SPEECH WRITING IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK
So, you’ve been asked to make a speech. Congratulations!
Even if the idea of speaking before a crowd makes you nervous, you need to remember that such a request is an honor. Those who know you or have heard you speak obviously admire your thinking and the manner in which you express yourself. They are sure you will offer insight into the matter at hand. Without a doubt, you are a person of influence who is respected within the community.
Most of us will find ourselves in this challenging and often stressful position at some time in our lives. The occasion could be as ordinary as a farewell to a colleague at work or as extraordinary as pitching a multi-million dollar project to potential investors in a foreign country.
Regardless of the situation, a speech’s success depends largely on the preparation of the speaker. Speakers who take the time to prepare well are rewarded with gratifying applause, a feeling of accomplishment and, sometimes, new opportunities to speak. With each successive presentation, the challenge of speaking to a roomful of people gets easier, less stressful and more personally rewarding.
The goal of this book is to prepare you for that challenge by introducing you to six practical steps that will lead to success. While you can find many books that instruct you in the art of presenting a speech, few focus on the speech writing that must come first. The emphasis in this book is on what to do before you open your mouth.
Here, then, are the nuts-and-bolts of good speech writing:
Step 1: Define the goal
Step 2: Identify the audience
Step 3: Check out the venue
Step 4: Research the topic
Step 5: Organize your content
Step 6: Write the speech
If you follow these six steps, you will gain the skills and the confidence to write a compelling speech. Not necessarily a speech that changes the course of world history, although that is always possible, but rather a thoughtful speech that gets the job done, advances discussion and earns you the continued respect of your community.
Who will benefit from this book?
By investing an hour in reading this guide, you’ll learn the key steps that enable you to fulfill your responsibilities as a speaker. Together, the steps form a powerful tool, one capable of producing an outstanding presentation.
These guidelines will work regardless of whether you are a:
member of the clergy
community club member
member of a wedding party
This is not an idle claim on my part. Over several decades I have written speeches about topics as varied as environmental sustainability, investing in mining stocks, educational reform, settlement of the agrarian west, university commencement, cultural tourism, and industrial development. I prepared those speeches for both public and private clients who addressed audiences ranging from intimate living room gatherings in small-town North America to an assembly of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Bangkok, Thailand. I have even delivered a few speeches myself.
As a result, the advice I offer here is practical in nature. It is intended for beginning speakers and for speakers with limited experience who wish to improve their speech writing skills. It works for ordinary people in everyday situations.
You can find many excellent, fat books about speechmaking. At the back of this book, I have included the names of a few I particularly like. Works like these offer everything from the history of speech making to the ancient art of rhetoric to the myriad ways in which you can number a speech outline. Often encyclopedic in scope, and daunting because of it, these detailed volumes are more useful to the journeyman speechwriter than to the inexperienced apprentice. You’ll find them excellent resources once you have mastered the basics of speech writing.
Speeches begin and end with the listener
Before we can talk intelligently about how to write a speech, we must understand the needs of the listener. Regardless of the situation, every audience wants the same three things from a speaker:
Meeting those expectations is at the heart of this book, so let’s take a moment to examine each of them.
How many times have you listened to a speech and come away thinking, “What on earth was he trying to say?”
Unfortunately such a response is all too common. When listeners are confused by a presentation, their respect for the speaker diminishes. And if they aren’t listening respectfully, they will fail to absorb the lessons of the speech. It is not enough to be an expert with something important to say; you must also say it clearly. Anything less than effective communication defeats the purpose of your presentation.
It is a rare audience member who says a speech was too short. In fact, watch any audience during a speech and you’ll see many listeners tune out after about 10 minutes. Within 20 minutes, the speaker will have lost most of them completely.
So why do most speeches run on and on? The reasons range from the speaker’s lack of self-confidence to his or her inflated sense of self-importance. The best way to offset either tendency, and therefore hold the attention of your audience, is to be brief. Brevity and impact are closely related. To be brief, you must have command of your subject and express your knowledge succinctly.
In short, you must make your presentation more like a Super Bowl commercial than a State of the Union address.
A speaker’s third and greatest responsibility is to engage listeners and, in doing so, make them think and, more often than not, act.
For example, the eulogist at a funeral service strives to leave you with an indelible, positive impression of the deceased. The corporate executive presenting quarterly financial results aims to increase, or at least maintain, investor confidence in the company. The urban planner presenting a concept plan for approval is determined to convince a city council that her redevelopment scheme will benefit the community. In each case, the speaker is attempting to reinforce or alter the beliefs of the listener.
Remember that all good presentations make a single, strong point. Better presentations challenge the thinking of the listener. Great presentations bring about change.
If a presentation doesn’t affect the audience positively, then it’s merely a lecture, and nobody likes to be lectured.
The benefits of this approach
By putting yourself in the listener’s shoes, you’ll be able to write a memorable and compelling speech. Your words will excite members of the audience, inspire them, and perhaps even change them. When you succeed at that, you’ll be well on your way to making a genuine difference in your community.
In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who wrote The Little Prince, “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work; but, rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
If you follow the practical advice offered in this short guide, I have no doubt your thoughtful and well-spoken words will have audiences longing to hear more from you.