How to Write a Graduation Keynote Speech

by Sampson Quain

A graduation keynote speech is often given by an accomplished alumnus of a school or by a student chosen for his or her distinguished academic career. The speech is intended to encapsulate the end of one phase of the graduates' lives and their entrance into a new experience. If you follow some specific guidelines, you can write an effective and memorable graduation keynote speech.

Step 1

Research your audience. Learn the demographics of the people who will hear your speech. If your audience is older, you can tailor your speech to subjects and experiences for that age group. If your audience is young and hip, an effective speech should incorporate more contemporary language, with occasional use of slang.

Step 2

Find out the time limit. This will shape the body of your speech by either giving you more time to expound on certain themes or forcing you to be more concise.

Step 3

Craft your theme. Write down what you want the speech to convey to your audience. For example, if your theme is "Change the World," craft the bulk of your speech to include your own experiences about what you've done to change things in your community and provide examples of things the audience can do to fulfill your theme.

Step 4

Write a brief outline structuring the speech into an opening, the body and the closing. The opening should grab the audience with something engaging or humorous that creates a personal connection. The body is the heart of your speech and will express the theme with examples, exhortations, challenges and personal experience. The closing should summarize the speech in a natural way that ties everything together. End on a strong note and leave your audience wanting more.

Step 5

Write the speech, filling in the outline with details that bring the speech to life. Use active verbs and write in present tense unless you're describing an incident from the past. Instead of writing "We must go forth," write "We will go forth," to express an immediacy and urgency that inspires your audience.

Step 6

Record the speech onto a tape recorder. Play it back and listen for the rhythm of the language and how the sentences flow together. Make note of any sections that are too wordy or too general. Proofread the speech for grammatical errors and sentence fragments.

Step 7

Revise the speech several times until you find that there are no more changes to be made. Give it to two people who will not be at the graduation to get their feedback. Have them read the speech aloud so you can hear it from another person's mouth. Make final revisions based on their feedback.

Tips

  • Wait several days after finishing the first draft of your speech before you read and record it. You need the distance to develop an objective ear and eye.

    Read graduation keynote speeches delivered by famous people to get an idea of the different styles and themes addressed in those speeches.

Warnings

  • Don't use foul language or express controversial political beliefs in your speech. Graduation keynote speeches are intended to be hopeful and optimistic, and personal views that may offend others should be avoided.

About the Author

Sampson Quain is a screenwriter and filmmaker who began writing in 1996. He has sold feature and television scripts to a variety of studios and networks including Columbia, HBO, NBC, Paramount and Lionsgate. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from the University of Southern California.