Writing a speech

President Obama opening a campaign rally addressing a large crowd

Structure

A speech often follows a three part structure:

  1. a highly engaging and motivational opening
  2. a well-structured argument with several main points that include objection handling
  3. a dynamic and memorable conclusion

Language

The language you use in a speech will vary depending on your audience. In a speech to a professional audience, such as a business pitch or a talk to headteachers, formal language is most appropriate.

The purpose of a speech is often to convince listeners of a particular point of view. Language is typically persuasive.

Here are some persuasive devices you could include to make your speech more dynamic and memorable:

NB Examples are all from a speech against school uniforms.

Persuasive deviceDefinitionExample
Rhetorical questionA question posed to an audience, to which the speaker predicts the answer and gains support from the audience by asking.Wouldn’t you feel happier if you could wear what you wanted to school?
Rule of threeGrouping words or ideas in threes makes them memorable and persuasive.School uniforms are uncomfortable, itchy and worst of all, bland.
Emotive languageLanguage that appeals to the emotions.Many students are forced to suffer the indignity of wearing clothes that do not match their personal style for the duration of their school careers.
Handling objectionsConsider what your opposition might say and deal with it before they do.Some people might say that uniforms save time, however…
HyperboleUsing exaggeration for effect.Millions of school children every year…
AnecdoteUsing real life examples to support your argument.One girl in a school in Dartford claims…
Personal pronounsUsing ‘we’, ‘I’, ‘you’ to make your audience feel included.We all know how unimaginative school uniforms are…

Example

Here’s a passage from a speech by Barack Obama about climate change. Notice how he shapes his language to match his audience and purpose:

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves but to all prosperity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so will betray our children and future generations.

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgement of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, crippling drought or powerful storms. A path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult, but America cannot resist this transition.

We must lead it! We cannot concede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries; we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure. You and I as citizens have the power to set this country’s course. You and I as citizens have the obligation to shape the debates of our time not only with the votes we cast but with the voices we lift in defence of our most ancient values and enduring ideas. Will you join us?

  • the audience is American citizens
  • the purpose is to convince people to take responsibility for acting on climate change
  • note the repeated use of the personal pronoun ‘we’ within the opening paragraph to engage the listeners
  • he deals with objections using the phrase ‘Some may still deny’ suggesting that the opposition are in a minority ‘some’ and that their position is unsteady ‘may’
  • in the second paragraph, Obama uses the highly emotive language ‘devastating’, ‘crippling’ and ‘powerful’ to influence his listeners and to highlight the negative impact that climate change has had on America
  • Obama then ends on a powerful message, using 'we' and 'our' to suggest to the audience that they are all together and he is working with them
  • he uses forceful language and imperatives in the repeated ‘we must’
  • he finishes with a rhetorical question, calling the audience to take action