The pat-down: Speech Structure
Writing a speech is easy.
All of us are capable of writing something down on paper, if we can speak it. Sure, it might not sound too good on paper as it is said aloud, but it works. It gets the message across, doesn’t it? But what if the speech you’re writing aspires to be something influential, even motivational? The tricky part we’re talking about here is speech structure.
As we were all taught in school, an essay requires good structure – ideas presented in such a way that readers find easy to follow. A good speech is no exception.
The journey to delivering a speech with great structure first begins with its writing. In a great speech, we expect to see a beginning, a middle, and an end. With a sprinkle of passion on top, these can easily become the foundations for a successful speech that lives up to your aspirations.
First of all, we begin with the introduction, where speakers try to get the attention and interest of their audience, set the tone, reveal the topic, establish credibility and good will, and preview the speech. Some common attention-getters used here can be in the form of narrative, humour, quotations, rhetorical questions or a startling statement. Generally, anything that arouses curiosity in audiences is also a good thing to go for.
Here, the speaker and his topic come under harsh light as well, because it is at this point where audiences decide: “Why should I care?” and “How is this topic relevant to me?”. For the speaker, this is very much a make-it-or-break-it moment. A good speaker knows this and will take advantage of the short window of attention to deliver the scope of the issue, the degree of importance, and subsequent ramifications in a way such as to connect the topic with his audience.
Say that those worked. Right now, your audience is fully yours to control, hanging on to every word coming from your lips. They’re wide-eyed, mouths agape with shock and wonder, eager to hear what you have to say about the oh-so-fantastic AI that will either drastically change the course of mankind or go rouge and make the Terminator movies a scary reality. It’s time to deliver what you have promised.
The body of your speech addresses the issues that were mentioned, to persuade audiences and present your ideas to be as appealing as your conviction. 5 points is the standard maximum, with 3 being the minimum. Bolster those few points with illustrations, evidence and anecdotes. Keep it simple and orderly. Your audience should be able to recognize and remember your main points at the end of speech.
To support your points, use a variety of facts, statistics, testimonies etc. that your audience can relate to. Of course, take care to inform but not overwhelm. Make sure each point is developed completely before going on to the next. If needed, summarize the point before making a transition to the next point.
At last, the bulk of the speech seems to be done with. You may sneak in a silent sigh of relief as you launch with slightly more gusto than usual into your concluding lines. But if your audience sighs along with you, then suck it back in, because you’re still very much back in the game. Good speakers know the importance of captivating audiences right to the end.
If they’re still as enthusiastic as you are, then you’re doing great! But what if, somewhere along the line, you’ve lost their attention? Fret not, because here’s the conclusion to the rescue.
A conclusion contains the main points in the speech in a summarised package. Ultimately, the speaker would want to the main theme at the opening, so as to reinforce and justify his ideas.
The goal is to leave the audience exhilarated, not drained.
A good conclusion can help greatly in this aspect. Try to wrap up with feeling as well as fact. Look for endings that are pleasant and upbeat, so that audiences go home feeling inspired. Alternatively, you may choose another direction, and end with impact. Such speeches leave audiences wondering and dwelling, sometimes for days at end. You could try once again using quotations and narrative to reach this point. Some speakers will attempt an appeal to action as well.
But watch out for...
Now you know the basic structure of a speech. However, there are still a few things to look out for. One of the biggest speech writing mistakes speakers make is in trying to pack in too much information into their structure. Think of it as a vanilla-chocolate chip-strawberry-banana-cookie smoothie. Just like how the sweet concoction gets lost in its flavour and could potentially cause adverse effects (think diabetes), it’s easy to become confused over what the speech is really built for.
On the other hand, other speakers shackle themselves to one tiny area of their speech structure for too long, and then try to wrap things up too quickly. Audiences can be left equally confused over a disjointed and the inconsistent pace found in such a speech.
Any time invested in working on the structure of a speech will definitely help you to be more powerful and engaging of a speaker. Too much detail and any good structure immediately becomes deadly. The flow of a speech has to be closely monitored for optimum outcome. A speech is not just a presentation or display of skill. Rather, it is a good way to persuade, to move your audience to action, and dare I say it – to change the world.