Putting Your Speech on Paper! (Part 2)
You know what the best way to learn how to write good speeches is? It’s to read and listen to the greats. You can refer to various TED talks, Toastmaster competitions or even speeches given by the leaders and governments of each country (if we’re honest, probably not Malaysia’s. Alternatively, try Obama). But if you’re looking for a quick cheat-sheet, we have it right here! Here are a few things to boost your speech writing skill considerably within a short period of time:
1. Hook ‘em up
In basketball, there is a play called the ‘hook shot’. It’s common for a tall player to shoot within ten feet of the basket; the main reason is how hard it is for the defensive player to block it even when he or she knows the player is about to shoot a hook.
Similarly, including a hook in your speech will demand the attention of the audience even if they’re not interested in your topic. A hook is something that grabs the attention of your audience, to keep them with you throughout your speech.
And as you write, you want to be sure to include a sufficient amount of it.
We all have had unique experiences in life that have brought us to where we were. Think about obstacles you overcame, or an event that changed your life forever. Perhaps at one point of your life you were in a highly unusual position. Think about unique life experiences that might make you stand out from other speakers.
“I grew up in Pulau Ketam. I remember once when I fell ill, and had to row myself to the doctor through crocodile-infested waters in a canoe. And here’s that story…” All of a sudden, you’ve got everyone’s ears tuned to you. Your interesting story had just become the hook.
2. Be Concise
It is said that it is easier to write a thousand words than to halve it.
Speeches relay clear and accurate information, and to this end, places a high premium on well-constructed, carefully thought-out content. Unfortunately, many speakers take this the wrong way, leading to unnecessarily lengthy speeches. Presentations that force audiences to process chains of words and ideas without a break or a pause is pure torture. Audiences are unable to process all the information and keep in mind what the original message or overall objective is! Long and drawn-out sentences affect comprehension. Period.
Indeed, it is harder to be concise than verbose. Being concise means cutting down on all the unnecessary parts of the speech, and instead building on those that really matter. Challenge yourself to cut as many words as possible from each sentence without losing the line’s meaning. It’s good practice and pays its dividends over time.
3. Quote Power
When someone says or writes something powerful or memorable, you might think, “Why couldn’t I say it like that?” I have some news for you: you can! In fact, when it comes to speech writing, by all means, do it!
Strengthen your speech by quoting others.
There are many great sources to obtain quotes from: from books and speeches to history and even possibly your elders.
When including quotes, try to express it contextually exactly as the person who expressed the idea did so powerfully—and give that person credit for the statement. Always relate the statement to the point you are making. The quote should never succeed the point in audience attention; but rather support it and bring it further into the spotlight. You can insert quotes in just about anywhere in your speech. Use a quotation to begin or end a presentation. Or slot in the surprise quote in between points to help audiences visualize better.
4. Being Funny – and when Not To
Opening a speech with a joke or funny story seems to be just about what everyone does these days; but nothing falls flatter than inappropriate humour. A friend who works at a corporate firm was convinced a joke was the only way to start a speech. He messaged me one night while he preparing to ask for a nice joke to open up his speech. I asked if his boss was open to humour, to which I received a firm no. That settled it, then. I suggested opening with an inspirational quote instead. One was chosen, and the speech turned out to be a success.
Is there moral to this story? Yes, yes there is.
Before using humour or a joke to open your speech, consider the following: Is it appropriate for the setting and the audience? Is it in good taste? Does it have any relevance to the topic at hand? Does it support my topic or its key points? If the answer to these question is no, then my advice is to a steer clear of humour for the time being. It's safer and more effective to tell the audience what they most want to know from you. Tailor your humour to your audience, and keep in mind that humour is never the only way to go.
6. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat, Re…
How often do you find yourself drifting off during a particularly dull speech? Or maybe you’re paying attention but just can’t seem to grasp a concept? Either way, you’ll find that once you’ve fallen behind, it’s nearly impossible to continue paying attention. Everything seems disjointed and the speech has lost its charm.
As good speakers go, they know about this all too well. So, to help their audience, they use repetition in their words. When writing a speech, repeat what you write to hammer home key words, phrases, and themes. Always look for places that tie back to and reinforce earlier points. As for critical points, repeat them like a tsunami warning. The concept is simple: repeat the message over-and-over until it sticks.
Some audience members may get annoyed when you repeat yourself. The word ‘tedious’, or even ‘verbose’ (as mentioned previously) may pop up. But don’t worry how they feel today. Instead, ask yourself this: What will they remember me and my speech six months from now?