Despite being one of the most common fears in the world, writing and presenting a perfect speech is far easier than you may believe.
I take every opportunity I have to give a speech. After giving the best speech of the night, you get to feel like a super-star. Everyone in the room makes a point to come up to you and tell you how much they enjoyed your words, it’s one of the greatest ego boosts you can ever get. Not only that, it’s an opportunity to set the tone, and make the night memorable. Nothing will make your best friend’s fiance love you more than by gracing her wedding with a perfect speech.
The best part: it’s not nearly as difficult to do as people may think.
How to write a great speech
Writing a great speech doesn’t require any special skills. You don’t need to know any fancy writing techniques or even have much of a vocabulary. Speeches are spoken, not read. This means the tone and style you need to use when writing is the very same tone and style you use when you are speaking at your best. It’s your speech so the only words you need are the ones you already have.
The first thing you need to decide on is the main message and theme. This you want to keep simple and emotionally driven. To be entirely honest, the most common theme for all speeches is love. Love is the most powerful positive emotion in the world, the perfect anchor for a legendary speech.
Even if the speech is for something less personal, like the retirement of a fellow employee, love is likely still the best choice for your main theme. Love for the business, the friendship, and the hardships overcome. If you want to make people feel, the trademark of every great speech, then love is your solution. To be entirely honest, using any other emotion for your anchor is going to be far more difficult. If you really can’t see a way to make love work, hope is the most powerful, but more difficult, alternative. From Churchill’s blood, toil, tears, and sweat; to Dr. King’s legendary dream, some of the greatest speeches of all time are anchored around hope.
Now there is no correct way to write a speech, but I will advise you to avoid trying too hard to be funny. Humor is the easiest thing to be average at, but the hardest thing to do well. If you want to have success, you are going to want to speak from the heart. Here is the basic framework on which just about all of my speeches are based.
- Get everyone’s attention.
- Introduce yourself with a quick joke.
- Explain the purpose of your speech.
- Hint at what you’re actually going to talk about.
- Say something nice, or funny, or insightful. Interesting, but not emotional.
- Pull out the rug.
- make your main point.
- End gracefully
Again, there are no rules to how you structure your speech, but you need to understand what you are actually doing up there. A speech is an attempt at emotionally manipulating the entire audience. You are there to make them feel and react, and that’s best done by doing the unexpected. A typical joke you will tell your buddies has a set up and a punch line. But the best comedians get bigger laughs, because their structure is unexpected, difficult to anticipate: set up, false punch line, actual punch line.
The false punch line disarms you for the true punchline of the joke. This is the purpose of my structure, you set them up for what they think they are going to get, but you deliver something else.
The best way for me to show how this works is to actually do it. I’m going to write out a speech now, and the copy you are about to read is unedited and unrevised. You will be reading my first working copy, before my first cold read.
Once it’s written I am going to explain the process of how to revise and deliver a speech. And to show you just how easy it really is, I am going to film that part and let you watch the process. Since I have nothing I need to write a speech for, I am just going to make up a scenario and say that my friend is getting married, and has asked me to be the best man. So a real speech, written about a real person, for a fake event.
My best man speech
1 – Get everyone’s attention
Ladies and getlemen, it’s time for me to make a toast. If you do not have a glass pick one up.
2 – Introduce yourself with a quick joke
Hello. My name is Sean Lind, and I am the best man to be invited to this wedding. To be entirely honest, I won the honors of this role, not by actually being the best man of even the best friend to Chris, the truth is, none of his other friends were willing to make a speech.
3 – Explain the purpose of your speech
Half of you in this room know Chris as well, or far better than I do. A lot of you are family, and have been near his side for his entire life. But the other half of this room is filled with the wonderful friends and family of the bride. It is for you I am giving this speech, a five-minute crash course on the trainwreck of a human who just married into your family. That’s why these speeches happen after the ceremony, you’re already agreed to forever hold your piece.
4 – Hint at what you’re actually going to talk about.
I am going to tell you all about the Chris I know, and if you take a look over at him right now, you can see him literally shaking with fright. I know too much, I know the truth. I’m a brutally honest person, and I do my best to be objective, so believe me when I say this: nothing I am about to say is embellished in any way. If anything, I will be holding back. These are nothing but the facts.
5 – Say something nice, or funny, or insightful. Interesting, but not emotional.
If you have spent any time around him over the last few days, you may have noticed times when Chris was a little… irritable. What you might not know is that his current irritability and anger is about one millionth as severe as it was about a decade ago. I have never seen one person go from perfectly happy and calm to a rage-filled psychosis as quickly, or as frequently, as young-adult Chris. It used to be so bad that most of his friends were always too scared to push him when he was having a fit. Always worried about setting him off.
I on the other hand thought it was hilarious, and would do everything I could to see just how angry he could get. I once watched attack his parents microwave at lunch time, first with his fist, and when that wasn’t breaking things quickly enough with the butt of a steel butter knife, until the door was shattered and limping from the hinges.
What had set him off, you ask? Well the button didn’t open the door when his burrito was warm, naturally. The best moment wasn’t the violent attack of a kitchen appliance, it was when the door finally gave way and swung open, Chris calmly reached into the microwave, grabbed his burrito and called out, totally calm “Mooooooom. Someone broke the microwave.”
Being a teenager with Chris around was always a trip. Everyone loves him, all the girls especially, but in his mind this abundance of love and admiration was almost confusing. He has never once thought of himself as special. He has as many flaws, if not more, than most, and all he ever did was try his best.
6 – Pull out the rug
The truth is, this abundance of love directed at him was the direct result of the endless love and compassion he puts out into the world. I have never, and I mean never, fought more or been more upset with and by another human than Chris. No one has ever angered me more than he has, yet I will not hesitate to call him the greatest man I know.
There is not a fraction of doubt in my mind that Chris would do anything in his power for the ones he love. I know he would die for me, kill for me even. Despite being the most compassionate man I have ever met, he will never sacrifice his most important morals, the main one being that there is nothing you shouldn’t be willing to do for someone you love. He would sacrifice everything if he felt the need, and he would never ask for anything in return.
His fierce loyalty, and endless love, is the reason while, even in the most heated moments of argument, I never stop feeling the love I have for the man he his. I could never show him the respect and love I believe he deserves, and the craziest part of it all is he doesn’t even think he’s anything more than a guy who tries to be a good friend.
7 – make your main point
I can say, with absolute honesty, that this woman could not have found a better man to share her life with. She will never find a man who is capable of loving her to the same degree as Chris. You are all now his family by proxy, you have all now gained one of the greatest friends you could ever hope for. I love Chris, and the only thing I knew about his bride was that he loved her, I wouldn’t hesitate to give her the love and respect I give my own sister. I may be the best man in title, but I am far from being the best man in this room.
8 – End gracefully
I want every single one of you to raise your glass.
To love! Congratulations to you both.
How to deliver a great speech
Now that you have a speech written, it’s time to start refining it and working on your delivery. The easiest way to do this is to do as follows:
- Read your speech out loud and make notes every time you stumble or things just don’t sound right.
- Fix those areas, and read it again.
- Repeat this process until you are satisfied you don’t need to make any more changes.
- Now read, out loud, your speech from top to bottom until you can say it all confidently, without stumbling at any point. If you do stumble read that one section out loud a few times in a row, then start over.
You will have to read over your speech around ten times, in a row. This is the most important part of delivering a speech. When you think “that’s it, I’ve got it!” go over it three more times. It’s painful and boring, but this is the difference between having a good speech, and having the best speech of the night.
Here is a video of me going through this exact process. You will see the first ever read through, stumbles and all, followed by a fast-forwarded edit of all the work in the middle, finishing with a final read through. The idea is to show you the difference this work makes
The somewhat abrupt ending was due to my battery dying. Luckily that was a solid read through, finally one I was happy with. If I was actually reading this speech out loud, I would now go over it three more times. And then I would read it at least once every day until the day before the event, where I would read it again at least three times.
On the day, as close to the speech as possible, I would read through it at least three more times. By the time I get up to the microphone I will no longer even need the paper. That is the kind of confidence you need to deliver a great speech. It has little to do with any sort of talent, and just comes down to hard work. The harder it is for you to speak well in front of people, the harder you will have to work to overcome that.
But if you follow these tips, I can guarantee your speech will be one of the evening’s highlites.