This article is actually one of my 'teaching lessons' for Chinese Students and is shared today with the readers of Magic City Morning Star News. It is intended to be brief and to the point, lesson to help Chinese Students of English, to write a speech. The two small photos appearing in this article come from the Junior New Concept English Series of Textbooks written by L.G. Alexander, Julia Alexander, and Roy Kingsbury - published by the Beijing Foreign Language University.
The Basics of Speech Writing
As any book on the subject will tell you, there are 3 parts of a speech:
- The Introduction
- The Body
- The Conclusion.
No. 1 The Introduction
Never write your introduction FIRST. Always write it after the body of your speech.
Because it is always possible and often quite likely, that what you set out to write, is not what you ended up writing. Sometimes the FOCUS of your speech changes.
What is the Focus?
For our purposes here, the Focus (focal point, main idea), is the most important thing we want to say. It is the MESSAGE that we want to give to our Audience.
Take a look at this photograph and see what message is in it. What is the focal point?
The focal point is the microphone with the BBC logo. It tells us that this photograph is about a representative (a reporter, an interviewer) of the BBC interviewing someone.
When we write a speech, we have a particular purpose. We want to say something in particular. We want to share with people some particular idea. If we write the introduction first, it may not match the 'focus' - the idea that was most prominent (most visible - the idea mostly talked about) in our speech. We will come back to this.
No. 3 The Conclusion
The conclusion is not the speech. It is not part of the body of the speech. It is the final thought that we leave the audience. It can be a simple message. A Simple Question. A simple statement, or it can be a brief summary of the main points.
No. 2 The Body of the Speech.
I have already written a lesson on speeches, which was about writing skills and speech outline preparation. The purpose here is to be less abstract that the first lesson I wrote on Speeches, by relating this lesson to recent speeches written by my students.
Steps in writing the Body of the Speech
1. Write down all your ideas.
My students had to do a speech on Mao Zedong. They had to do research to learn about Mao Zedong, and in the process they came up with lots and lots of points about him.
2. Organize your points into some type of ORDER.
What does this mean? Well, if I ask you to tell me what you did yesterday, you ought not tell me that you:
- a) Went to bed at 10pm
b) Had lunch at Midday
c) Went shopping at 5pm
d) Had class from 2 pm to 4 pm
e) Had Supper at 6 pm
f) Got up at 6am
Do you get the point? The times that you did these things are not in ORDER. This is called Chronological Order. You could of course set out your day into an EVENT ORDER. For Example:
Well, I got up at 6am, had a rest from 1pm to 2pm and went to bed at 10pm.
I ate breakfast at 6.30am. had lunch at Midday and had supper at 6pm.
I went to class from 8am to Midday and then again from 2pm to 4pm.
I went shopping at 5pm, did homework from 7pm to 8pm, and watched TV from 8pm to 10 pm.
First you come up with a list of everything that you can think of to write, and then you put them into some type of order.
3. Start writing about your points.
Don't try to write a brilliant speech. Just write something about each point. When you have done that, decide which points belong in the first paragraph, which belong in the second paragraph and so on.
4. Combine sentences.
What do I mean by this? Many of my students wrote things like this:
Mao Zedong was born in 1893.
He was born in a village in Hunan Province.
He went to the village primary school when he was 8 years old.
He left school to work on his father's farm when he was 13 years old.
These 4 sentences can be combined into one sentence. For Example:
- Mao Zedong, who was born in 1893 in a village in Hunan Province, began studying in the village primary school when he was 8 years old and left when he was 13 years old to work on his father's farm.
5. Transitions - Changing Topic.
Each paragraph is always connected to the one before it and the one after it. There should always be some type of transition - a word, a phrase, an idea - something that connects one paragraph to another.
Keywords and Key ideas change topic. Since generally speaking, each paragraph has its own FOCUS, that focus, which might be different to the next paragraph's focus, must be still be connected to the next topic or focus in the next paragraph.
Imagine walking in the sand at the beach. You can look back and see your footsteps. One step is followed by the next. There is no break in the footsteps. So too in the THINKING that is being spoken to your audience. They must see how each idea is connected to the other.
6. What is your focus?
I guess this should have been the first point to list, but for the Chinese Student, they often don't know what their focus is. They just write as much as they can and hope that they get a good mark. (Yes! I know!)
Mao Zedong's life can be broken up into different parts and each of these parts could become the focus of your speech. For Instance:
His Life until he graduated from College
His political life and activities from graduation until he died.
His activities during the War with Japan
His activities in the Civil war with the KMT
His Life from the time of founding the People's Republic in 1949 until his death.
His 5 year plans - the great leap forward - the cultural revolution
His writing and poetry
His marriages and children.
Whatever 'Focus' you have in your writing, you still need to provide some introductory information and background material.
7. Focus vs. Background
Many of my students just wrote a lot of facts, without having a focus - a main idea - something particular that they wanted to talk about. Others, realising what a 'focus' is, wrote only about the focus. They didn't give any background information.
Take a look at this following photograph. What is the focus? It seems obvious that because a woman is dressed in a dressing gown holding coffee or tea, that it must be morning. The man is looking at his watch and putting on his jacket. He looks like he is in a hurry. So we see from these things, that the focus of the story is of a man who is late for work.
But there is more in the photograph than that. There are the other details - the other background objects, like the wall, the curtains, the cupboard and the table. These form the background of the picture. They are not the main things to look at but they are a part of the picture.
And so too when writing a speech, there is background information or detail, that adds to the story.
8 Who is your audience and what is your purpose?
These are two very good questions. If you (a Chinese person) were giving a speech about Mao Zedong, it is not likely that you would be giving it in English to other Chinese people. Your audience would be English speakers who may not know anything about Mao Zedong.
Since they are not Chinese, you should be careful when mentioning any situation, person or event, to make sure that you also give some background information. For example:
- 'Mao Zedong had a meeting with Jiang Jieshi in Chongqing'.
If you don't provide any background information, then the audience is left asking: Who is Jiang Jieshi? Where is Chongqing? Why did they have this meeting? (Of course Jiang Jieshi is very famous in the West - but not known by that name. So how would the foreigner identify him?)
When you know who your audience is, you have a better idea of what 'They might want or need to know' or 'What you want or need to tell them'. So you must work out what that 'thing' is - what that purpose is - what that focal point is. And you must be careful to make sure that your speech 'Delivers the goods', ie; that they hear and understand the message you intended to give, and that they understand it clearly.
So next time you sit down to write a speech, remember, 'How you put it together' is equally important as the topic and the message that you wish to speak.
I tell my students in class:
- 'The topic of this speech is irrelevant!
- What is relevant is that you learn the PROCESS OF WRITING A SPEECH.
When your teacher asks you to write a speech for homework, your main focus is not 'doing homework', but 'The Presentation of a Speech'.
Good Luck and Best Wishes:
R.P.BenDedek is the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' and a guest columnist and stand-in Editor at Magic City Morning Star News. He has been teaching Conversational English in China since 2003
Writers Journal Kingscalendar
"The King's Calendar" [ on sale- while the economic recession is on], is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls. See Chapter Precis page.