I was recently asked to provide the Valedictorian Address at my graduation ceremony, and I began a journey to find the best way to write a great speech. Through this and other presentations I have given, I have picked up a few techniques to doing it well. Using my Valedictorian Address, I will attempt to pass on those few lessons I learned.
Create an outline
Like everything you write, it needs to be structured in a clear and concise way, weaving one main thread from the beginning to the end. It’s much harder to start writing without a road map, so creating an outline will provide a nice visual for the direction of the speech and give you the confidence you need.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin.
Target market: Who are you talking to?
This one comes back to my marketing classes, and trying to sell products effectively. Before even considering writing anything, in all aspects of life, we need to know who it is for. I wouldn’t present a six hundred page business textbook to an infant, but for a University student studying a commerce it would be suitable.
For my address, I looked at the possible audience members. I would have young graduates like me who would already be bored from sitting in the hot hall for two hours. So, anything too deep or philosophical would be out of the question. But, in saying that, there would also be senior academics including the Chancellor and my own Dean attending. Thus, any speech being presented required elements of formality.
So, young graduates and distinguished guests: two very different crowds with conflicting needs. This meant a balance between the light-hearted jovialness of humour and academic reflection might be a requirement.
Purpose: What are you saying?
The next step is working out the purpose of the speech. This is usually not too hard to work out, as it is usually in the description for it. A Valedictorian Address is designed to give advice to their fellow graduate cohort by reflecting on their last few years of University. Just like a Best Man’s speech should talk the groom down, thank the bride for taking him off everyone’s hands and command a few laughs.
I find it is easier if I organize my speech into goals, and ensure I tick the right boxes:
- Reflect on the past few years as a student
- Make the graduates laugh a few times
- Provide some kind of advice
Once you’ve established who you are speaking to, and what you are planning to say, it is time to begin putting words to paper. Take a look at the second part of this piece where I’ll give you some tips and strategies to organizing a speech.
“I believe we all have a lot to say, but finding ways to say it is more than half the battle.” – Criss Jami.
Here’s a few great speeches from some regular people. Anybody can do it.
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