How to write a perfect speech | BBC Ideas

The secret behind any great speech... it all begins with the speaker,

having somebody who has that world view,

who knows what they want to say,

who knows what story they want to tell.

That's critical, a speechwriter can come up with something on their own,

but it really needs to be a collaborative process

with the person who's speaking.

We approach any speech

by asking yourself what story do we want to tell.

We try to come up with a headline for the speech first,

whether it's one, two or three sentences,

because that's what you have to hang everything on

otherwise it won't hold together.

Tonight, I want to talk about what kind of future we're going to have

and what kind of a nation we are going to be.

One thing all great speeches have in common

is that they're bigger than the place,

they say something bigger than the moment.

Something like Lincoln's Gettysburg Address,

he said it wasn't just to consecrate the ground

where soldiers gave their lives,

it was to dedicate ourselves

to making sure that a nation conceived in liberty could endure.

So any great speech has to speak to something bigger

than that particular moment,

you have to look beyond the headline you're going to get the next day,

you have to look beyond tweets.

We wouldn’t necessarily write speeches with an eye towards

what people will say about it in 50 years,

but you're thinking about the broader sweep of history and where you fit.

Today, in the world of freedom,

the proudest boast is,

Ich bin ein Berliner.

You know, other things that make a great speech are authenticity.

And authenticity is, you know,

it's something more than just the truth,

it's actually saying what's true,

and I just don’t mean the facts, I mean things that people know,

the way people speak in their everyday lives.

Not every great speech has to be up here like Lincoln or Kennedy,

and people can tell when you're trying too hard.

A lot of times great speeches

are just talking to people where they are.

Your fervour, your energy, your courage,

always is something that's going to carry me forth.

Humour goes a long way in speeches, but it's also very hard.

President Obama would also say, "Give me some more jokes in here",

and comedy's difficult.

We were always very lucky

that President Obama had a great sense of comic timing.

And he knew it, but he was always good at telling jokes.

He relished...

he'd always dig at himself first in a self-deprecating way,

just to open it up so that he could dig on somebody else.

I am told that the last three speakers here

have been the Pope,

Her Majesty the Queen,

and Nelson Mandela,

which is either a very high bar

or the beginning of a very funny joke.

You want to know where you are and who you're talking to,

even if it's as small as visiting a high school

and knowing who the mascot is.

That handshake at the top of the speech goes a long way,

and then you have the permission structure

to take the audience on a greater ride.

I want to thank all of the students here.

The smart, powerful, creative, accomplished, young women

of Mulberry School for Girls, you all are beautiful.

Any aspiring speechwriter should just start writing, constantly.

Whether it's journalling,

whether it’s preparing a speech you wish you had the chance to write

so that you have something to show somebody.

I'd also say read widely.

That's where empathy comes from,

is understanding other people's lives and world views beyond your own.

I don’t have any classic training in speechwriting,

I started out as a pre-med student

and chemistry changed that course pretty quickly.

But I would tell students, take a lot of history courses.

It doesn’t always have to be writing and composition.

History, economics, philosophy

because you're going to pull from all those disciplines

in any good political speech.

And with that I just have two more words to say...

Obama out.

Thanks for watching.

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