How To Write a Business or Social Speech

Writing formal letter

Business speeches can be important when it comes to promoting a new achievement or product. To learn how to fully realize all the benefits of great business speeches, think about taking some business writing classes.

To write a great business speech, take these things into consideration:

  1. Your audience first and foremost. Remember that speeches are not just about something, they're for something. So ask yourself what you want your speech to achieve. Then consider the nature of your audience and how best to approach them to achieve your aims. When deciding on the tone and content of your speech, answer the following:
    • What is your relationship with the audience? Are they strangers, colleagues, employees, friends, family?
    • What is your audience mix in terms of generation/age, education, income level?
    • What is the audience level of knowledge of your topic?
    • What are their hot buttons - the issues that anger or inspire them?
    • What problems do they want resolving?
    • Are they resentful, supportive, undecided?
    • What motivates them?
    • Are there additional or hidden agendas?
    • Are your statements backed with facts or just opinions?
  2. Yourself. Your text should incorporate your own natural way of speaking in terms of
    • Vocabulary.
    • Phrasing.
    • Humor.
    • Verbal expressions.
    • Personality.

    Ask yourself if the words you are writing are those you would normally use in conversation. It can help to think in terms of their effect on someone who admires you. Being yourself is one of the best ways to enthrall an audience.

  3. Your opening words. The first two minutes are vital in creating a positive relationship with the audience. So it's essential you show respect for them. You should convince them that you understand their needs and personal priorities. If you don't, you'll be battling for their buy-in from start to finish instead of taking them with you from the start. For this reason, it's good to use the word ‘you' frequently.
  4. Humor can often break the ice, but that doesn't mean telling a joke. Unless you're really skilled, it's best to leave that to the professionals or the response could be strained and embarrassing. So why take the chance? Instead, tell an amusing anecdote or Google an appropriate or funny quote. That's the kind of humor that relaxes people but doesn't require them to laugh outright. And it won't leave you in the cold if a punch line's received in embarrassed silence.

    Here are a few other ideas for ice-breaking openers, particularly for business speeches:

    • Ask a question. How many of you have had electric shock? That's how I felt when I saw this budget.
    • Use a quote + question. Henry Ford said you can have any color of car so long as it's black. Have we moved on in customer service since then?
    • Make a strong statement of intent. "I won't rest until..."
    • Refer to a relevant historical event or nearby site.
    • Get the audience to agree on an unassailable fact.
    • Make a witty quote. "Confucius said that speaking to an audience is like eating soup with chopsticks. It's easier to stir them up than to satisfy their appetite."
    • Tell a personal story that gives you a personal stake in what you're saying.
    • Use self-deprecation. The more important your position, the more effective using a little humor at your own expense will help put the audience at ease.
  5. Use dynamic language. A speech is written to speak, not as literature. So:
    • Use the active voice. "We will change it." Not "It will be changed."
    • Use simple, specific, short words that can be easily understood. Usually the shorter the word, the sharper its punch.
    • Don't use generalities and clichés like "face the challenge" and "rise to the occasion." Cliches drain energy from the speech.
    • Use contractions - not ‘that is right,' but ‘that's right.'
    • Sentences should be fewer than 20 words so as to be more easily digested.
    • Vary sentence length to help add color and tone to your words.
    • Avoid jargon unless all of your audience is accustomed to it.
    • Don't worry about using conjunctions like ‘and' and ‘but' to start sentences or paragraphs.
    • Be specific and direct. Try to avoid modifiers like "arguably," "somewhat," etc.
    • Avoid pretentiousness and immodesty - the audience will sense it.
    • Use the ‘rule of three' - three words are invariably better than one two or four in a line: "Innovation, motivation, determination - the watchwords of success." "Speechwriters aim for accuracy, brevity and clarity."
    • Talk visually: "A desert state sweltering in the heat of injustice and oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice."
    • Take out every unnecessary word and sentence. The extraction may hurt, but the effect will be more powerful.
  6. End options
    • Business:
      • Summarize your key points, then restate your opening theme.
      • Use quotes, stories, etc. linked back to your opening.
      • If persuading, tell them what you said, why you said it, and what they should do.
      • Appeal to the audience's needs.
      • Make an emotional appeal. "Do we want our people to suffer this injustice?"
      • Call them to action. Explain exactly what they must do.
      • Remind them of the benefits that their action will generate.
      • Look to the future.
      • End on a positive, inarguable, inspiring note.
  7. End options
    • Social (weddings, anniversaries, B/mitzvah's, etc.):
      • Make it personal - Express your own feelings.
      • Pay tribute to the subject's qualities.
      • Relate a story or anecdote that summarizes the subject's personality.
      • Involve the whole audience in the admiration/affection felt for the subject.
      • Add a tribute when calling for a toast. "To Emily and Fred, the perfect match" "To Ben, on his great day."

And when it's all over, talk to people in your audience about your speech to see how well you got your messages across. Not your family, friends and supporters, but those whose opinions you needed to change or upgrade. It's the best way of ensuring you'll present even better the next time.  Taking some courses online in how to write a good business speech may also help you put together a great presentation.

David Block



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