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Words to inspire: The art of speechwriting

Few of the great and famous write their own speeches. They have professional speechwriters who do it for them. They may brief the speechwriter before about what they want to say, add thoughts to a first draft or the speechwriter knows them and their vision sufficiently well to be able to interpret that into a speech that best fits the temperament and views of the individual and the event.

If you’re writing a speech there are some things to keep in mind.

  • Do not be long winded, say it quickly, clearly and never use clichés, internet jokes or well-worn quotes.
  • If you use an inspirational quote take it from a book or books you have read, do not use more than three in a speech and ensure it fits in with the message you are trying to deliver.
  • Never have more than two or three key messages in a speech.
  • Keep facts and figures to a minimum or carefully spaced throughout the speech, too many too close together confuses.
  • Read the speech out loud, in an expressive voice (never a monotone) and time yourself.
  • Try and keep speeches to less than 45 minutes, 30 minutes is ideal with 20 minutes for questions. Theodore Sorensen in his book, Kennedy, gave guidelines by which President John F Kennedy prepared speeches. No speech was more than 20-30 minutes. He wasted neither words nor time. He rarely used words he considered hackneyed.
  • Highlight in bold those words you want emphasized.
  • Include information that answers "Who?" "What?" "When?" "Where?" and "Why?" If it doesn't answer one of these questions, leave it out.
  • Be very careful with jokes. They are best avoided. If you use a joke ensure it cannot offend and is neither sexist, racist nor could offend those of other religious communities or sexual orientation.
  • Leave out hackneyed words, such as "You know," "OK," and "All right." Leave out phrases such as "Let me be honest," or blunt, or frank. Avoid "In other words" or "To say it another way." Never say to an audience, "I'm running out of time, so I must hurry along."
  • Do not have a long list of people you want to thank. Keep those you name or greet to a minimum and give a general word of thanks. If you need to thank people, do it personally before or after a speech.