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 speech is all about following a proven pattern that has been well established over the course of our written history, more recently by such great orators as Steve Jobs, J. K. Rowling, and world leaders including Barack Obama, and many more.
Here are four easy steps to writing and delivering a rousing speech to your graduating class.
Step 1: Brainstorm Ideas
A great speech begins with a brainstorming session. You might start by asking yourself what you have gained from the experiences of high school. What successes did you experience? What is the most important lesson you learned from challenges at school? Identify some success stories you can share with the audience.
It’s also a good idea to brainstorm about 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. You won’t use every idea in your speech, but generating these ideas will help to 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.
By choosing a central theme and unifying your ideas around that theme, you can ensure that your speech doesn’t ramble and touch on too many topics. This makes your speech more impactful and memorable to your audience.
Traditionally, themes for graduation speeches center around ideas 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: Build the Basic Structure of Your Speech
After identifying the theme of your speech, begin to put the elements together in the following way:
- Grab 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.
- Next, illustrate your theme through storytelling. Remember, all good stories have a 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.
- The conclusion of the speech should tie together the points you’ve made during your speech and by telling your stories. The audience wants to hear how your message is applicable to them, and the lesson(s) you’ve learned from your examples.
Step 4: Preparing to 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. Here are a few techniques that have been 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.
- Keep your speech between 10 and 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.
- Speak with feeling. Avoid a monotone voice.
- Pause at appropriate times to emphasize a point and give your audience a chance to think about what you just said.
- Look at your audience and make eye contact. It keeps your audience engaged.
- If you make a mistake, just keep going. Get the line right and move on.
- It’s okay to feel nervous. As you practice, you will develop the confidence you need to overcome those jittery feelings and deliver a great speech.
A Few More Tips:
- Remember to thank the appropriate people who helped you and your classmates in your educational journey.
- Be enthusiastic. Remember, your speech is part of a celebration of accomplishment, not only for you but also for your entire class and their families.
- Practice, practice, practice. Ask family members and friends if they will listen to your speech ahead of time and give you feedback.
- Click here for a high school graduation speech example.
And last but not least, remember to have fun! If your audience can tell you’re having fun, they will catch your positivity. Every year, thousands of schools and universities, even online schools, hold their graduation ceremonies. Have fun in the moment, and savor the celebration with your family and peers!