Like many adults, you may be a reluctant public speaker. But, you obviously are a good friend to somebody. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been asked to give a speech honoring this friend. This subtle but important distinction should help guide you as you prepare to write a speech honoring your friend. In other words, before you find a piece of paper or pull a chair up to your computer, reframe your task as sharing an insightful story or two about your friend rather than delivering a terse and formal speech. You’ll be well on your way to making a memorable speech that will impress your audience – and make your friend proud.
Identify the Basics
No public speaker – even the accomplished ones – wants surprises. You want to mitigate them to the best of your ability. So find out what you can about the venue, where you will deliver your speech (standing behind a podium is different from standing in the middle of a room or on a stage), the desired length of the speech and, most importantly, your audience. How old are they? Are they both male and female? And how well do they know your friend?
Brainstorming is the “messy part” of writing, so expect some mess to spill out as you develop initial ideas for your speech. Many people have a preferred brainstorming technique, such as writing a bulleted list of ideas, clustering (with supporting ideas circling the main idea in the middle) and freewriting (putting down thoughts in a random manner). Take your time with this step; if you can, put your initial effort aside for a day and return to it again with a fresh pair of eyes.
Develop a Thesis
Speeches can often “run off the rails” because a speaker tries to say too much in too little time. Your mission should not be to tell your friend’s life story, but to enlighten your audience about one or two of his outstanding attributes. This is why crafting a thesis statement is helpful. A thesis – a statement of purpose – serves as a compass, giving your speech focus and direction. Unlike an essay, a thesis for a speech may be indirect and unspoken. For example, a thesis meant to honor someone might be, “I want my audience to know how long my friend has worked on this special project,” or “I want to enlighten this group about my friend’s volunteer activities.”
Begin With an Anecdote
Avoid the tactical error of many well-intentioned public speakers who begin, “My name is...” or “I’m here today to talk about...” Don’t inject your audience with verbal Novocain. Just jump right in, grab your audience’s attention and begin your speech with an anecdote (that supports your thesis). Some of the best anecdotes contain quotations, so be sure you capture your friend’s verbal tics. Your audience should appreciate your attention to detail.
Proceed to the Support
With your audience giving you their rapt attention, now you can provide a little information about how you met your friend and how long you’ve known each other. But keep it brief. Remember that you’re honoring your friend for a reason, so the body of your speech should amplify and support your thesis with examples and illustrations.
End on a High Note
Your opening anecdote should be so compelling that it’s worth revisiting as you write a conclusion to your speech. By providing this crucial link, your audience will gain a sense that your story has come full circle.
Edit, Proofread and Prepare
Writers are often advised to “write like they talk.” This is golden advice for speakers, who will, in fact, verbalize the words they write. In the micro, this means to substitute short words for long words, shorten long sentences and inject places for pauses. Practice your speech in front of someone you trust and listen carefully to how it sounds (and time it, if necessary). A word or phrase may look brilliant on paper but sound awkward or confusing aloud. In this case, go with clarity over brilliance. Finally, set yourself up for success by producing a final copy that suits you. Some speakers prefer reading a speech from paper with jumbo-sized type; others prefer notecards.
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- “A Speaker's Guidebook,” Sixth Edition, by Dan O'Hair, Rob Stewart and Hannah Rubenstein
- The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: Brainstorming
- The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: Speeches
- Classroom.Synonym.com: How to Do a Tribute Speech
- Time: 6 Tips for Writing a Persuasive Speech (On Any Topic)
- Forbes: How To Give A Great Speech
- Read examples of speeches online. This will provide ideas for your speech.
Mary Wroblewski earned a master's degree with high honors in communications and has worked as a reporter and editor in two Chicago newsrooms. She launched her own small business, which specialized in assisting small business owners with “all things marketing” – from drafting a marketing plan and writing website copy to crafting media plans and developing email campaigns. Mary writes extensively about small business issues, and especially “all things marketing.”