Fresh from attending a series of conferences around the country, I’m struck by a simple truth:
Too many speeches are written to be read, not spoken.
As an audience member, you’ll know the feeling. The speaker’s flow of words is perfect – but somehow, too perfect. There’s something lacking. Hard to pinpoint what, but deep down inside, it doesn’t feel real.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not having a go at the speakers. Often, it’s simply not possible to memorise every word of a speech. Never is this more true than at conferences, whether in business, politics or the voluntary sector. A good script plus autocue play a central role in the public profile of any high-level communicator.
The root of the problem lies in the nature of the speechwriting process.
Tools of the trade typically include:
- a computer + keyboard
- some scraps of paper and a pen
- thin air from which to pluck ideas
- a brain (usually)
Trouble is, just because something looks good on a screen – or page – doesn’t mean it will come across well when spoken out loud.
Of course, the skills of the presenter make a difference – even a mediocre script can sound engaging with the right delivery. But the speechwriter has a critically important role to play.
One trick is to leave your desk altogether and build the speech by speaking out loud. Record yourself – or jot notes as the words come to you – and then transcribe those words into your script. Using this approach, you’re far more likely to get a natural flow.
You’ll also have fun – only this morning, I spent an hour “writing” some new material while walking round the local park and into town. Needless to say, I got some funny looks from shoppers while passing by WH Smith and Argos!
As audience members, we want speakers to talk to us. We want the feeling of a conversation, not a reading (unless you’re in church, of course, but that’s another topic entirely). At the very least, test out your script by speaking it aloud and then asking yourself:
‘Does that sound right?’
In my experience, I often find my written sentences are far too long.
Keep them short. No more than ten words.
You’ll also likely find you’ve included too much information – the bane of so many presentations. And do you know what the worst part is?
The more work that goes into the research and preparation, the greater the likelihood that information overload will occur.
This may be fine for an informative article – but it’s rubbish for speaking. The spoken word is a terrible medium for communicating ‘lots of information’. Far better to keep to a small number of key ideas with supporting data sprinkled in for reinforcement. Or, as I like to call it, go info-lite.
So, there you have it:
- “Write” your speech out loud
- Transcribe into your script
- Shorten the sentences
- Write info-lite
Succeed in this and you’ll not only earn the gratitude of the audience. The speaker will thank you too!
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