Writing Well: All the World's a Stage: Writing Speeches

All the World's a Stage: Writing Speeches

Jerry Seinfeld once made the following observation: “According to most studies, people's No. 1 fear is public speaking. Death is No. 2. Does that seem right? That means that to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than delivering the eulogy.” Jerry has a point, but you can lessen much of your fear of public speaking by writing a stupendous speech. In this section, you'll learn how to craft a speech that will suit the audience, occasion, and your own personal style.

Author! Author!

Here's another reason why it's so important to write a solid speech: Many speeches are printed after they have been delivered. In some cases, they're even printed before the fact. Speeches delivered at many different types of events, such as academic conferences, graduations, stockholders' meetings, and state funerals, become part of the public record. So even if you're addressing a small group, there's a good chance that your remarks might become part of the conference proceedings—and history.

First, we'll survey the three types of speeches: speeches that inform, speeches that persuade, and speeches that entertain. Then we'll explore each speech in depth, so you'll be able to write the speeches you need. Finally, I've included sample speeches so you'll have models as you write.

The Big Three

Some people can stand in front of a crowd and have them spellbound within minutes. What's the magic? Surprisingly, there's no magic at all. In large part, public speakers shine because they're completely prepared. They understand the different speeches they're called upon to deliver in public. They know how various speeches are organized, so they can write speeches that work. Now, so can you.

All speeches fall into one of three categories: speeches that inform, speeches that persuade, or speeches that entertain. These correspond to the four modes of discourse you learned in “You Got Some 'Splaining to Do, Lucy: Exposition.” Here's the shakedown:

Speech Mode Writing Mode
speeches that inform expository writing
speeches that persuade persuasive writing
speeches that entertain narrative/descriptive writing

Let's look at each type of speech more closely.

Before we continue, it's important to emphasize that the lines between genres blur when it comes to speeches. For example, even the most persuasive speech can be quite entertaining. Further, any persuasive speech must inform in order to achieve its purpose.

Speeches That Inform

This type of speech explains, reports, describes, clarifies, defines, and demonstrates. These speeches include …

  • Court testimony
  • Incident reports
  • Job training sessions
  • Presentations
  • Process analysis (“how to”) speeches

Speeches That Persuade

Speeches that persuade are designed to move your audience to action or belief. When your goal is to influence your listener, you're speaking to persuade. You can approach a persuasive speech from different angles. For example, you can use your own credibility to strengthen your argument. Or, you can appeal to your audience's emotions, reason, or ethics—exactly as you do in any persuasive writing. Persuasive speeches include …

  • Appeals for funds
  • Campaign speeches
  • Eulogies
  • Job interviews
  • Nominations
  • Sales presentations

Speeches That Entertain

Writer's Block

Don't make the mistake of thinking that entertaining speeches have to be funny. These speeches can be amusing, and indeed many of them are. But they don't have to be humorous at all. Match the amount of humor to the audience, occasion, and your own personal style.

Here, you're speaking to fulfill a social need, often to draw people together for a shared occasion. To accomplish your goal, you include the same vivid details and examples you would in any narrative/descriptive essay. Speeches that entertain include …

  • Address of welcome
  • Award presentations
  • Closing remarks
  • Dedicating imposing structures (buildings, ships, etc.)
  • Introducing a speaker
  • Retirement speeches
  • Toasts and roasts

Since each type of speech requires its own approach, it's time well-spent learning how to write in all three modes. Besides, you're more than halfway there, since you've already learned all about the four types of writing earlier. So put your feet up, relax, and learn how to write effective speeches that will have the audience eating out of your hand.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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