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April 2024
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Develop a Blueprint for Speechwriting

Build your speech like you would your home.

By Bill Brown, DTM

Sets of blueprints

Speechwriting can sometimes seem complicated. There are a lot of different working parts, so, yes, it can be complex. I recently made a list of all the categories that I could think of related to speechwriting and came up with 27. But that is far too many for you to worry about when writing your speech.

When I train speakers, particularly new ones, I try to keep it simple. And the model that I use is that of building a house.

When you build a house, what is the first thing you do? Decide what you want it to look like, right? How many bedrooms, how big of a kitchen, and maybe a game room for the kids (even us big kids)? You then develop the blueprints (the detailed design).

The next step is to implement that plan, which is done in two phases. You pour the foundation, put up the walls, and install the plumbing. At this point, you have a functional house.

The next and final phase includes adding the flooring, window coverings, and crown molding. Then there are the personal touches like pictures and your favorite colors. Now your house is a home.

I have found that it is easier to understand speechwriting if you break it down to these three categories: planning, implementation, and finishing touches.

The planning stage is where you map out what you want to accomplish. Ask yourself questions like, what is my purpose? Is it to persuade, inspire, or inform?

Also, what is my message? If you can’t reduce it to one sentence, you don’t understand it well enough to communicate it simply. Obviously, you aren’t giving your entire message in detail, but you have an overall message that needs to get through. If you don’t have that clear in your mind, it will not be clear in the minds of your audience. And recognize that often audience members won’t be as knowledgeable as you are on your topic. Make sure that is easy for them to understand.

Your job is to grab the audience’s attention and focus it on your topic.

Let’s now move to the construction stage—implementation. This is where you develop an outline for your speech. And before you do that, you should decide on an overall speech structure. Frequently, that involves three key points with supporting information, although there are many other approaches. Pathways Level 1 does a good job of explaining the options.

Your outline should include your main sections and all your supporting information in detail. While you may be tempted to write your speech at this stage, I suggest that you take a few moments to compare your outline to your purpose and your message statement. Do you accomplish your purpose? Does your outline develop your message? Or did you get off track somewhere? Revise your outline, if needed. Then you can write your speech.

Now it’s time to add the finishing touches. One key component of this stage is the opening. All too often, speakers begin their speech with some neutral comment like “thank you for coming.” While certainly polite, it is not all that effective. Keep in mind when you begin your speech your audience members’ minds are not 100% in the room, even if you are the boss. They may have a problem with a project that they are managing, they might be behind schedule on a tight deadline, or they might have just received a call that their child is having a health problem. In other words, their attention is split.

Everyone comes to presentations with divided attention. Your job is to grab their attention and focus it on your topic for the duration of your presentation. And you do that through your opening. My favorite ways to begin are to ask a topic-related question or to make a bold and hopefully shocking statement.

Next, work on your transitions between your main points. This is an area many speakers neglect.

And then, finally, practice your presentation. This is where you polish what you are going to say so that it comes out smoothly.

There is much more to speechwriting, but this is what you need to know to get started. Hopefully the house construction format has simplified, or at least demystified, the speechwriting process for you and made it easier to understand.


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