Where To Begin? How To Tackle The Speechwriting Process
You’ve been asked to deliver a toast for someone special in your life. You want to make it meaningful and memorable, but you’re not sure where to begin. You might have a lifetime of memories to share, or maybe you are short on material. Regardless of what you have to work with, you have to figure out how to tie your thoughts together and make them flow.
When attacking the speechwriting process, here are a few tips to consider:
1. Brainstorm. A great place to start is by taking a trip down memory lane. Look through photos, videos, yearbooks and cards or letters for inspiration. Make a list of fond memories, personal stories and anecdotes that resonate with you. Then, categorize them. Which memories are sentimental? Which ones are funny? Which ones are semi-embarrassing or altogether inappropriate?
Brainstorm words that best describe the person you are toasting. Think about his/her character and what you want the guests to walk away knowing about him/her. If you get stuck, a thesaurus can be a great way to jumpstart the creative word selection process. Write everything down so that you have all potential material in one place.
2. Whittle down. Once you have your list, whittle it down. Look for the personal stories that have commonalities and that a larger audience will appreciate. Include the anecdotes that embody the person’s true character. It can be tempting to share inside jokes or adventures you’ve shared with the guest of honor, but remember that the toast is not about you. Strike a balance between the humorous and the sentimental. A little roasting can be funny, but it’s easy to cross the line into embarrassing or inappropriate. A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t share it with your own grandmother, leave it out.
3. Build a framework. With your raw material in place, you need to build a framework for the speech. Think about your opening. It can be as simple as introducing yourself and welcoming everyone to the celebration. After the introduction, pick the one or two stories/anecdotes/memories that paint the picture of the guest of honor. Can you use an overall theme to connect your thoughts and memories? Think about how to transition from one idea to the next so that your words flow easily and make sense. And make sure to end the speech on a high note. It’s easy to end your toast with a conventional “cheers,” “congratulations,” or “I love you,” but can you take it one step further? Is there a way to tie back into the overall theme?
4. Think spoken, not written. Remember that your words will be spoken, not written. Think about how you sound when you speak and stick to that style. The speech should sound like you are having a polished conversation. Don’t use flowery prose if you don’t speak that way. Use jargon and appropriate expressions. Don’t be afraid of repetition. So long as it’s not redundant, repeating your main ideas or coming up with a catchphrase can resonate with the crowd.
5. Edit, edit, edit. Once you have a solid first draft, it’s time to edit. Start by reading it aloud. See where if flows well and where you might need to fine tune. If it runs over five minutes, look for words to cut out and ways to condense your thoughts. Yes, you want to command the attention of guests, but you don’t want to ramble on and on. Practice in front of one or two friends. Then have them read it. Ask for their thoughts, ideas and editing suggestions. Edit it until you’re satisfied with the final product.
Oftentimes, finding the starting point can be the biggest challenge. But once you’ve found it, let the words flow until you’ve created a speech you are proud to deliver.
Photo credit: Chad David Kraus Photography