You have been chosen to deliver the graduation thank you speech. What a thrill, what a horror! If you already want to buy a one-way ticket to a remote country, change your name and appearance, don’t worry, you will always have time to do that. Check out our previous post to learn the most effective presentation skills to nail any speech.
Now try this short guide to speech writing, and you’ll see that this is easier than it may seem at first.
Why Thank You Essay ≠ Thank You Speech
A thank you graduation speech is neither an essay nor a research paper, but you still need some kind of plan to make it really good. First of all, let’s look at the differences between essays you have been writing for a third of your life for now, and speeches. Here are the important points of a speech:
- It’s a lot shorter.
- It’s delivered orally.
- You are expected to be candid and emotional.
- Your main goal is to move your audience.
While you can disregard all of the differences without serious harm to your speech, don’t ever try to write it like a plain essay — remember that your audience will listen to it, not read! That makes a huge difference, because we perceive information that we see and hear in two different ways, and most people are not very good at digesting information they hear. That imposes several important rules both on your writing and performance.
1) Make your sentences short (within reasonable limits, of course). You need to deliver information in small portions, so your audience will understand everything and keep listening. Since they don’t have the text before their eyes to check the parts they missed, if you speak in very long sentences, the first part will be already forgotten when you reach the end.
2) Use rhetoric devices. And again, spoken and written language differ a great deal. If you plan to make your graduation thank you speech interesting and catchy, you have plenty of means to do so. Logos, pathos, ethos and kairos, as ancient Greeks would say.
3) Play with the intonation. We bet you had a professor who would deliver a lecture like he or she was an android without a function of being able to changing voice height, speed and any other empathetic devices we, mere humans, use every day. If you don’t want to hear snoring from the back rows on the middle of your thank you graduation speech, don’t forget to make it emotional, add jokes and provide moving moments.
Let’s Get Started!
Anyway, the best way to learn how something is done is through trial and error, so toss out of the window all articles with recommendations you have printed out (except for this, of course), and finally start doing something! Here are some examples to start:
1) Map it out.
Everything in life needs a good plan, except for a billion things that don’t. But a graduation thank you speech definitely needs one, because you need to be a professional actor and a stand-up comic to deliver a killer performance without preparation, and there’s still a fair chance you will fail. But writing a plan is boring, and we bet you have been doing this for all your college/high school years for essays, course works and research papers. We suggest drawing a mindmap instead! It’s fun, relaxing and very useful for your memory.
2) Write everything down.
Now it’s time to start writing. At this stage most students, even if they had a great deal of ideas on the planning (mapping) stage, typically face the writer’s block. We are not going to explore the reasons of this, we will just offer a solution for you: free writing. If you feel that you cannot put two words in a sentence, take a sheet of paper or open your favorite notebook and write everything that comes to your mind. There are no rules in this exercise, except one: after you feel like the writing started to flow, gradually shift the topic and concentrate on your thank you graduation speech.
3) Correct and proofread.
Finally the biggest part of the work is done, and all your speech needs now is a little trimming. It’s better to have a break and let your brain rest profoundly before you read the text again, or else it will be completely ineffective and you won’t notice any mistakes. Giving the text to proofread to your friends or family members is also a good idea.
Don’t forget that you are going to deliver a speech, so read the text out loud before a small audience or record yourself. This will help to notice mistakes and awkward phrases that look good in text, but are difficult to pronounce or simply sound strange. Also, don’t forget to note the time to measure how long your speech is. Don’t cheat, talk in your usual tempo! We know it’s a pity to cut parts of text you worked so hard on, but you don’t want your audience to get tired of you, right?
Everything is ready, and all you need to do is practice delivering the speech. Though it is easier said than done, training your rhetorical skills can actually be a ton of fun. Learn a few tricky tongue-twisters to be sure you won’t let an awkward slip of tongue ruin your performance. Then learn your speech by heart and repeat it in different conditions and places — while it’s noisy, silent, with people or without people, in the center of attention or as a bystander. This useful practice will allow your brain to adjust to various stressful factors, so you won’t freeze when you walk on the stage.
And remember, a little mistake is not a tragedy, no one is perfect. We are sure you have a lot of wonderful memories and warm feelings towards your parents, teachers and friends, all you need to do is just share them openly, and your thank you graduation speech will be great.