President Barack Obama at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) event. Image via Steinershow

President Barack Obama at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) event. Image via Steinershow

ZIMSEC English Language Speech writing

As part of your Ordinary Level English Examination you might be asked to write a speech. Speech questions are  found in Paper 1 Section B where they are part of a range of possible questions that may be set by the examiners. Its a list that includes formal letters, newspaper/magazine articles, personal letters and reports. The question is as likely to ask you to write a speech as it would any of these guided essay formats and it is always best to be prepared to tackle any format instead of only focusing your exam preparation on only a select few formats-a practice some students call “spotting.”

I say this because speeches are perhaps one of the most neglected guided composition formats and while there is always a good chance the exam question you will face will ask you to write something else, there is still a chance of the examiners asking you to write a speech and the result will be nothing short of disastrous if you were not fully prepared for this.

Writing Speeches

When you are asked to write speeches you should bear the following things in mind:

  • Speeches differ slightly with the other guided essays that you will be asked to write. Speeches are made to inform, share, support/persuade your audience on the topic set out in the examination question.
  • You should write in a conversational style i.e. you should write the same way you speak. Imagine yourself in front of the given audience. Usually the question itself sets out the audience you are supposed to be facing for example a graduation speech would have you facing your fellow graduating students in perhaps the school hall/during assembly imagine what you would say to them.
  • Start and end with opening quotes either double quotations ” ” or  single ‘ ‘quotations can be used at the beginning and last paragraph of the speech. It is always good practice to use these alternatively if they are nested. For example let us say you chose the double quotes to open your speech and somewhere in the speech you decide to include a relevant quotation by some famous author, it is good practice to use the single quotes to set out the exact words of that author in the speech instead of using the double quotes again. The converse would be true if you had begun by using single quotes.
  • Start by greeting your audience. The degree of formality and tone of the speech depends on your relationship with the audience and the topic of the speech. For example you could either start by saying,” Good morning to you my fellow students…” or “Good morning ladies and gentlemen…”
  • Depending on the situation the greeting may be followed by a self introduction even if you have already been introduced and the audience knows you. This maybe in the form of an allusion to your standing on the matter at hand for example “As your head girl …”
  • You might want to remind your student of the occasion. This can be done subtly for example,” I cannot believe this is our graduation day, it only seems only like yesterday when we started out as little tiny form ones.”
  • You should always state the purpose of your speech. The intend clause should fall naturally into place of your speech. This can be done by making sure that it matches the style of your entire speech. The purpose of the speech is usually given out in the question itself and even when it is not given you can always surmise from the points given in the speech. You could say for example,” As we march out into the wide and cruel world, I stand here as your sage, to impart words of  parting wisdom.”
  • Speeches are written in the way that they are spoken which means a lot of the verbs are in the “-ing” format for example ” speaking” instead of “spoke” which would be more likely in say a narrative compositions. Also sentences may not follow the traditional structure, see tips below for more on this.
  • In informal speeches you can also make use of speech fillers like “Eerr…” and “Ummm..” although this should be done very sparingly.
  • It is considered bad form however to make use of fillers like “you know”,”so” where so is supposed to be a superlative for example “He was so short.”
  • Good speeches make use of rhetorical questions.
  • Elaborate the points given in the essay question adding relevant material of your own based on your experience.
  • End your speech by thanking the audience for their patience and attentiveness.
  • Another popular way to end a speech is to use a quote or a call to action. For example you could say,” Julius Ceaser said,’ I came, I saw, I conquered.’ I hope you too came to this school, saw enlightenment and will now go into the world and conquer it.” or you could say “Go out into the world and prosper!”

More tips

  • You can (this is a polite way of saying you must) also use discourse markers. There are three types of discourse markers and all these are indispensable when writing your speech. Go to English Notes Home for more on discourse markers.
  • While it is not required the best speeches often make use of poetic devices in order to captivate the hearts of their audience and if you are up to it you would do well to use the following techniques:

-Mock heroic writing

-Make sure that each sentence has roughly the same amount of syllables in each sentence (line).

-Make use of rhyming words to create a “rhythmic feel” to your speech. Do not sacrifice meaning just so you can get the rhyme that you want, the examiners will not be impressed.

-Repeat ideas and thoughts for emphasis, for good example see Martin Luther King Junior’s I have a dream speech.

-You can also change the traditional sentence structure to suit your needs so long as you do not violate the rules of grammar. For example instead of the more traditional structure statement,” This man I am speaking of is a tall and handsome.” You can instead say,” Tall and handsome is the man I speak of.” Both statements contain the exact same number of words but the second line sounds more poetic.

-Think of the paragraphs as more of stanzas instead.

-Make use of rhetorical questions to force the audience to think more deeply on the subject at hand.

As with all English topics you will need to practice more extensively in order to become proficient.