Writing a speech

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  1. General tips for writing a speech for your MP 

This is not a guide to rhetoric. It is not a guide on how to turn your MP into a renowned orator. This is simply a guide to researching a speech and putting it together in a way that is suitable for your MP.

Your Member will have views on how they want a speech prepared. Some will want bullet points, some will want statistics and some will want a speech in full.

Preparing the ground

When you are writing a speech for your MP, the first thing to do is to gather together as much information as possible on the subject. How do you do this?

  • Phone the library (x6767) and ask for the research officer who deals with your subject area. Ask them to send copies of recent research papers that have been written on the subject of the speech or any other relevant information they have to hand.
  • Obtain copies of other debates and Questions on the subject area. Use the Parliamentary intranet to download the extracts from Hansard.
  • Use an Internet search to find any useful websites that might give you useful information or point you in the right direction for the speech content.
  • Are there any professional bodies, pressure groups, NGOs etc that have views on the subject and would provide a briefing?
  • Look at the newspaper websites for recent reports on the subject.
  • Try to find an angle that relates to your Member’s constituency.

When you have all this information, sift through it to get only the most relevant parts to include in the finished product. If there is an interested body prepared to help, don’t be shy about asking them to write the first draft of the speech. But never hand over that draft without adapting it to your Member’s priorities and idiosyncrasies.

The aim of the speech

Then think of the aim of the speech: whom are you trying to persuade? And what are you trying to persuade them? Think about your use of the information you have recovered: will you seek to persuade the audience with a fact-based speech? Or will you try to persuade them through lofty rhetoric? Other things that you should find out: how should you address the audience (‘My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen’ or ‘Dear friends of Ray Lodge Primary School’)? How long should the speech be? Will there be a supplementary speech, responding to another speaker? Are there multiple audiences? If it is a speech in Parliament, what is the one line that encapsulates the message that you will send the media as a quote from the speech?

Writing the speech

Now you are ready to start writing. What should you do before scribbling away?  First, think of the audience for the speech: you should not adopt the same tone for a speech to parents and teachers in the local primary school as you would for a speech in the House of Commons. In the Commons there are specific conventions about how certain people and places are described. The best way to learn these conventions is to attend debates, watch them on television and read them in Hansard.

Some examples of Parliamentary Language

Honourable Member for… To describe a Member
My Honourable friend In reference to an MP from the same Party
Honourable and Learned A Member who is also a Barrister
This Place The House of Commons
The Other Place The House of Lords

So now, start writing. Try to write in the same style as your MP’s past speeches. Start off by introducing the subject (although it may be that you can assume some prior knowledge in your audience). The middle of the speech should explain your point of view, using the information obtained earlier. When summing up, you should briefly restate your arguments and leave your audience with one lasting image in their minds. Remember that the conclusion is the one part of the speech that everybody will carry away with them: make it memorable, and make sure that the audience understand the main theme of the speech.

Finalising the speech

After writing the speech, read through again and again. A first draft always tends to be longer than the finished article, so don’t be afraid to gut the speech. Finally, read it aloud to yourself: what would you think if you heard it? Would you be persuaded? If you would be, the chances are that the audience will be. Check it again against your basic criteria (timing, forms of address etc.). If it fits, your work is done!

Layout

It needs to be easily read, so be prepared to write in very large text and with a paragraph break between each sentence. Page breaks should go at the end of each paragraph and always number the pages in case the sheets are dropped at the last minute. Collate the sheets with a paperclip – not with a stapler.

Final warning

You won’t always have much notice before writing a speech. I once had three hours to write a 7 minute speech on the Railways and Transport Safety Bill – a subject on which I knew very little. By the time the speech was finished, my Member was in her seat in the Chamber and a doorkeeper had to deliver it to her. It is good to get the adrenaline pumping once in a while.

2. Writing a speech for Conference 

Here are some handy hints to writing speeches for your MP if he or she is taking to the rostrum at the Party Conference – or anywhere else for that matter. A great speech at Conference can have a long lasting impact, as well as being a fantastic boost to your boss’s confidence, especially if it’s their first time. But of course a bad speech can be plain embarrassing, and will be remembered – and dredged up – for years to come.

Some people can take to the stage with an idea of what they want to say and engineer an eloquent speech on the spot, although few can match the senior politicians who are able to deliver an impressive twenty minute speech with neither notes nor autocue. For mere mortals speaker’s notes or a fully drafted script are vital props, and it is up to you to provide.

Writing a speech for a Conference audience of sympathetic party members is very different from writing for the sparring, political atmosphere of the Chamber – for a start, the speechmaker generally doesn’t have to worry about heckling from the audience as is frequent in the Chamber, so you can be much more liberal with use of rhetorical questions when drafting. In the same vein, while constructing a watertight case to support your point is paramount in the Chamber, on Conference occasions it’s not unusual to spend a while pondering the profundity of politics before getting down to the nitty gritty of your subject matter. And you can use PowerPoint, video/audio, props and other devices to give the finished product a great deal more innovation, style and flair.

Index:

  1. First things first
  2. Opening the speech
  3. The body of the speech
  4. Closing the speech
  5. Further Reading
  6. Quick links to great speeches

 

1.  First things first

Formulate a clear, specific statement of purpose for the speech. There are six basic purposes of a speech:

  • to entertain
  • to inform
  • to inspire
  • to motivate
  • to advocate
  • to persuade.

With the exception of pure entertainment, any one of these could be the purpose for a Conference speech.

Do your research and search widely for information, try looking at:

  • policy briefings
  • recent news articles for relevant events
  • debates
  • legislation
  • statistics
  • anecdotes

Think about, and make a note of, what you wish the speech to accomplish, then make a list of your main points and back these up with supporting points.

You might also find it helpful to devise a core statement for the speech. You can then  ‘signpost’ this core statement throughout the speech, so the audience doesn’t lose track of where you’re going.

Pare the list down to the four or five most important points, discarding the remaining ones or converting them into supporting points.

Arrange your main points in a logical order: this will form the outline of the speech. For each main point, fill in with appropriate supporting points and evidence from your research to back them up.

2.  Opening the Speech

The opening of the speech is probably the most difficult part. If the opening doesn’t work it can often be downhill from there! Here are some ideas; your subject matter should help you decide which approach (or combination) is the most suitable.

Ways to begin tend to fall into five main categories:

  • Novelty – taking a cue from props, asking the audience to imagine a scenario, telling an anecdote and then revealing it as a dream and so on. They can be very effective tools, but not everyone can pull it off.
  • Dramatic – a warning about the content of the speech, or straight into shocking statistics – these openings can really grab the audience’s attention.
  • Question – A rhetorical question for the audience to ponder, or one which the speaker might answer himself. It’s only safe to use these in Conference speeches as rhetorical questions in Chamber speeches can often elicit cheeky answers from the opposition!
  • Humorous – if in good taste, and delivered with the right timing, humour can be a very effective way of gaining interest and breaking the ice. It sets the tone of the speech though, so steer clear of humorous openings if the rest of the speech is about famine or war. Self-deprecating humour can be a particularly good device, as long as the speaker doesn’t undermine his or her knowledge of the subject matter – the audience might believe them!
  • Reference – this type of opening is certainly the most common. The speaker uses a reference as a launching pad for the rest of the speech. The reference might be the location, the subject, the Party, a recent event, the speaker herself, a quote from another, and so on.

Whichever you choose, or a combination of some of the above, ensure that you have done the following in your introduction:

  • established a common ground between the speaker and the audience
  • set the tone for the speech
  • reinforced or established the speaker’s authority to speak on the subject
  • aroused interest in the subject
  • segued smoothly into the subject.

3.  The Body of the Speech

Go back to your pared-down list of four or five points and ensure that related points follow one another fluently, so that your speech follows a logical progression and is easy for the audience to keep up with.

Don’t try and overwhelm the listener with countless points: making a few and making each more effectively will give the speech a far greater overall impact. Make sure each point is well supported with statistics, quotes, anecdotes, examples and facts, and check your facts again.

Remember to signpost, just like in an essay! At the end of each point, try and return to the theme, this ensures the audience doesn’t lose sight of where you’re going in your speech.

For some clues on phrases to be avoided at all costs, listen to this programme on Radio 4 at 8.45pm on Wednesday 12 Sept 2007. Matthew Parris takes a canter through the arid badlands of political language and asks why politicians drape their speeches in the tired glad-rags of stale phrases.

Remember – tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you’ve said!

 

4.  Closing the Speech

Some different techniques for closing the speech:

  • Summarising – wrapping up the main points of the speech and bringing everything together.
  • Direct Appeal – asking the audience to take specific action.
  • Reference – like a reference opening, one that refers to the location, date, time, a quote and so on – anything the speaker can tie into the subject.
  • Inspirational – a moving anecdote, quotation, poem and so on. This could be humorous.

Don’t let an interesting, intelligent and lively speech fade away towards the end – make sure your ending packs a punch and leaves a lasting impression.

5.  Further reading

  • Richard Dowis, ‘The Lost of Art of the Great Speech – How to Write One, How to Deliver It’
  • Simon Sebag Montefiore – ‘Speeches that Changed the World’ (and audio CD)
  • Richard Heller – ‘High Impact Speeches: How to Write and Deliver Words that Move Minds’

 

6.  Quick Links to Great Speeches

  1. Martin Luther King, ‘I Have a Dream’
  2. Winston Churchill – ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’
  3. John F. Kennedy – Inaugural Address
  4. Susan B. Anthony ‘On Women’s Right to Vote’
  5. Edward VIII – Abdicates the Throne

 

Capita Learning and Development run ‘public speaking’ courses which include tips on writing speeches as well as delivering them. For more info: www.w4mp.org/html/personnel/training/all_courses.asp