Magazine article Management Review

Tricks of the Speechwriter's Trade

Magazine article Management Review

Tricks of the Speechwriter's Trade

Article excerpt

I've got a fascinating job in an exciting company that's part of a dynamic industry. But if I give a speech about it, I put everyone to sleep."

The woman who made that confession to me is a key executive in a company that markets and manages shopping centers in western Canada. Ambitious, self-motivated and sure of her expertise, she struck me as someone who ought to be able to take an audience wherever she wanted them to go.

Her problem became clear when she showed me a speech she had written and presented at an industry conference. I had seen dull texts before, but this one set a new standard: from "ladies and gentlemen ..." right through to "... thank you for your attention," it was pure Sominex.

Personality and podium skills are important tools for the successful public speaker, but a speech begins as words on paper or in the chips of a word processor. Getting the words right moves you a lot closer to the warmth of a standing ovation.

Here are 11 techniques and tricks of the speechwriter's trade that can make your next speech a winner.

1. Make An Impression

Nobody remembers speeches. A listener may remember a catchy phrase, a joke or particularly startling fact, but no one sitting through 20 minutes of continuous monologue can recall and repeat the text. Instead, they remember the impression made upon them, the sense of what was said and what it meant.

The average business speech audience will retain no more than two or three new facts from your 20-minute talk. If you crowd the text with facts and figures, no one will remember them, but everyone will remember how boring you were. So pare your facts ruthlessly, until you are dealing with the essential information that you want your audience to take away with them.

2. Get Organized

There are several different ways to structure a speech text, but the easiest and best way to organize your material is the "three-times" approach. You begin by telling the audience what you are going to tell them; then you tell them; then you finish by telling them what you just told them.

With this structure, you announce very early in the speech--usually on the first page of your written text--what your speech is about and why it is important to the audience. You then expound upon your message with the appropriate facts, examples or anecdotes, and then close by restating the theme once more.

Your speech will have a definite beginning, middle and end, and the audience will not be confused about what you were trying to say.

3. Plain English

Never call a spade an "excavational implement." Plain AngloSaxon English is usually clearer and more easily understood than a string of jargon and ten-dollar words. It is the language of emotion, as well. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more" has a lot more impact than "I am extremely choleric and I encompass no intention of enduring any supplemental experience."

Using Anglo-Saxon also puts you in good company. From Lincoln's "government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish" to Churchill's we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds" to Kennedy's "ask not what your country can do for you," the best speech is plain English.

4. Get Active

The rules of English grammar allow for an active or a passive voice. In the active voice, you might say "we have decided"; in the passive voice, it comes out as "a decision has been reached."

Bureaucrats and other haunters of committees love the passive voice. Because it is totally neutral, it lets them say things without having to take responsibility for saying them. But it puts an audience to sleep.

Some people seem to feel that the passive voice adds a refined tone to their utterances, but these are usually the same hopeless drones who consider "at this point in time" an elegant phrase. …

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