Writing a Political Speech
What’s a political speech?
There are all kinds of speeches. People give speeches of celebration at weddings and birthday parties. They give speeches when explaining the latest scientific discovery and when trying to sell you things.
This competition isn’t about those kinds of speech.
It is about political speeches.
What makes a speech political?
There’s no simple answer. But think, for example, of speeches in a Parliamentary debate on a contentious bill. Those speeches will make arguments for or against something that we might do (or might not do) and will show how it will make the future better (or worse). That something will be an action that could, in principle, be implemented (or stopped). It might be going to war, signing a treaty, holding an election; raising a tax, ending a benefit, making something illegal.
In other words, political speeches concern decisions about possible courses of action which are contentious and contested and about which people might reasonably disagree.
All of this means that, unlike a lot of your university essays, your speech won’t be about politics. It will be an instance of politics. You will be trying to win people’s support for a proposition concerning something a community, a party, a council, a government, a country might do. It doesn’t have to be a big thing though. We are interested in your skills at writing a persuasive speech and not how dramatic a position you can take.
- will be about something you think should or shouldn’t happen, something that we might support or oppose
- won’t only explain things, and display your reading and learning, but also give people reasons to agree with your proposition
In drafting your speech, you should think about:
- what arguments might be significant for other people (not only the ones most persuasive for you)
- what people need to know about your proposition so that they can understand and get on board with what you are talking about
- the examples, data, quotations and other kinds of evidence which will help make your case
- the logical arguments – such as those about principle – which can show to people why your proposal is good and right as well as likely to work
- the arguments people might make against your proposal (so that you can refute them in advance)
- how to make an audience pay attention to you and to what you are saying
- how to engage people emotionally so that they are motivated by your arguments
- how to say things in a way that is memorable, powerful and interesting
Don’t worry if you are nervous about public speaking. In this competition we aren’t primarily concerned with judging how confident or authoritative you sound (and finalists will get training in that). We’re interested in your speechwriting. We want to see how well you can develop and make a political case for something in a way that is suitable for a general audience.
Below are some of the key things we will think about when judging entries. Think about these when you draft your speech.
Is the speech well organised? Does it have a clear and intelligible structure so that people can follow it? Does it develop well and do the arguments sensibly flow one from another? Does it explain things it needs to explain so that there is clarity as to what is being said and why?
We aren’t looking for speeches that are only rants. But we also aren’t expecting pure philosophical or mathematical perfection. This is politics and in politics things are contested. But for that very reason you do need to give people reasons to agree with you and not simply insist. You need to justify the claims you make. We’ll be asking: are good reasons presented for agreeing with and believing the speech? Is evidence (facts, examples, references to authorities) brought forward when needed and used well? Are claims logical and sensible?
Does the speech make use of relevant information? Does it make sure audiences know what they need to know to judge the case? Is that information used well and is it accurate?
Is the speech well adapted to a general audience or is it more likely to work only for other specialists or people who already agree?
Does the speech make good use of words? Is the vocabulary rich but appropriate for a general audience? Does the speech say things in ways that are memorable and vivid? Is it likely to engage and motivate an audience? Does it make good use of figurative language, powerful images, to communicate its ideas? Does it make appropriate use of rhythm and repetition? Will the language used hold and heighten audience’s interest and help them feel connected to the issues?