Writing speeches is an important albeit rarely discussed aspect of criminal justice courses. If you study this discipline, it means that you have at least some likelihood of addressing the court of law at some point in future. Therefore, you should get at least basic understanding of what it means, and what is expected of you. Preparing your own speeches and delivering them in front of an audience perform exactly this function – it gives you practical experience of proving your point to an audience that probably has strong convictions of its own.
Even if you know the subject well and have no problems with writing assignments on it, speechwriting is likely to offer you some difficulties. The thing is, it is different from most other academic texts because it occupies a position somewhere between the written and the spoken word. Although you write your speech down, you should always keep it in mind that it is meant to be spoken, not read. Therefore, you should structure it so that you can effortlessly deliver it and your audience can easily understand what you say. In this guide, you will find everything you need to know before you start writing a speech of your own. It may be hard to begin with, but if you follow these guidelines, you will soon succeed.
You may have to give a speech as a part of a case study, and in this case, you will get a ready-made topic. However, usually professors give students a fair amount of freedom. The right choice of topic can make a lot of difference for the overall success of your speech.
The primary purpose of a speech is to click with your audience, and the best way to do it is to tell them about something nobody but you can tell. If you have any personal experience of dealing with the justice system, or have a friend or relative who had such an encounter, you can put it in the foundation of your story.
Again, there is a lot of difference between talking about something you are passionate about and delivering a speech just to check a box. Think of a topic related to criminal justice and develop it further.
What mass media certainly have no shortage of are reports of crimes and all things crime-related. Go through the current news and see if you can find a relevant topic of immediate interest.
If you already have a broadly defined topic, narrow it down and specify it further. Brainstorming can help you in it. There are many popular brainstorming techniques, such as:
Not all topics are suitable for delivering a speech. Your success depends to a large degree on your knowledge of which of them to avoid:
Here are some examples to use as a reference:
A speech is a relatively short text, and you are likely to spend more time doing preparatory work and polishing the text than doing the writing per se. Do not scrimp on effort at this stage.
Even if you think you know enough about the subject matter, spend some time digging further. Make sure you have the latest and the most relevant information. Check if the sources you use are up to date and credible. Be very selective with the sources you use, especially if you mention them in the speech – you have little time to spend on potentially inaccurate information.
A thesis statement is the main idea of your speech expressed in a single short sentence. Make sure that it:
If your thesis statement does not meet all these requirements, you have to narrow it down further.
An outline is something between a plan and a barebones version of your speech. Due to the small size of your average speech, an outline is not going to be much smaller than the final product, so pay special attention to the structure and connections between sections. Decide how you want the speech to go, jot down the sections you will use and their contents. A typical speech structure is as follows (although you can get creative and do things differently):
This is what will make your speech persuasive and memorable, its strong points around which you will build the rest. These can be:
Write down where you will use them and intersperse them across the speech for maximum effect.
Professors normally tell you how long you will have to talk, not how many words your speech should be. Try to convert the length of a speech into word count. There are online tools that do this, but the speech tempo differs from person to person, and you should not take their results at face value. Better take a text, read it aloud at your normal speed and measure the time using a stopwatch.
You will have to deliver the speech, so consider it from the get-go. Make sure it rolls easily off your tongue and the audience has no trouble following it. Use relatively short and simple sentence without multiple clauses. Avoid using legalese whenever possible – your audience is supposed to understand it, but simpler is usually better.
Criminal justice is a discipline that deals with sensitive subjects and requires complete adherence to facts. Consider this when choosing your words, expressions and supporting evidence. Back your points with facts and statistics whenever possible and avoid using vague phrases and appeals to emotions.
In written text, the reader can always go back and see what a pronoun refers to if he/she does not understand it. In a speech, it is impossible, and you risk confusing your audience if you use pronouns too liberally. It is alright to introduce them occasionally, but make sure you refer to things by their names whenever possible.
Repetition is a powerful method of getting your point across. Choose a word you want to emphasize and repeat it several times throughout the speech, focusing the audience’s attention on it (e.g., by always following it with a pause). For example, if you talk about societal dangers of false convictions, you can choose the word “innocence” and introduce it emphatically at crucial points of your speech.
Your job is to drive your point home, and the fewer and simpler words you use to do it, the better. After you finish your speech, reread it and cut any superfluous words and expressions.
After you have finished writing your speech, there is plenty more work to do.
Read your speech multiple times, both to yourself and out loud. Texts often feel very different when spoken than when read, and you may suddenly discover that a passage that seemed to be perfectly normal is not as good as you thought it to be. Check if sections connect logically and if the speech maintains a stable pacing throughout. See if you backed up all your points equally. If you find anything lacking, make corrections.
Speeches are often accompanied with slides and other visual aids, and they can become an integral part of your delivery. However, some people believe that using them breaks up their connection with the audience and disrupts their focus. Decide whether using them fits your delivery style and which tools, if any, you are going to use.
Jot down the most important points of your speech so that you can refresh it in your memory just by looking at these notes. You are not supposed to read your speech, but taking glances at the notes is alright.
Practice delivering your speech. See if you manage to fit it into the allotted amount of time and cut/add if necessary. Have somebody listen to you delivering it and ask for his/her opinion.
You do not have to memorize your entire speech – in fact, trying to do so will make you too dependent on your text, and if you forget something you can lose your train of thought altogether. So, it is better to make the main part flexible. However, the opening and the conclusion are very important for the overall impression, and ad hoc changes to them can prove undesirable.
We hope this guide has clarified the most difficult aspects of writing a speech in criminal justice, and now you will be able to write one without a hitch!