Updated: Mar 1
Your computer can be your greatest enemy when writing a speech. Too often, speechwriters sit down to write a speech and just begin typing at the computer like they would for a memo or press release. In the end, they get prose rather than poetry—a dissertation rather than a speech. There is a better way for how to write a speech.
Speeches are meant to be heard and not read, and they should be composed in the same way.
A better way to approach speech writing is to give the speech as you are writing it. As the words come out, handwrite them down or type them onto a computer. To make the speech sound natural you need to write down its words as you speak them: compose out loud for a better speech.
When you compose out loud you can hear the rhythm and the voice of the speaker. On paper, a sentence might sound brilliant but it loses its listener when spoken. You’ll find that your complex sentences full of semicolons put the speaker out of breath. Moreover, composing your speech out loud can help you keep a conversational tone rather than the corporate one that too often fills a CEO’s air.
When it comes to pauses, you’ll find where they naturally fit when you compose out loud. You’ll also notice that most of us don’t speak in long paragraphs—we speak a few sentences in a row and take time to pause before moving on to the next idea. You’ll know if you need a long or short pause in a section. When I translate the pauses into a Word document, I’ll use line breaks proportional to the amount of time that the speaker should pause.
Composing out loud can also help generate ideas if you’re stuck. I find that ideas flow better when I’m speaking them out loud. I can start and stop as much as possible and try to explain challenging concepts to myself or others. The ideas will flow faster and you will get to hear how they sound before deciding whether to commit them to paper.
One other benefit to composing out loud is that you can feel the emotional resonance of the speech. If the words you speak out loud move you then they are sure to move your audience. You will know if a section filled with information is boring or enlightening and whether you can shorten it or just cut it altogether. By just writing words without speaking, you’ll have to wait until the editing stage to know if they hit their mark.
For how to write a speech, my challenge to you is for you to compose your next speech out loud. You might look a bit odd when walking around your office saying your speech out loud as you write it. But that’s OK. Your end product will already have the right tone, rhythm, and emotional resonance, before the speaker even gets to practice it. You have to hear a speech to know if it will succeed—compose it in the same way.