How to Write a Personal Experience Speech
Sharing personal experiences in a speech can enable your audience to identify and connect with you, but you need to organize those details so that they illustrate an argument. Like any other kind of speech, one drawing from personal experience should not ramble -- its conversational style still needs structure. Even if your speech needs only be introductory, it should still present a precise and pointed version of you or your views that is best demonstrated by a particular experience you had.
Select a single, meaningful experience that your audience will understand on its own. Your speech will be more powerful and easier to follow with a focused look on one event, rather than a checklist of several. That one experience needs to exemplify your character or worldview, not be the topic of your speech. Choosing an experience that your audience has also shared will humanize you and invite them to re-experience that event with you. Choosing an aspirational experience that they have not shared may reinforce the way they might already look up to you. Consider how you want to position yourself with your speech.
Think about how the experience made you feel or changed you, and make a list of adjectives that could describe its effect on you. Let those emotions guide you as you make notes about what you did. Describe the event with as much specific detail as possible. Follow the “show don’t tell” adage that creative writing teachers tell beginning fiction writers. How you present the event should reflect your feelings, but the words you use should let your audience experience what happened as if they were you.
Organize and edit the impressions of the event so that they meet the following three basic expectations that an audience will have listening to any kind of speech: explanation, evidence and significance. Think of the explanation that you will provide as a kind of thesis sentence that declares why you are sharing the experience. The evidence you provide is the material with which you describe the event. The significance you offer the audience can come in the close of your speech, without introducing it with the words “in conclusion.” You can reiterate the event’s importance to you now after you have introduced and narrated it; or, you could end with a dramatic detail that illustrates its lasting effect.
Practice delivering the speech aloud, not in your head as you read the lines to yourself, several times before you have to give the speech. Listen to yourself carefully each time and edit the words so that they sound conversational. The words should sound like you, since the event reveals an important personal experience. When drafting, write as much as you want. When editing, however, be ruthless. Take out anything you can, particularly words that merely repeat information, or sentences so long they make you take a breath midway through. Do not take more time than you need to. Remember that your audience can only follow what you say to them. Make sure that the words you choose to deliver are clear.
Based in New York City, Seth Silberman has written and edited articles for various websites since 2006. His articles have been published in numerous books and scholarly journals as well as in "VIBE" magazine, "Paste" magazine, "Creative Loafing Atlanta" and "The Hartford Courant." Silberman holds a Doctor of Philosophy in comparative literature from University of Maryland, College Park.