Great Speeches Don't Just Happen


Just because you can confidently deliver a presentation doesn’t mean you are a great speechwriter. Bulleted lists, catchy headlines, and whiz-bang special effects using Powerpoint are not the answer. Here are seven ways that will turn an ordinary speech into a spellbinding one.

But before we get down to the nuts and bolts of crafting that spellbinding speech, let me say that my definition of a “speech” encompasses the full spectrum of presenting to an audience, whether it’s your marketing plan to your employees or an important keynote address to a hundred people. 

1. Do your research
A speech is only as good as the quality of research and reflection you put into it. Before you write one sentence get all your information together. This is vitally important if your speech will focus on facts and statistics. Research your audience too. If they are known to you, think about their likes and dislikes as revealed in the previous times you spoke in front of them. If your audience is an unknown quantity, try gathering as much demographics about them as possible.
At this stage, always collect more information than you might use. It’s always easier to boil down this mass of information than trying to work with too little and figure out how to pad the speech!

2. Write a quick first draft
Once you have all your information collected, start on your draft. Some techniques to “get it out on paper” are: an outline, a one page summary, a list of talking points, or just sit down and write it free-flow stream-of-consciousness. The trick is not to edit anything at this point.

3. Revise
Start revising by asking yourself “What do I want to say in the opening few minutes that will capture and hold my audience’s attention?” Develop that paragraph using a relevant quotation, startling fact or statistic or a humorous anecdote. If you have a lot of material, remember that brevity is the hallmark of a good speech. As you are revising, think about places where you’d like to insert some levity or concrete examples, or quotes. Be sure to use descriptive language and active verbs.

End your speech with something memorable. Create a close that makes your audience think, react, take action, laugh, or applaud to show support.

4. Write for the “ear”
Once you have your revised draft, read it out loud. It will help you avoid stilted phrases, tongue twisters that can trip you up, and dull copy. Use contractions because that is how we speak (you might be reading a large amount of your speech, however, a speech is “spoken” words!) Also, drawing a picture with words will often help an audience to better grasp the message.

5. Write with your audience in mind
Your next revisions should focus on your audience. Do you have the information that they need to receive? Have you written it to their level? Don’t use phrases or acronyms that are unfamiliar to them. Keep your language simple and avoid “big” words. Be sure to express your own personality, passions, and perspectives in a way that is truly you.

Keep in mind that an audience that has heard you before will have certain expectations. Some you want to live up to, others you might want to break out of. If they haven’t heard you before they might group you with the other speakers in your industry or at this event. If you can, try to break the stereotype and give them something unique! 

6. Avoid the Powerpoint trap
If you can’t memorize a speech, it is better to read from your notes than the bulleted points on your Powerpoint slides. Your slides should support your speech, not be your speech. Use images, graphs, good color combinations, and minimal text. And keep your slides to a minimum because every time a slide pops up, you loose your audience’s attention to what you are saying. Here’s a thought about the use of Powerpoint: Have you ever seen it used at a eulogy?

7. Now go deliver!
A speech is live theatre. You don’t have to entertain but your delivery has to be compelling. Audiences don’t want to know how much you know, they want to receive insights. Make sure you give them one or two compelling ideas, or points to take away. 

Writing a good speech is the behind the scenes effort that make the presentation easier. A well written speech that has all information formatted in an audience friendly manner will help you connect. If you are prone to stage fright or butterflies at the thought of giving a speech, investigate Toastmasters International. They have chapters all across the US, they are a great group for practicing a wide variety of speech giving in a supportive environment, and they aren’t costly. To find a chapter near you visit http://www.toastmasters.org/

I can help you write a great speech whether it’s your first or twenty-first! Let me show you the tricks that will get your audience hooked and motivated to action. Call 908-241-5874 or e-mail Beyond-Words@att.net NOW!
                                                                               c 2008 Leona M Seufert