By far, the best way to learn how to write speeches is to read the great ones, from Pericles’ Funeral Oration, to Dr. King’s Mountaintop speech, to Faulkner’s Nobel acceptance address. But if you’re looking for some quick tips, here are a few things to bear in mind next time you’re asked to give a speech:
1. Write like you talk. There is no First Law of Speechwriting, but if there were, it would probably be something like this: a speech is meant to be spoken, not read. That simple (and obvious) fact has a few important (and less obvious) implications. Use short words. Write short sentences. Avoid awkward constructions that might cause a speaker to stumble. Tip: Read the speech aloud as you’re writing. If you do it enough, you’ll start hearing the words when you type them.
2. Tell a story. I once wrote speeches for a governor whose aide told me: speechwriting is about slinging soundbites together. That approach is a recipe for writing neither good speeches nor good soundbites. Whenever we sat down to discuss a speech for the first time, President Obama would ask us: What’s the story we’re trying to tell? Like any good story, a speech has its own narrative arc. For the President, it’s usually a slow warm-up, a substantive middle, and an inspirational end. That’s his style. Tell your story in whatever way feels natural. Tip: A good story can be a lot more powerful than the most compelling facts and statistics.
3. Structure matters. It’s usually harder to figure out the right structure for a speech – the order of the points to make – than the words themselves. The order of those points matters because an argument that’s clear and logical is more likely to be persuasive. There is a reason that some of America’s greatest speechwriters – from Lincoln to JFK’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen to President Obama himself – studied the law, a profession that values the ability to make a logical argument. Tip: Lists (like this one) are one way to impose a structure on a speech.
4. Be concise. It is said that Woodrow Wilson once gave the following reply to a speaking request: “If you’d like me to speak for five minutes, I’ll need a month to prepare. If you’d like me to speak for 20 minutes, I’ll need two weeks. But if you’d like me to speak for an hour, I’m ready right now.” As Wilson knew, it’s harder to be concise than verbose. But the best way to make a point is concisely, as Churchill did when he announced during a wartime address: “The news from France is very bad.” Next time you think you can’t afford to cut that paragraph you love, remember: the Gettysburg Address, perhaps the greatest speech in American history, is fewer than 300 words. Tip: Challenge yourself to cut as many words as possible from each sentence without losing the line’s meaning.
5. Be authentic. If you’ve ever given a speech, you’ve probably been told, “Just speak from the heart.” It’s not very helpful writing advice, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Once, when we were writing President Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention address, we got stuck on a certain section of the speech. The President advised us: Think about the moment we’re in, think about what the country is going through, and write something that feels true. It was a helpful reminder to stop focusing on polls and soundbites and simply say something we believed in as simply as we could. Tip: Sharing a personal story can help you find your voice and build a connection with the audience.
6. Don’t just speak – say something. When Michelangelo was tasked with painting the Sistine Chapel, he considered it a thankless job. He would have much rather spent his time sculpting than painting. But he used the occasion to paint perhaps the most revered fresco in history. So, the next time you’re asked to speak, don’t just write a speech, write a great one. A speech’s greatness has as much to do with its values as anything else. No one remembers the speeches of segregationists, though there were no doubt eloquent preachers spewing hate in the days of Jim Crow. No one remembers Hitler’s speeches, though few would dispute his oratorical prowess. Of course, Hitler, like the segregationists, lost. But it’s also because hope will always be more compelling than hate. It’s no accident that the best-known, best-loved speech in history – the Sermon on the Mount – is an articulation of humanity’s highest ideals. Tip: Before sitting down to write, get inspired by reading great speeches from collections like William Safire’s “Lend Me Your Ears.”
Adam Frankel is VP, External Affairs at Andela. Previously, he was Special Assistant and Senior Speechwriter to President Barack Obama.
In a persuasive essay, you want to convince the reader to align with your viewpoint on an issue. You will need to develop a series of arguments in which you provide specific evidence to support your claim.
Writing a persuasive essay is much like talking to a friend and trying to convince them to see things your way. By putting it all in writing, you are attempting to sway the thoughts of anyone who is reading the essay. When writing a persuasive essay, you should be very strongly opinionated in one particular direction, whether positive or negative. You can be for or against an issue, but not in between. Sitting on the fence will only cause problems when it comes to trying to persuade people.
Preparing for the Essay
Before you even start writing, you have a lot of work to do on a persuasive essay. You can’t write one without some excellent points to make and it’s essential to include evidence to support those points. This means you’ll need to spend some time doing research and investigation before writing.
Start with a handful of points you want to make. If you’re not sure which points you will be using in the essay, write down as many ideas as possible, then start to research them. Only the most convincing ones will be used in the end.
Decide on your thesis statement, or the point you are trying to convince people of. Every main point in the essay will need to support this, so knowing what you want to convince them of will help you choose the top three arguments to use. Each point should have at least one or two pieces of evidence that will back it up.
Creating the Outline
Once you have your evidence, complete with reputable sources, it’s time to create an outline. Many people prefer to just write the essay flat out, but an outline will help you keep it structured and will make the writing flow.
An outline should include your main points, along with the supporting evidence below them. With a good outline, you can simply fill in the information for each section and you will have an amazing persuasive essay.
Create a Killer Introduction
The intro to your essay will be where you state your viewpoint. Catch the reader's attention with a well-crafted intro sentence and then explain the issue at hand. You will want to provide some context, so have background information that you can present. This is where the research you did prior to writing the essay will come in handy.
Within this first paragraph, share your thesis sentence, or what you want to convince the reader of in the essay. This will set the tone for the entire paper, so be concise and clear. There should be no doubt about what the essay is going to cover. Take a strong position for or against the subject and stick to it.
Remember that the intro paragraph should not be too long, so condense everything into 3-4 sentences if possible. You want to give the reader a reason to keep reading, rather than reveal everything right from the start.
Add Supporting Paragraphs
The body of the essay will contain information to support your thesis statement. Each paragraph should give the reader a reason to believe what you're saying and to show the reason behind what you are stating.
Most academic essays are created using the five paragraph essay format. This includes the introduction, conclusion and three main body paragraphs. It’s an easy format to follow and generally works very well for a persuasive essay.
Every paragraph should start with sentence that supports the thesis and provides an argument for your point of view. The remainder of the paragraph should offer evidence that will support the first sentence. Use quotes, scientific or educational studies, and news sources that are reputable to give wings to your argument. Your paragraphs should be made up of sentences that are short and stick to the main point. Going off on a tangent is never a good idea when you're trying to convince someone of something.
Wrap It Up in the Conclusion
The final paragraph of your essay should be a summary of everything you've covered in the body. Restate your thesis and the biggest supporting evidence to drive your point home. While this section should be relatively short, it is your last chance to make an impression and to convince people to see things your way.
Tips to Help Persuade
There are certain methods to help incline people to believe you. These include:
Social proof, where you use quotes from people, can help your readers feel that they need to consider your side of things to fit in socially. It's similar to peer pressure and very useful for an persuasive essay.
Repetition is also a time-honored method of convincing people to pay attention. When you repeat the same information over and over again (in this case, your thesis), it will eventually sink in.
Exposing the problem and then going into great detail about how bad it can be is another method of persuasion. Once you have gone beyond the usual and shown people how horrible the issue can become, you will be able to offer them a solution and your point of view. More will be interested in seeing the end result when they realize just how terrible things can get.
The final step in writing your essay is to proofread it. Let it sit for a day or two so you can look at it with fresh eyes or have a friend take a look at it. It's easier to catch mistakes when you haven't been working on the essay non-stop.
Writing an persuasive essay is a part of common core standards, so it’s an important skill to have. However, beyond academic purposes, writing a persuasive essay is a skill that can help you in life. When it comes to making a sale, asking for a raise, or even just suggesting an improvement in your workplace, a little persuasive writing can go a long way.