The Writing Process:
1. Sit down
4. Bask in applause
If only it were that simple.
The writing process for an engaging, compelling, and important speech is significantly more involved than sitting down at a computer and typing. Speeches take planning, research, creativity, and ingenuity. They take work. 1 Month, 1 Week, 1 Hour – no matter how much time we have to prepare, if we don't use our time wisely, mediocre monologues will take the place of our brilliant discourses as we squander our opportunities through ineffectiveness. Here's the Writing Process in 1 Month, 1 Week, or 1 Hour, compiled by me after reading the best material (see the 'reviews' page), learning from the best coaches (including speech writers and coaches for the U.S. presidency from Reagan onward), and most importantly after writing and presenting hundreds of speeches thousands of times to tens of thousands of people.
Note: this is not the writing process taught in schools.
Note: Ideally, carry out each step of the writing process at least one day apart. Sleep and other [fun] activities give your conscious brain a chance to recuperate and give your unconscious mind a chance to process and discover.
1. Set Goal(s). What do you want your audience's reaction to be at the end of your speech? What should they walk away with? This step could also be called Purpose – is the speech informative, persuasive, humorous, etc? A combination? Goals, however, are more specific than purposes. While your presentation's purpose might be informing the audience about the benefits of exercise or the intricacies of technology, these 'purposes' don't provide enough direction. Instead, set a goal: every audience member will walk away thinking about how exercise will benefit them. Don't just have a purpose; set a goal.
2. Brainstorm. Whether for a week or for a month, this is the most important step in the whole writing process – and the step most often scrimped. After all, most people are in one of two camps: they already know about the subject (and hence are giving the speech) or they know very little about the subject (and so need to research). Both logical, right? Wrong. Said Ambrose Bierce, “Logic: The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations of human understanding.” Here is precisely where the traditional writing process fails. Take out a pen and paper and write down, as quickly as possible, everything you know about the subject. Everything. Important, insignificant, relevant, irrelevant – write it. Dump it all out:
Once you've written everything you possibly can, come back here and cover the list again, forcing yourself to come up with one more item for each area – even if it is totally irrelevant. Use other brainstorming techniques: Random association, visualization, unrelated points of view, forced association (ask your significant other, or anyone else, to say a word, then force yourself to find a relation between the word and your subject). Brainstorming is best done in increments. Write until you can't write anything else, take a break, then write some more. Once your brainstorming session is done, let it go. It's all on paper. Mark exciting ideas. Now let the brainstorm clear your mind like sky after the thunder clouds pass. Set it aside.
Why haven't we talked about speech topics yet? Because, if you don't have a topic (lucky you! you get to decide!), it will come in the brainstorming session. Pick a topic you are excited about and want to speak on. Personal appeal is the most significant criterion. If you've been assigned a topic that you don't like, find something in the brainstorming session to make you like it. And if you're stuck, my friend Jim can help you out to find public speaking topics fast.
3. Question. Now think of every question you have about the topic. What don't you know? What could you know better? What gaps were there in your brainstorm?
4. Answer. Find the answers to the questions. First, take every question and make up an answer. You'll be surprised at how ofter you're right – or, if you are wrong, you'll be surprised at what ideas your answers contain! Plus you'll get some great humor for your speech. Once you've made up answers (yes, even make up answers for questions that you can't answer), it's time for...
5. Research. We've got a whole section on researching for speeches, so check it out. Find the 'real' answers to the questions.
6. Brainstorm #2. Now that you've answered all of your questions and are undeniably the foremost expert on your topic, brainstorm again! Don't write down anything that's on the original brainstorm – make this one new. Then bring both brainstorms together, because it's finally time to...
7. Cull. That's right, cull. Not cut, not thin, not edit, but cull. Get rid of everything that isn't important, that isn't brilliant. Choose the best phrases, the best ideas, the best information. Don't throw out the brainstorms, however. Just go through and choose the things that excite you, the things that will make your speech spectacular!
8. Organize You're down to the brilliant ideas. You've thought of everything it's possible to think about. Now, you take that and organize it into a masterpiece. Visit our section on Speech Organization.
9. Spin You've got brilliant ideas. Here's where you make them shine. Go through each one, examine the idea (along with the organization), and figure out how you can make it unique. How you can make it your own. “Mini-brainstorm” ideas to make your speech exciting, appealing, and unique. Here's where you also carry out Audience Analysis. Make the speech something that they like – but something they've never seen nor heard before.
And then, ladies and gentlemen, all that's left is to...
10. Write! After all the work we've done, it should be easy as pie (oop, watch the cliches). If something doesn't work, revisit previous steps. And always get someone else to review the manuscript! For more tips and information, visit our Writing Act section. And that's the writing process for a great speech in a month.
P.S. Don't forget to practice – you don't want to botch the delivery of such a work of art!
Ok, so you don't quite have a month. A week? Here's the optimal way to condense the full writing process.
Note: it's better to use this condensed process than to skimp on the full month process – it provides more structure for the brainstorming, which, while dimming your brilliance, won't totally douse it like cut brainstorming sessions will.
1. Organize Pick out a speech organization that fits your purpose, that fits the type of speech you're giving. See our Organization section.
2. Brainstorm Now that you know where you're going, jump up to step 2 in the full month-long version of the writing process. Be sure to brainstorm like it's the most important thing you can do for your speech – it is. Even with only a week to prepare, a full brainstorm is worth the effort in most time constraints. Why? What if you're not entirely prepared when you go to give the speech? Don't worry, because in the brainstorm you have mentally gone over every angle of the subject, and it will show when you speak!
3. Cull. Take out everything that isn't good and/or that you can't make fit your organizational pattern. If any part of the organization outline lacks material, go back and brainstorm or research until you find something good that fits.
4. Write. Even though it might be only a night or two before you speak, write the speech out word-for-word. You probably won't give it word-for-word, but writing it out ensures that you can articulate every point.
5. Spin Take your written speech and make it unique. Go through the points and make them funny, interesting, quirky, soft, loud, and anything else that will make it 'you.' Don't worry about perfection – after all, there's less than a week left.
6. Practice! Use that last night (or more, if you can!) to give the speech. Focus especially on the spin, because with a good brainstorm and perfect organization, there's nothing that can through you off! When you're on, all that's left is to bring the audience. Practice your spin.
And watch out for the pirouettes.
Ok, speech-time is now.
1. (2 minutes) Grab an outline. Visit our Organization page. And do it fast.
2. (5-20 minutes) Fill in the outline. Yep, fill in everything you can. Then flesh it out to where you think it won't be long enough.
3. (Remaining time) Practice. When you're pressed for time, the best thing you can do is recite your speech multiple times. In your practices, try to make your speech 2-5 minutes longer than it's supposed to be to make up for material you might forget. Or to make up for a mouth that moves faster than you intend.
4. (As you walk in) Breathe. Clear your mind. Build your confidence. Make those butterflies fly in formation. Give the presentation of your life.
The Writing Process in One Minute
Fun! See Impromptu and Extemporaneous Speaking.
No matter how much time you have, give it your all! The speech won't matter if you don't care - use the 'real' writing process to make it happen.