I wish I had remembered to say that…

How many times have we heard speakers say that?

It is easy to overlook key points or important arguments in the heat of debate, particularly if you are thinking about your body language and the reaction of the audience at the same time. Even when speeches are written it is all too common for pearls of wisdom to be lost during the drafting and redrafting process.

That is why I use a structured approach to speech writing and delivery. All of my own work follows a carefully considered pattern which is designed to ensure that nothing is left out and everything is in its proper place.


Short Speeches

For interviews and submissions to local authority planning committees, speeches are usually strictly limited to less than five minutes. For such short exercises the structure is relatively simple:

I always begin with a sentence I have memorised – the start of a speech is the point where nerves are most prone to strike. It is like the initial shock of diving into a cold swimming pool which soon wears off, leaving you to splash about in comfort. Having a solid sentence to cling to at this point is reassuring to even the most experienced speakers.

With a short speech there is time to make no more than two points and these need to be explained swiftly and with clarity. It is tempting to try to add more but the clock will be running down.

A memorised line is also useful to end the speech. Too often you see people struggling to find a way to close their remarks, trapped on the stage like a fly in a spider’s web. It’s not a pretty sight.


Longer speeches

For longer speeches, I adapt the same opening, middle and closing model. With more time available they can be made more productive.

The opening should always be used to build rapport with your audience. Time spent on this will pay dividends later on when you want them to accept your proposition. Sometimes this will involve humour, or just a simple statement of the purpose of the speech. The best way to build rapport is to emphasise common experiences and objectives, bringing you closer to your audience.

The middle can be broadened to include more arguments and to expand them. Statistics and data will give you more authority but they should never be over used. Examples are a good way to illustrate points, making them memorable and stamping your own personality on the presentation. Try to avoid quoting other people – the audience are here for your views, not those of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk.

The end of a speech should include a call to action. Being British means it feels unnatural to ask people to employ you, vote for you or buy your products – but it works. A good call to action can be boosted with some strong rhetoric to end on a high and leave the audience wanting more.


Really long speeches

Finally, for longer speeches I advise never to take more than twenty five minutes. Droning on at length is seen as a virtue in EU meetings and foreign summits but it is going to bore most audiences. A long presentation can be broken up with a question session or piece of video content to vary the pace and hold their attention.

Use of structure makes speech writing more of a science than an art but it ensures that nothing is left out and helps you to be your best when others are relying on you.