Not a great speech writer? Neither was I. I had the passion, I had something to say, but to actually sit down and write a speech… forget it! The summer of 2001 was the most transformational time in my career.
I loved the performance, but the preparation and the writing process nearly killed me. In fact, when I was making my run for the World Championship of Public Speaking, and decided to get a speaking coach, I knew I was in trouble! The very first thing that my coach, Dave McIlhenny, asked me to do was to write out my speech. I can still hear myself whining, “But you don’t understand, I can’t be tied down by a script! I work best with bullet points. Blah, blah, blah.”
Dave wasn’t buying it. I wanted a coach, but for a moment was not coachable. I eventually put my tail between my legs and sat down at my Mac computer to write.
I mean nothing came through my finger tips. After a sincere effort, I called my coach and told him about my blank computer screen. He laughed and told me to try another “acceptable” approach.
He told me to go give the speech live, record it, and then go home and transcribe it. “I can do that!” I was so excited! I could be free and give it the way I wanted, and be “brilliant” in the moment with the connection to my audience. Woooo hooooo!
I got home, sat down, and started transcribing it. The speech was a bit wordy at first, but I focused on just getting the words down, and then I’d tidy it up later.
When I was finished, I read through my speech. I really said that? YUK! The more I read it, the worse it got! I hadn’t written out a speech word-for-word since my early days of stand-up comedy. It was ugly – yet extremely powerful. Though I could easily stand and deliver with energy, pauses, and passion, what I literally said was misguided.
The power of seeing my words on that computer screen changed me. I saw the potential I had, that would never be tapped, by simply “winging it” and just being “in the moment.” I needed to have the right words and say them concisely.
With the help of a good coach, I was able to create a much more concise and powerful speech. I’m still not a memorizer. Once I got the words right, I could familiarize myself with how it should be, and get much closer to perfect.
Do you want your writing to be dynamite? If you want to be a better speech writer, I challenge you to:
Tell it, and Transcribe it!
Sit back and read what you actually said. It will surprise you. Are you willing to accept my challenge?
Great advice. After I first heard this I tried the Practice, Tape, and Type method.
I’ve found the best reason to write out the speech is to help stay on topic. It’s so easy to go off on a tanget when I speak, so now I hit those tangents in the practice, and reason out how to eliminate them in the final version.
Great teaching!! There are certainly other ways to write a speech, but this can be a great on for the person who knows what they want to say and hone it later. Thanks for helping speakers grow.
I too am averse to “writing” a speech. I’m a speaker after all. Last week I cam in second in a Tall Tales contest at Area F3 in District 53. I had a really great speech that was not written and was confident that I would win. I will now take your suggestion and transcribe my speech since it surely didn’t come out as I had planned.
Thanks for the advice.
I love this method.
When I first joined Toastmasters, I would do it the opposite way: I’d write my speech word for word and then memorize it. 2 things happened that made me change that method:
First, an evaluator very kindly pointed out that I sounded “stilted.” Then one day I lost my place in my speech and couldn’t continue.
So I did a 180 and went to the whole “winging it” and bullet points method – my speaking improved and I cut my prep time down substantially.
It wasn’t until I started entering contests that I started writing speeches out again. I did exactly what you suggested: record the speech and transcribe it. The best thing about this method is that even after you tweak and edit, it still sounds like “speaking” instead of “writing” – and not stilted.
And as a bonus…I got used to hearing the sound of my own voice. (I avoided this method for a long time because I couldn’t stand to hear myself on tape.)
Thanks for the great article!
I am a Safety expert and professional speaker from Johannesburg in South Africa. I have received many news letters from other experts / speakers around the world and found most of them a waste of time = unsubscribed after a short while. However, STAGE TIME stands out. Your tips & techniques are all based on real, often personal experiences, practical and adoptable or adaptable to my own speaking. You give without wanting to get and you put out a challenge to your audience. Your consistency of putting out a STAGE TIME nearly every week is remarkable. By carrying on, I will only dilute the ‘WELL DONE & KEEP IT UP’ I am giving you. In closing, it’s a pity that you are not one of the overseas speakers at the PSASA 2010 convention in April.
BTW I use the term TNT as well = Today Not Tomorrow :-))
Great article, Darren. Like Patty K. (above), I was much more comfortable writing my speech than “winging” it. I think the combination of giving the speech and then transcribing it is the best method. A few weeks ago, as I was writing my speech for the club speech contest, my computer crashed. I had a printed version of the speech and was forced to practice it and edit it without the use of a computer for a few weeks. Standing up really brings out the core of your message and frees your brain to deliver it. Once it is written, you can be more objective and tighten it up in the editing process. It’s the perfect combination of using your left brain and your right brain. The analytical and creative team together to help you deliver a dynamite message. Thanks again for a very interesting and useful message.
I accept your challenge. It will be good for me because I think I can speak on the fly a lot of times. I will write them all out from now on.
Thank you all, I’m delighted you enjoyed that article! I I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to tell me!
I agree with you that writing a speech is the 80% of the job and when well done can provide great results.
I suggest my mentees to just write down as if they are speaking to the audiance. However, before that I suggest they have outline of 3 to 4 bullet points with the framework of which they should confim their talking to the audiance. This technique has worked wonders for some of my mentees.
As always – great advice.
I would suggest recording every time you speak. I have said “unscripted” things in speeches that were GOLD, had I not recorded those speeches, those precious golden insights would have been lost forever.
I think that you need to be open to the moment even with a written speech. Thanks for produding such a valuable newsletter, I always learn.