How to structure a social speech

When you give a social speech it’s usually not appropriate to read from a script, so you need to structure the content in a way that allows you to “ad lib” through it … but to a strong structure that keeps you on topic and to time.

Research – get that right first

When you’re asked to give a social speech, it’s essential that you establish a) what you need to say, followed by b) what you’d like to say. There are very few social speeches that don’t contain at least a small element of obligatory thanks or appreciation for someone’s work, help, travel from afar or other key participation, so it’s important to keep those in mind and give them key places in your structure.

Other things can be intertwined with the obligatory sections … like anecdotes about the people being celebrated, funny (true) stories, jokes (if you’re good at telling them) and even housekeeping announcements.

It helps a lot to make yourself a brainstorming file where you jot down all these components randomly, in no particular order. Once you’re satisfied that you’re on the right track with your scribbles, the next job is to edit those down and order them into a realistic skeleton structure that will form the basis of your speech.

A wedding example

Let’s assume you are the bride at a wedding and you want to speak immediately after your father does, and then hand over to your new husband. First of all, here are some of the scribbles from your brainstorm. Underline the elements which are essentials

Mum worrying about flowers

Nancy’s dress too tight

Welcome/thanks

Pete & Brian – school practical joke

Dad’s speech – thanks

Pete & Lilia – from SA

Brian’s old girlfriend on plane too (maybe not!!!)

Brian speaks next? Wants last word?

Dad – bound to tell story about me losing the hamster

Dad – tell story about barbecue (hee hee hee)

Toast to Brian/Mum/Dad/family

Thanks for coming

Thank Mum and Dad for the wedding

Now all you have to do is put everything into a logical order, and drop any ideas which are irrelevant or repetitive, which will make your speech too long, or which could upset someone and land you in hot water! Here’s what your skeleton structure might look like…

  • Welcome everyone and thank for coming
  • Thank Dad for compliments and embarrassing stories
  • Tell embarrassing story about him (barbecue catching fire)
  • Thank Mum and Dad for wedding
  • Mention Pete and Lilia travelling over from South Africa
  • Tell story about Pete and Brian, practical joke at school in Joburg
  • Make joke about Brian always wanting last word – typical husband
  • “But first,” propose toast to Brian and our families

Okay. That’s a good basis. Now you could start straight in and ad lib around those points, but although it may seem superfluous you’ll find it very helpful to create an interim stage.

Make notes in small chunks

Here, don’t try to write your actual words for the speech. Just add some flesh to those bones. For example…

Welcome everyone and thank for coming … am really touched to share this day with my family and good friends … been really generous with gifts, thanks so much … really hope you’re having a great time …

 Thank Dad for compliments and embarrassing stories … said I was beautiful, probably needs his glasses changing … great Dad, love him so much … knew he would tell that story about the hamster … will never live it down …

Tell embarrassing story about him (barbecue catching fire) … Dad always knows best … barbecue for their Silver Wedding … wouldn’t let Mum and me help … whole lot caught fire … steaks ruined, had to eat salad and dessert … then bought a book and taught all of us how to do it properly …

Thank Mum and Dad for wedding…best parents in the world whether good at BBQs or not … thanks so much for beautiful wedding … the best day of my life and Brian

Mention Pete and Lilia travelling over from South Africa … fantastic they could come here all that way … Pete Brian’s best friend when they were at school in Joburg … wonderful that he and his wife Lilia are here to share our wedding day … sad we couldn’t get out there for their wedding

Tell story about Pete and Brian, practical joke at school in Joburg … Pete & Brian don’t know I know about this … certain Maths teacher of theirs called Mrs Entwistle is still around … very interesting email from her about those two locking the Head teacher in his study “by accident,” oh, yeah? …

Make joke about Brian always wanting last word – typical husband … being perfect wife will let him …

“But first,” propose toast to Brian and our families … all of you, our families and my wonderful husband … and thanks again for everything

There. That wasn’t hard, was it? And believe it or not, you have created a detailed structure of your speech for you to memorize (and/or copy out on to cue cards to use when you’re up in front of the microphone.) This will allow your live speaking to flow well, to stick to the relevant points without “waffling” or wandering off-topic, and to be effective without sounding “scripted.”

Good luck!

Make your next speech a sparkling success!

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“The English Language Joke book”…hundreds of laughs about this crazy language of ours

Comments

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  1. Hi Suze – that’s a good system!

    In fact it’s got wider applications than just for social speeches – I advocate a variation on that theme on my training courses for commercial clients too. I advocate (strongly) that people put their scribbles down on separate index cards, so that they’re no implicit order when they come to structuring them – it reordering them is so, so, so much easier! 😉

    S

    • Thanks for your comment Simon – actually this is quite a good model for planning not just speeches, but even books and other written communications. Apparently it works for university essays too, as my son is discovering in his first term at Leicester DMU Business School!

  2. Hey Suze, this is a fab structure that can be easily learned!

    It also looks like it can be adapted for “on stage” presentations – would that work?

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