The writing process

So, you’re all set to write your speech. You have a blank piece of paper or a blank screen but where on earth do you start? Well, every speech I’ve written is different but one thing that remains constant is the process.

Gleaned from my 20 years as a professional writer, here are some tips on how to craft a memorable and punchy speech.

  • Brainstorm your raw material
  • Flesh it out
  • Shape it
  • Hone it
  • Fresh pair of eyes
  • Practise it

Jot down any headline ideas, stories or reflections that come to mind. Don’t go into detail at this stage and don’t worry whether any of this will make the final speech. You just need to generate as much potential material as possible so keep those thoughts coming.

Note: When scribbling ideas down, you might find a joke or story starts to shape itself as you do this. That’s great. Quickly write it out then continue brainstorming.

You’ve now got a collection of material about the Groom/Bride, etc. Great. But resist the urge to start putting this in order. The next stage is to take some of the ideas or stories that stand out and start putting some flesh on the bones.

Doing the above, you will have already found yourself subconsciously shaping some of the material. You will therefore find it is comparatively easy to put them into some sort of rough order.

This structure could be:

  • Chronological – stories about the person as kid / when you met / working together / the future
  • Thematic – hobbies / work / meeting each other / friendship / family life, etc.
  • A combination of the above

The longer you spend brainstorming and fleshing out, the quicker the first draft will be.

This is the fun part. As you’ve now got a rough draft, you can start having a play with it. Some simple pointers are:

  • Keep the language direct. Don’t be too flowery or ornate.
  • Lose the padding. Drop any words that don’t add to the joke, the emotion or the meaning.
  • Link sections with simple bridging phrases e.g. “And now we have to move on to…”, etc.

You have got your chisel out and are chipping away at your marble sculpting that great speech.

If you have time, don’t look at the speech for a few days then re-visit it. You will read it with a fresh pair of eyes and will surprise yourself at how quickly you spot lines you want to change or sections that are or aren’t working well.

Remember: time is a great editor. And it’s free!

Alternatively, you might wish to show it to a friend. A third option is to send it to a professional who can offer advice or a speech polish. As you’ll see on the shop page, I offer a speech polish service.

Read your speech out loud several times before the big day. You will instinctively find yourself adding emphasis to certain words and incorporating small pauses. This will give the delivery even more natural rhythm and flow.

The more you practise, the less time you will need to refer to the script or notes. You will often read the first part of a sentence and know how the rest will come. This will allow you to look up and engage in more eye contact with the guests.

If you decide to “busk it” on the day or “leave it to the moment” in the hope it sounds more natural, you actually risk the speech sounding more hesitant.

Practice makes it sound more natural not less.

To read or not to read?

There’s no shame in reading out a scripted speech. Whether you or someone else wrote it, it was crafted to be delivered in a particular order. If you’re a musician, it’s perfectly normal to follow the sheet music. It’s the same with a speech.

  • You will not lose a single planned word
  • You will not miss out any “thank you”s
  • You will know how long you will speak for
  • Less pressure – the hard work has been done, it’s all on the page ready to be read out
  • Have more than one copy. Keep a copy backed up on your phone or tablet AND a spare hard copy.
  • Don’t hide behind the script. Ensure people can see your face.
  • The more you practise, the more familiar you are with the speech, the more you will be able to look up and engage eye contact with the audience.

From memory or using cards

Some people prefer to speak without notes or with cards, allowing themselves the chance to think on their feet and engage more directly with the guests. If you are comfortable doing this, here are some things to consider.

  • Potential for more eye contact with the guests
  • Potential for ad libs
  • Potential to elaborate on or truncate a section based on the reaction
  • Kudos – “he/she spoke without notes!”
  • Missing things out such as important “thank you”s or a toast
  • That story or anecdote that has been worked into a single beautifully honed paragraph could become meandering with a flat ending
  • Misjudging the length –the speech ends up too long or short
  • Nerves – you will be doing the speech under “exam conditions” and your recall might not work as well as it usually does
  • Don’t do this simply for the kudos. Do what’s best to deliver your speech

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If you’d like further help, please visit the shop or get in touch with me. I’ll happily answer any questions you might have about a forthcoming wedding or after-dinner speech.

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