International Women’s Day takes place on March 8th. It’s a day set aside for recognizing the economic, social, cultural, and political accomplishments of women and celebrate Women’s Rights. The first gathering marking International Women’s Day took place in 1911. Over a million people from Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland were there. Today, in addition to celebrating women’s achievements, IWD is an opportunity to call for better gender equality through a speech. In this article, we’ll describe four writing tips and give examples of great speeches by women.
Take a free course about Women’s Rights!
Tip #1: Come up with a strong opening
This tip can be applied to all speeches and not only ones for Women’s Day. A strong opening engages the listener and gives them a general idea of the direction of your speech. Depending on the context of your speech, you can experiment with opening styles. If you’re speaking to a general audience, a story is a great way to get people invested. If your audience consists of experts or academics, it might be best to get right to your speech’s main content.
Take a look at UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri’s 2013 speech to the Open Society Foundation for a speech aimed at experts. Her topic was on the importance of girls’ education. After a brief introduction, she opens with strength. Take note of the specific words she used to make the message crystal-clear:
“UN Women considers that education is one of the greatest game-changers for women and girls around the world. It is both an enabler and force multiplier for women’s economic, political and social empowerment and gender equality.”
Tip #2: Include statistics to support claims
When you’re writing a speech about issues like gender equality in education, employment, and so on, you want to present key statistics. It’s always a good idea to be as informative as possible. This shows you did your research, so you’re credible. It also educates your audience on an issue’s urgency. It isn’t enough to say that “many” girls don’t receive equal education compared to boys. What are the actual numbers?
You can also include data to show what organizations are doing and how they’re impacting gender equality. That’s what Michelle Obama did in her 2016 speech at the Let Girls Learn event that celebrated Women’s Day. She sprinkled facts through her speech on how Let Girls Learn was making a difference. Here’s an example:
“Folks of all ages and all walks of life are stepping up, as well. More than 1,600 people in nearly all 50 states have donated money to Let Girls Learn Peace Corps projects. Our #62MillionGirls hashtag was the number-one hashtag in the U.S., with people across the country talking about the power of education.”
Tip #3: Strike the right tone
We talked about tone in our first tip, but you want to adopt the right voice throughout your entire speech. Think about who your audience is. Is it a group of young people? Or women’s rights experts? You should also think about the goal of your speech. If you want to provoke emotions in your listeners and get them to care, stories are a very effective way. If your goal is to inform and educate, it’s wise to rely on facts and stats.
Tracee Ellis Ross’ 2018 TED Talk on women’s anger is a great example of a speech with a specific tone and purpose. She opens with an example of a woman’s anger – her friend was physically moved by a man because she was in his way. Ross often uses a collective “we,” bringing herself and the women in the audience together:
“Women have been trained to think that we are overreacting or that we’re being too sensitive or unreasonable. We try to make sense of nonsense, and we swallow the furious feelings. We try to put them into some hidden place in our minds, but they don’t go away.”
Tip #4: Pay attention to structure
The structure of a speech is crucial. Unlike something that’s written, your audience can’t look back on what you said to find their way if they get lost. You want your speech’s destination to be fairly clear from the beginning. You also want your path to be clear, so everyone can follow where you’re leading. Repetition is a great way to keep things on track, especially if your speech is on the long side. If you don’t have a lot of time, you’ll want to write an outline and trim everything that distracts from your core message.
Frieda Pinto gave a speech at the premiere of India’s Daughter, a documentary about the gang rape and murder of a 23-year old in south Delhi. Pinto’s structure is excellent. She opens with a personal story, provides the context of the issue, and ends with specific calls to action. You can find most of the transcript here. Pinto caps off the speech on an emotional note, asking the audience to close their eyes and imagine a bright light:
… it could be the light that we lit at the start of this event, for some it could be a stoplight, it could be a flickering candle in a dark room or maybe the big bright sun. Let it bathe you.This light is Jyoti, Jyoti literally means light, my Indian sister who was gang-raped and killed on a bus in Delhi and all she is saying is ‘please please don’t let anyone put me out again.’