Sometimes, there’s just no fighting geography. And the truth is, there’s no faster or better feedback on how a speech you wrote goes over than to be in the audience when it does.
That’s often hard, especially if the speech is in another city, or if your speechwriting is a freelance gig outside of your day job. But if you can show up, even if it’s only to a handful of speeches, you’ll have a far better handle on the chemistry between your text, your speaker and their audience. Continue reading
Being in the audience when a speaker delivers a speech you’ve written is great, for all kinds of reasons. But it does hold one big danger: being asked, “Did you write it?”
See if you can spot where this conversation at a banquet table after a luncheon keynote went south:
“So what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a speechwriter.”
“Oh! Did you write this speech?”
“This? This speech? The one you just heard? Ha, ha, excellent question. My gosh, my throat’s dry. I’m just going to get some water, and then sit down at a different table on the far side of the room.”
We love to get credit for the work we’ve done. (Maybe not when a speech bombs. Success has a hundred proud parents, but failure is an orphan.) But when we’re writing for someone else, claiming authorship is complicated at best, and fraught with moral and financial peril at worst. Continue reading
I recently saw a speech by someone clearly accustomed to the public spotlight and comfortable on the stage. She had an important message to deliver about a profound social injustice. She spoke with authority and confidence.
And she spent nearly all twenty minutes of her speech reciting statistics.
Good, compelling statistics: stark, often startling, sometimes infuriating. But two hours after her speech, I’d have been hard-pressed to tell you any of them.
Now, there was an interview-style Q&A after the speech where she was a lot more engaging. But by that point, she’d already lost a big chunk of the audience.
When it comes to statistics in speeches, less really is more. One or two telling statistics to buttress an argument or illustrate a point can be powerful. Once your trickle of stats swells to a flood, though, your audience can easily get overwhelmed and emotionally detached. And you risk swapping being a storyteller for being a stock ticker. Continue reading
Everything froze for a moment as the full realization struck Commander Akal: the altimeter had been sabotaged. She didn’t have five hundred metres of room to play with; she had perhaps one hundred and twenty, and that number — like the landing craft — was plunging.
“Shnat!” she hissed, smacking the actuator to fire the braking thrusters. The craft lurched upward, slamming her body into her seat. Searing pain ripped up her spine, and she knew immediately one of her tails had fractured. Better that than the rest of her.
The green copper-oxide surface of Mardath rushed to fill her screen, and she punched the emergency thrusters. Two of the them fired; the third sputtered, flared and burst in a shower of metal splinters.
The craft yawed left, and the horizon twisted sickeningly.
“I’m about to be the first Tragg on Mardath,” Akal had a split second to think, and then the craft’s hull crushed and folded into her in less time than it took to blink, flattened. It skidded, tumbled, skipped and skidded again, carving a staccato groove in the Mardathian surface.
The dust took hours to settle in Mardath’s thin gravity. But when it did, all was silent and still.
This one’s for Red Sweater Software and the excellent MarsEdit.
(Don’t blame them for the “CRM” cartoon — that one’s mine.)
You’ve written the speech, and it has everything: moving anecdotes, a few telling facts, a gripping narrative, a rousing call to action and a conclusion that will have your speaker’s audience on their feet. (Clapping, not leaving. Important distinction there.) Best of all, it’s the final draft, all approved and ready to send to the client.
Time to call it a day?
Maybe not. Before you shut down Word (or whatever hipster Markdown-based text editor you kids are using these days), your speaker may want you to format the speech for delivery. And depending on who you’re writing for, that may involve some significant time.
Unlike, say, screenwriting, there’s no standard for formatting speaking notes; just about everything depends on the preferences and needs of whoever will be delivering it. But there are a few conventions and good practices to keep in mind — things that will make your speech look crisp and professional, but more important, will help ensure if gets the best possible delivery. Continue reading
At age 16, my first experience volunteering on my own was heading down to Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park.
It was the home of Project 4000, an initiative spearheaded by the city’s newly elected mayor, Marion Dewar:
Canada had a quota of 8,000 Southeast Asian refugees for the year and had already processed half that number, she was told.
“I said, you’ve only got 4,000 left? We’ll take them — you know, very slap happy,” she recalled in an interview. But she was never more serious.
“It stuck in my mind: 4,000. We’ve got almost 400,000 in Ottawa. Surely we can handle that. Then I thought, I better get to the community.”
This was the first stirrings of what would become Project 4000 — a startling and steely initiative to resettle large numbers of refugees from Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos in Ottawa.
Even the most interesting topic can be rendered inert by the simple application of a dull speech. Audiences are human, and they crave a little drama along with their intellectual content.
Nobody knows drama better than Nancy Duarte, famous for her concept of the STAR (Something They’ll Always Remember) moment (remember Al Gore on that scissor lift in front of a climate graph in An Inconvenient Truth?). And in a post a few days ago on LinkedIn, she recommended using contrast to heighten the drama of a presentation.
Although her post touches on writing, she mainly focuses on delivery (varying your tone and volume, moving around on the stage) and slide design (high-contrast simple text slides, alternated with charts or images). Let’s shift the focus to the text of a speech — and talk about a few ways speechwriters can do our part to create contrasts, too. Continue reading