going to play speed golf instead. The aim of speed gold was to get the ball into the hole as fast as possible. “Ready. Set. Go!”
I just bolted off running through the course, jumping over brushes, kicking people out of my way and before I knew it I was coming up to the last course which had a bridge that overlapped the last hole. I thought to myself;

“I’m ahead, nows my time to shine. I’ll jump off this bridge land on the green grass, do an auction roll and win the game in style!”
I jumped off and hit the grass. But the grass keeping going… I thought to myself this is wired grass… the grass just KEPT going… turns out it was grass at all. Do you know the green gunk up the top of swamps? Yeah. I jumped into a mini-golf swamp. Act out. 

I wanted to make friends so bad that I ended up doing one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done in my life. The reason I tell you that story is to communicate this:
I’ve found you can make more friends in two weeks by being interested in others – instead of 2 years trying to be ‘interesting. 

This is a story that lasts about 100 seconds, gets a good laugh, gets some emotional buy-in and shows the audience you’ll have to pay attention to follow along as links to points and jokes happen quickly and often. A good story is the best way to intro both a person and the topic.

3. Overview: Tell them what you’re gonna tell them

I’ve found once you intro a topic you want to quickly give an overview. The better you manage expectations from the start the easier an audience can follow along. Research has shown that people like following along by numbers and I’ve personally found counting down is the best way to keep the audience’s attention until the very end. Think Shark Week. Example. The blog your reading right now.

Another example: There are 5 Keys to Making Friends. I’m going to count them down. Numbers also allows the speech to have more freedom to be sporadic while keeping to a structure. I’ll explain this later in the blog.

Dale Carnegie was the author of “How to Win Friend and Influence People” as well as “Public Speaking for Success” and many others. For his summary on 5 quick for better public speaking tips check out the link highlighted.

2. Body Of Your Speech

So you have intro yourself and your presentation and communicate the structure. Now is time for the body of your speech. There are 5 key stages to each point known as the  Hook > Story > link & sound-bite.

Hook: A hook is a desire to get the audience attention and get buy-in before you explain what you about to talk about. It explains a little while purposefully not revealing the answer. Hook’s in my opinion the most important part of a presentation and also the one I see least used.

Story: Stories have been proven to be the most memorable part of presentations. Memory experts even use storeys to memorise numbers up to 300 numbers long. It’s also the easiest way to capture attention because as you explain something the audiences visual (imagination) part of their brain turns on. Overall I don’t see enough presenters use storeys to their advantage.

Link: This is where the story finish’s and the sound bite (point of the story) is about to happen. The sound bite needs room to breathe on both sides of delivery and a good intro. A simple link would be “The point of my story is this…”.

Sound-bite: a soundbite also know as the Call to action (CTA) or take away. The point of everything you doing is leading up to this point. To summarise everything into one sentence. Ideally, something easy to memorise.

Humour: This is not as much a part of the flow of the presentation as it is sprinkled throughout the presentation as a big part of delivering jokes is timing and cant be locked into a section.

Laughing has been proven to flood our brains with endorphins & oxygen allow the audience to get a burst of energy and allowing them to remember points for longer while also giving them energy for the next point. Humour allows a speaker to take people ‘up’ to a fun place so that when a ‘serious’ point has to be made (‘the down’) the contrast is that much more powerful.

Have you ever heard a speaker who’s just serious the whole time? Their points are usually not powerful because the listener usually takes the person as just being a ‘serious person’. Truly powerful speakers demonstrate a full range of emotions all while being professional for 3 major reasons;

  1. It’s the most effective way to communicate & contrast emotions to emphases points
  2. Demonstrate how humour can change emotions, people, situations and
  3. Be an example of someone who uses it professionally.

Example of all 5 points together:

Hook: When I was in school I found it really hard to make friends and fit in  – until this one thing happen that changed my life.

Story: Go through a story about how I tried to impress some kids so they would be friends with me but ended up falling into a mini-golf swamp, sprained my ankle & embarrassed myself. Joke (acted out) umped out covered in green gunk like a  sense from Jurassic park! (humour)
Link: If there’s only one thing you take away today it would be this it would be (pause for dramatic effect)…
Sound bite: I tried to make other interested in me – but found I could make more friends by simply being interested in others than trying to make others interested in me.

I use colours to highlight storeys, sound bites and jokes. This way if I look at a page of my script and see not Green (jokes) it‘s very obvious where I need to put more time into it. On the other hand, if I see too much red (sound bites) I know I need to spend time making my conclusions shorter and punchier.

If you average speaker structured their messages with colours they could tell almost immediately what they need to work on. A great speech will rotate between this structure numerous times before reaching the time limit and leading to the conclusion. Most of my presentations include an intro, 7 short stories, 7 quick links, 7 sound bits and 1 major conclusion.

I would recommend anyone whether writing speeches for years or if it’s your first one to master this process. I could go into the physiology of how our brains work and the history of all great books and speakers and how music is like speaking and needs peaks and flows and chorus’s to work but this blog would turn into a novel. Trust me when I say simple is better. 

1. Conclusion of The Speech 

Conclusions are when you summarise what you have gone through with the key sound bites & then give the final take away. For instance;

“Today we’ve spoken about a bunch of health topics. We spoke about;
– Making friends:  “you can make more friends by being interested in other than trying to be interesting”
– Mental health: “when we focus on the good, the good magnifies”.
– Bullying  “key to stopping a bully is not reacting”.

(Hook/Link) You use these keys I promise you one thing… (soundbite) They will open doors of opportunity and close doors of conflict – but these keys only work, if you work them.

Thank you for your attention” (audience applause. Hopefully!)

Final takeaways can include slides of resources you referenced and where to get further help. I have QR codes on the end of my slides of the audience can take a photo and be linked to the presentation notes and links for ease of use.

Conclusion: Practice the Speech

Once you have your good idea clear and your speech written out it’s now time to practice the speech. Read your speech out loud and ensure the timing matches the required length. Remember practice makes perfect.

I go through my 1-hour speeches ten times before I speak publicly. The entire process from idea, to mock-up, to reading and edits usually take me around 40 hours.We have gone through the intro to self, intro to presentation, presentation body, colours and the concussion. You now know to write a great speech with structure and purpose.

Now, all you need to do is practice 🙂 To do that you need bookings. Check out my blog on how to get bookings entitled: How to become a speaker or the 3rd part of the series called Qualities of a great youth speaker. Please let me know below if this helped or send me an email if you would like more advice on how to write a great message.

Thanks for your attention 😉

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Jonny has spent the last 10 years in youth work, speaking and interviewing counsellors on best practices.

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