How to Write a Great Graduation Speech
Representing a high school graduating class by giving the graduation speech is a great honor usually bestowed upon a student who has earned the respect of peers and teachers alike. But that doesn’t make preparing and delivering a graduation speech any easier for the nominated student.
Fortunately, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Writing an impactful high school graduation speech is all about following a proven pattern that has been well established over the course of our written history. More recently, great orators such as Steve Jobs, J. K. Rowling, and Barack Obama have delivered inspirational commencement keynotes.
Follow these four easy steps to write and deliver a rousing speech to your graduating class!
Step 1: Brainstorm Ideas
A great speech begins with a brainstorming session. Start by asking yourself what you have gained from your high school experiences. What successes did you experience? What is the most important lesson you learned from challenges at school? Identify some success stories to share with the audience.
It’s also a good idea to brainstorm your expectations of the future. What kind of challenges might you encounter in the next phase of your life? How have your past school experiences prepared you for those challenges? Write down your thoughts and ideas as you consider your school experiences. Generating these ideas helps get the creative juices flowing so you can hone in on the best stories to tell.
Frequently our best ideas come to us at unexpected times. In addition to setting aside time for a brainstorm session, carry around a notebook with you for a week or so, so you can jot down your ideas when inspiration hits you.
Step 2: Choose a Theme
By now, you’ve got a bunch of cool ideas, but how do you start to shape them into a single coherent speech? Many great speech writers solve this problem by selecting a theme.
Choose a central theme and unify your ideas around it to ensure your speech doesn’t ramble and touch on too many topics. This makes your speech more meaningful and memorable for your audience.
Traditionally, themes for graduation speeches center around topics such as:
- Following your dreams
- Believing in yourself
- Serving others
- Being creative
- How failure is important for success
- The power of hard work and perseverance
With a theme chosen, you’ll be able to filter your ideas from your brainstorm session, choosing only the relevant stories and ideas.
Step 3: Structure of Your Speech
Begin to put the elements together following this simple, effective structure.
- Capture the audience’s attention right from the beginning. Just as a good book starts out with a great “hook,” a great speech begins with an interesting fact, a catchy quotation, an intriguing story, or even a joke that is relevant to your audience.
- Illustrate your theme through storytelling. Remember, all good stories have a well-defined beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning is typically an obstacle or challenge you were confronted with, the middle is how you overcame it, and the end is what you learned or how the journey changed you. Feel free to share multiple stories or examples, as long as they relate well to your theme.
- Tie your points together with a clear conclusion. Communicate how your message applies to your audience, and the lesson(s) learned from your examples.
Step 4: Deliver Your Speech
For many people, writing the speech is the easy part. Delivering a speech can be intimidating if you’re not accustomed to doing it, so allow yourself time to practice. Follow techniques used by great public speakers:
- Memorize your speech. This will help you focus on making your delivery more personable and human, rather than just robotically reading from a script.
- Short and Simple. Keep your speech between 10-15 minutes, or the length recommended by your school.
- Speak slowly. We tend to speed up when we’re nervous, so make a conscious effort to slow down your speech.
- Present with passion. Avoid a monotone voice.
- Pause for emphasis. Stop at appropriate times to give your audience a chance to reflect on what you just said.
- Make eye contact. Looking at your audience keeps them engaged.