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Formatting a speech for smooth delivery: 12 steps

Formatting a speech for smooth delivery: 12 steps

This time of year is usually speechwriting season for me, and 2013 has been no exception. I really enjoy every step of the speechwriting process including the very last step, the icing on the cake: formatting. Once I’m completely happy with a speech (and so is my client and the nonprofit leader delivering the remarks), it’s time to format the document in a way that supports smooth and successful delivery.

If the remarks you have written are anything over five minutes (and sometimes, even if under), there is a good chance your speaker will need to read from notes. These points will help ensure that they don’t look like they are doing so!

Here are twelve steps to formatting a speech for smooth delivery:

1. Use 16-20 pt font: This will help ensure the remarks are legible from the podium.

2. Double-space the document: For readability and to help make the speech easy to skim through.

3. Use sub-headings: Include subheadings in square brackets to guide your speaker through the structure of the speech. Knowing the subject area of a sub-section will help the speaker to understand the themes and structure you have pulled together as well as possibly adjust pace, tone and body language to suit the subject matter.

4. Create extra paragraph breaks: Along with sub-headings, put a little extra breathing room around certain paragraphs to encourage pauses and to indicate shifts in topic.

5. Italicize, bold and underline key words or phrases: Help your reader to find points of emphasis by highlighting them.

6. Include incomplete sentences: Writing and formatting for speaking is very different, so you’ll have to be willing to break more than one grammar rule. Break sentences into fragments to slow down delivery and give the speaker time for meaningful pauses.

7. Use ellipses to highlight pauses: You will inevitably come across sentences that are just too long to deliver in one straight go…break them up and give your speaker room to breathe using ellipses.

8. Insert bullets: Visually guide and alert your speaker that a list is coming up within a speech by breaking it into bullets.

9. Use contractions: There will be exceptions, but most speakers will sound more natural when delivering remarks in which contractions are used liberally.

10. Insert pages numbers: The last thing you want is for the pages to get out of order and not be easily reassembled!

11. Remove broken sentences or paragraphs at the bottom of pages: Use page breaks to prevent your speaker from having to turn pages mid-sentence. Word of caution: if you won’t be printing the speech yourself, make sure that you are using a widely available font like Arial. These page breaks won’t translate if the person printing doesn’t have the same font you’ve used on their machine.

12. Paperclip, don’t staple: This point refers, of course, to the physical, printed document. Make sure to use paperclips to collate the speech so that it’s easy for your speaker to move through the pages in a way that works for him or her.

Usually, the easiest way to incorporate this formatting is to read the finished speech aloud and format changes as you go along. Once you’ve done that and if it’s an option, have the speaker read the speech aloud for you in order to fine tune further.

How do you format speeches? Do you have any tips or tricks to share?

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Posted October 17, 2013 / Filed under Nonprofit copywriting how-to / 6 Comments
  • Jane Garthson

    Do you also suggest people practice looking ONLY at the headings/sub-headings to see if they can remember in chunks?

  • MO

    Yes, I think that would certainly work in certain situations, depending on the speaker and the speech! What I find is that every speaker is so different; some need nothing more that general guidance or an outline, some like to have ‘speaking points’ as a guide and reference, many want a complete speech from which to read.

    Your suggestion reminds me of another piece of advice that I picked up along from a presentation coach along the way: practice your remarks 6-7 times before delivery. It’s a lot of practice, but goes a long way to committing a speech to memory.

  • I have used forward slashes to indicate where to break phrases, at my client’s request. I will occasionally also insert breathing marks for clients who need those reminders to take a breath, or who rush through a sentence and end up breathing in the wrong place. I also insert commas liberally, sometimes ignoring grammar rules, to encourage the speaker to slow down!

    • Great tips, thank you, Marsha. I agree – in this case, breaking grammar rules is more helpful than following them.

  • A few speakers have requested that I leave a large margin at the bottom of the page, so their eyes don’t have to travel down word so noticeably. It seems to work for them; others seem to work fine with the regular margin.

    • Love that and will keep it in my back pocket. Thank you, Rob!