Tuesday 4 June 2013

Ten tips for writing speeches: part one.

Lots of conference and event agencies ask us to help write speeches for their clients. No matter what the sector, or whether it’s an internal or external audience, there are some principles that it always pays to follow. Here are the first five. And there's five more to come in the next post. To guarantee you don’t miss them, sign up hereand receive copywriting insights direct to your inbox every month.  

1. Open with a gift
This can be a joke. It doesn’t have to be a belly laugh, although that’s ideal. But just going to the effort of saying something humorous puts your audience at ease. It shows you’ve got enough respect for them to have put some thought into what you’re saying.

Not feeling funny or is comedy not the right tone? Then a brief, personal anecdote that sets up your main message can work well. It lets your audience know a bit about you. Self-deprecation is always good. It breaks down the barrier between speaker and audience.

2. Don’t be boring
The advice used to be, ‘Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you’ve said’. That’s still sound structural advice. However, try to set up your main message without a phrase like, ‘Today, I’d like to talk about …’ Audiences expect more engagement. If they don’t get it, they’ll be straight on their smart phones and you’ll lose them.

3. Have a single, big idea
Like any piece of communication, it helps to focus on one single thought. Doing so makes it easier for your audience to take in what you have to say. Your idea should be new, convincing and useful. Otherwise, why should anyone listen? Being single-minded also makes it easier for you to write. Anything that doesn’t relate to your idea can be cut.

If you simply have to convey more than one thought, keep them down to three at the most. People won’t take any more in. You might be talking. They might be listening. But it won’t stick.

4. Tell them how you feel about your idea
Reveal how it’s affected you, in your life – and not necessarily just your business life. Do that and you’ll create a human connection. The more open you are, the more your audience will accept what you have to say. Revealing vulnerability and weakness, how you felt and why, all helps win an audience over. People just can’t help being human. We care. If you don’t feel comfortable revealing something about yourself, find another person’s story which illustrates the point. Bill Clinton uses this technique a lot. And he’s one of the best.

5. Less rhetoric, more passion
The country is not about to be invaded (so easy on the Churchillian rhetoric). You aren’t trying to emancipate the downtrodden masses (Martin Luther King may have had a dream, but you should probably keep yours to yourself).

I’m afraid the tone of corporate speeches is restricted by the subject matter: business is important, but it’s not a matter of life and death. So keep the rhetorical devices subtle. Don’t overcook the repetition. Go easy on the vision. That said, give the subject all the passion it can handle. People need to see you care.

We'll reveal five more speechwriting tips in our next post, due in July. Sign up to receive it hereAnd if you, or your client, have a speech that needs writing, get in touch on +44 (0)20 8674 3551. After a half-an-hour call, we usually have more than enough to write a ten-minute speech.

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