Category Archives: how to write a speech

The Power of a Great Title

If your speech title isn’t just right, you probably won’t have much of an audience, so stop worrying about how to write a speech! You have much bigger problems to solve first.

Your speech title is the first impression the audience has of both you and your speech. It’s the only part of your speech that audiences know in advance. For a conference or large-scale event, sometimes people know the title months in advance!

Your speech title is your press agent, your Marketing Department, and your FRIEND!

This isn’t just any friend. This friend is there to look out for you, make sure your reputation precedes you, speak highly of you, secure the right audience and to set that audience’s expectations before you speak. So put some effort into it, and your title will reward you tenfold!

If your title is dull and gray like clouds, it’ll project that same image right onto you, and you’re already off to a poor start before you open your mouth.

Think about it: would you attend a speech called How to Stack a Dishwasher?

I’d probably skip that one myself. But how about one of these alternative titles for the same speech?

  1. Life in the Top Rack
  2. Could We Dispense with all the Soap?
  3. Always With a Pinch of Salt
  4. The Flatware Conspiracy
  5. Scouring: The Overnight Program

Yup, I wouldn’t miss any of those. You get the idea? I mean, that last one is utterly meaningless, but I’d still attend the speech out of sheer curiosity!

My point is that a great title can add a lot to a speech, and set the tone properly for your presentation.

If you’ve ever attended or presented at a conference, you’ll know that delegates have a LOT of presentations to choose from, not to mention the socializing they actually came for.

To be brutal about it, unless your reputation really does precede you, or your name is Steve Jobs, Hillary Clinton or Richard Branson, audiences will probably short-list you on the strength of your intriguing title, or who’s on right after you!

Yes, people will sometimes sit through anything to be sure of a good seat for what follows. But don’t count on it!

So when planning how to write a speech, and especially choosing a title, let’s aim our sights just a LITTLE higher, shall we?

Need a Speech Quickly ? Start with a Template.

When I was a Toastmasters club president, I seemed to be speaking every couple of days at some event or other, and I came up a few organizational shortcuts out of necessity, some of which I’m still using 12 years on.

One such idea is to develop a personal speech template that will get you started writing a speech without having to think about structure, and take you from first thoughts to getting up to speak in less time than it takes to be introduced!

I’m not kidding – I actually had to do that once in front of an audience. We had a guest evaluator, and the speaker for her to evaluate didn’t arrive. While the Toastmaster was introducing the meeting, I pulled out a template like the one below and started scribbling furiously about How to Make a Pizza.

Speech Template Mind Map

I don’t think the evaluator even noticed. She remarked that I hadn’t had to use my notes very much! Result!

In the picture, I’ve added some text to illustrate how I might use a mind map template to help me quickly write a speech. YOUR template can take any form you want. Use a list if you like, or an outline, or a small stack of business cards – use them like index cards but write really WEE! 🙂

Use whatever method floats your boat and will help you create and remember your speech after almost NO preparation time. Remember: because you haven’t prepared as well as you normally would, there’s a good chance you’ll need your notes as an aide-memoire. So write clearly or even better, just use pictures and keywords.

For me, it’s mind maps. I like them because – as you can see – you can start in the center, and add ideas as they come to you by working outwards, without ending up with arrows and squeezed-up scribbles you’ll never be able to see with a quick glance during delivery if you need to.

Be a true ninja and develop your own template. Then photocopy it and keep one in your wallet or purse for that day, and it will come, when you’re asked to speak in a hurry!

Want to read more? I have plenty more original ideas to share. Please encourage me by linking to my blog from your own web pages, and please: Submit to Social Websites

A Great Example of Audience Optimization

In my post on how to write a humorous speech, I hopefully got you thinking about about audience optimization as a way of reaching more of your audience with your humorous speeches. As I mentioned, humor is always subjective, sometimes cruelly so.

I can’t think of a better example of audience optimization than the hit TV show The Office.

The show was a huge hit in its native England, but it made Ricky Gervais a household name on both sides of the Atlantic by winning two Golden Globe awards in 2004 despite a very limited airing on the BBC America regional cable channel.

The concept of The Office – a spoof fly-on-the-wall documentary set in an office – was SUCH a hit that it was quickly picked up by the US networks, but get this. The show was completely re-made to enhance its appeal to broader US audiences. Isn’t that incredible? I know there are countless examples of this, but here’s a show that had already proved it award-winning popularity in the US, and they still took the risk of erasing its success, and the expense of production, to make the show more accessible, and hopefully more rewarding.

The rest is television history!

Having lived in both the US and the UK, and split my sides laughing at TV comedy in both places, I feel that I’m quite accepting of comedy in a variety of styles. With The Office, I find the US version of The Office pretty funny, but the UK version just hits that perfect sweet spot of humor for me. Like a few years before with Seinfeld, once acclimatized, I couldn’t get enough of it.

For the humorous speaker, DVD is an amazing tool! My DVD player has a “repeat the last 30 seconds” button. Whenever I’m writing a humorous speech, I use this to play back favorite comedy moments and learn something from the speaker’s timing. Having the chance to compare two professionally produced versions of the same material is something that would have made Laurel and Hardy laugh. It’s a fascinating, worthwhile exercise and great education. I assure you, I never had this much fun in school!

The Office is Audience Optimization executed brilliantly, not to mention great entertainment. If you haven’t seen the original Ricky Gervais version, you really must!

Here it is on Amazon.com: TheOfficeUSA

Here it is on Amazon.co.uk:TheOfficeUK

Dave Curley holds the Advanced Toastmaster (Silver) award from Toastmasters International, an outstanding environment in which to learn not only how to write a speech but how to deliver one with confidence. Dave now speaks regularly as essential part of his business as an identity management and IT security consultant. He operates globally but always has a return ticket to Glasgow, Scotland.

Want to read more? I have plenty more original ideas to share. Please encourage me by linking to my blog from your own web pages, and please: Submit to Social Websites

The Funny Thing about Writing a Humorous Speech

Ironically, in order to understand how to write a speech with humor that penetrates even the most stony-faced audience, you just might have to get serious. Serious about funny business, that is.

There’s a perception among aspiring speakers that humor is a natural skill that just can’t be taught. Rubbish, I say. If someone has the capacity to laugh, then they have the capacity to make others laugh too. It’s unavoidable, it’s as contagious as laughter itself, and sometimes it just needs a little sideways perspective.

The first thing I keep in mind whenever I’m planning how to write a humorous speech is that humor itself is extremely subjective.

Ask ten friends to rate your three favorite jokes, comedians or hit comedy movies in order of funniness, and you might be surprised at the results.

Chances are that opinions will vary widely. Some will find your favorite comedian unbearable; others may prefer slapstick gags to clever wordplay. And remember, these are your friends; people with whom you presumably share some basic values. How dare they not be doubled over with laughter at the same things you find funny!

Now, imagine if you scaled up this experiment to your intended audience size. If the results stay proportionally the same – no reason to expect otherwise – I’d say there’s at least a CSI-style micro-whiff of evidence that a small percentage of the general public responds well to exactly the same humor as you do, and the rest don’t.

Not to burst any ego bubbles here, but at a stretch I’d guess there will be no more than 20% of any audience that’s naturally in tune with the speaker’s idea of funny.

What’s my point? Simply that if you focus exclusively on material that YOU find hilarious, your humor will surely hit its mark, but only with a fraction of your audience. If that’s not enough for you – and it’s not for me – then some ninja speaker tactics are required. Welcome to what I call audience optimization.

Audience optimization simply means adjusting your presentation style in deference to your audience.

In the context of a humorous speech, it means developing the acuity to see, hear, feel and smell precisely how your humorous content and delivery style is affecting your audience. More than that, it’s about being willing to swallow the disappointment when your favorite one-liner doesn’t work work. Dust yourself off and just try something
else. Specifically, try something you’ve seen others respond well to, but isn’t your first choice of humor. If it doesn’t work, try something else again, but if it does – who cares why – you just found an easy way to reach maybe ANOTHER 20% of that elusive audience!

Think of yourself as a safecracker, listening intently for the correct alignment of each part of the lock. Sooner or later, with minor adjustments, everything will be in alignment and your well-balanced humorous speech cannot fail to open up that audience.

You’re probably wondering what types of humor other people might find funnier. Here are just a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing, but really it’s up to you to observe and use what you see working:

Dry humor
A Pun Run
Awkward Situations
Absurd situations
Anecdotes
Self-deprecating stories
Tall tales
Barrage of one-liners
Juxtaposition
Slapstick
Physical humor
Irony
Sarcasm
Tales of the Unexpected
Practical jokes (careful though!)
Story with character voices

You get the idea.

Many speakers, myself included, start off with an unintentional arrogance with it comes to humorous speeches. We assume that our personal brand of humor appeals equally across audiences. We expect people to find everything we say irresistibly funny. And we judge
those not doubled up in laughter as having NO sense of humor at all. In fact, none of that is true. Our funny bones are just all wired differently. To accept that, and play with it can be rewarding for the humorous speaker.

Next time you’re thinking about how to write a humorous speech, build audience optimization into your speech writing process from the start. Deliver the same speech a few times, with minor adjustments inspired by each successive audience response, and watch your speech become a winner as your audience silently tells YOU its magic formula.

Want to read more? I have plenty more original ideas to share. Please encourage me by linking to my blog from your own web pages, and please: Submit to Social Websites

How to Write a Speech

If it gives you any comfort, an old cliché tells us that most people are more afraid of public speaking than dying, yet as you’ll see in this article, learning how to write a speech is a simple process that you can quickly master. Once you’ve written your speech using the principles outlined below, your fear of public speaking will be gone forever, and Good Riddance to it!

Let’s start with seven basic steps. Please sit up and pay close attention to this bit, because you can’t really leave any of these steps out. Below the basic steps are three bonus ninja speaking tips I’ve picked up in the course of writing, delivering and listening to hundreds of speeches over the years.

Step Zero: STOP! Did you see what I just did? Please re-read that last paragraph again, because it’s vitally important. In just three simple sentences, I set your expectations about what to expect in this article, unobtrusively gave you some information about me to add to my credibility, and got you to sit up and pay SPECIAL attention to my basic points. In fact, just to leave you in no doubt at all, I asked you to do that in as many words! That’s really my first basic tip on how to write a speech: everything you say in a speech should be carefully planned, thought out, written and rehearsed. NO AD-LIBBING! With a prepared speech, your greatest asset, and one that your audience won’t even be aware of, is the luxury of having time to prepare and hone your wise words. So use it wisely, Grasshopper.

Here are the seven Basic Steps:

  1. Carefully write, rewrite and if necessary rewrite again your first three to five sentences. You will utter these words during the single most important moment of your speech.Your audience is getting to know you, and already form opinions about you, your style and how receptive they’ll be when you get to the point.So include in your intro all the elements you need to set the tone, introduce yourself and make the exact first impression that YOU want to give them.Rehearse this using specific words. Change them if they’re not perfect. “Try on” various tones of voice, tempos, volumes. Whisper. Pause. Shout. Rehearse all this until you can do it in the shower.In fact, prove it by DOING it in the shower. You can’t take your notes in there, so this will give you the confidence you need that you KNOW this bit. Feel free to scrub up a little while you’re in there!
  2. OK, back to work. Now, write a crisp summary of the points you made during your speech and a smooth transition to your closing remarks. I know you haven’t written the speech yet, so for now, use anything you want to represent your points, like newspaper headlines from this morning’s paper.
    Your mission here is to capture the tone you want to maximize the impact of your closing. DON’T CHEAT – you’ll only be cheating yourself. Your closing words are just as important as your opening. This and maybe one point you talk about will be remembered. So make it memorable. Shout if you have to. Rehearse it like before.
    REALLY IMPORTANT: Close with one or two very carefully crafted sentences. OK, practice time. Go back for another shower. No notes this time!
  3. You should now smell nice and have a Hollywood blockbuster opening and climax for your speech.If you’re at that point, you can get dressed again, you won’t need another shower till later. Sorry about all the towels we’re using in this lesson.Nothing I could have said in the title to prepare you for it would have kept your interest!
  4. What you need now depends largely on your speech’s purpose. So before you start cutting facts out of newspapers, be really clear about what you want to achieve, and write another few sentences, again using careful phrases, to establish your purpose beyond any doubt. Even if you don’t actually say these words in your speech, just writing it out concisely gets it straight in your own head. Having a polished phrase or two at your disposal can also be a life-saver if you’re asked questions at the end.
  5. Finally, you need to research the heck out of a small number of points you want to get across. Gather all the material you can on your topic. Don’t judge yet, just gather. You have no excuse for lack of relevant and memorable material, or unchecked facts with the Internet at your disposal.When you’ve done this, organise your material into sub-topics – very broadly, this isn’t your speech.
  6. Now comes the only hard part of the whole exercise. Out of your vast collection of web and print clippings, photos, audio clips, statistical tables, government reports, dictionaries of quotations, historical documents, DVDS…, select RELEVANT supporting material for NO MORE THAN THREE main points you’d like to make in your speech, and put the rest away for another time. Be brutal, you don’t need it all just now.Organise each of your sub-topics for maximum impact. The most important one should come first, then the others in INCREASING order of importance.There are various theories on why this order has the most impact, like catching people before they’ve had a chance to glaze over. That’s WAY too cynical for me. Your speech is already a dazzler, so just trust that this is the case and try it out. So just to reiterate that, if you had 5 points to make (and you don’t because I’ve said stick to 3!), numbered from least to most important, you should deliver them in this order: 5, 1, 2, 3, 4. If you see signs of glazing eyes , or hear any snores any time between 5 and 4, skip straight to your last point, do your well-polished closing and sit down.I’ll repeat that point about cutting out material. I know It’s tempting to find a place in your speech for some great anecdote or fact you want to share, even if it’s slightly off-topic and takes 3 mnutes to deliver. Less is definitely more when learning how to write a speech. You really, really, must keep your speech to three points. Don’t cheat: you need three (two is better) clearly distinguishable points. Otherwise you’ll dilute your excellent content and lose some of your audience.
  7. Practice, Practice, and Practice. I can’t emphasise this enough. Knowing how to write a speech, and delivering that speech effectively are two different things. I once gave the performance of my life and won a regional Toastmasters humorous speech contest, having never had the courage to even enter a contest before. How did I do it ? I rehearsed in front of an audience. A real audience, made up of several stuffed toys animals belonging to my son who was then a year old! Believe me, it’s quite scary trying to make Paddington Bear laugh, for all his renowned comic escapades.

Ninja Bonus Tips

We’re near the end of your attention span – I know. Never say I’m not paying attention to my audience! But I promised some bonus material, and after all the washing I made you do earlier, I think you’re due some good stuff, so here goes.

My first bonus tip is really just Step 7 in disguise. You have to practice. It takes away the fear. Don’t cheat, really – don’t. I thought this particular piece of advice was just patronising waffle, until my humorous speech contest incident. I was so terrified of being complete rubbish that I rehearsed that speech until I was sick of it, and ended up winning not just once, but three times, at progressively higher levels in the tournament. And I had no fear, because I knew every word, whisper, pause, gesture and smile of that speech. I could probably deliver it now, 10 years later. Maybe I’ll have a shower after I finish writing this and do just that.

My second bonus tip for ninja speakers. One more after this, then we’re done. Don’t stop at writing just your speech. Think big-picture. Unless you trust your host to introduce you really well and set the scene like Jay Leno’s warm-up act, you should really write your OWN introduction. Most hosts will be delighted if you hand them an index card to read, and you’ll be assured that the audience is properly prepared for you AND your speech before you get up. A good intro should include your name, one or two sentences about your background or expertise, and it should end with the title of your speech.

And that nicely brings us to my final ninja bonus tip. Ironically, this is the FIRST thing your audience will notice. Your speech NEEDS a great title. Your title is like your press agent – it goes ahead of you, and appears in any printed materials about the event. It sets expectations. Put as much effort into picking a doozie title as you did rehearsing your opening, and all will be hunky dory. Again – don’t cheat on this step – you’ll spoil the GREAT speech you’ve put together. Many a decent speech has been killed by poor pre-conceived ideas the audience got from a rubbish or absent speech title.

So that’s it. If you follow these basic steps, there’s really no need to be afraid of public speaking. Don’t confuse nerves with fear. Nerves under control will turn your new understanding of how to write a speech into a memorable event for you and your audience.

Lucky THEM, I say. Now, isn’t it time for your next shower?

Dave Curley holds the Advanced Toastmaster (Silver) award from Toastmasters International, an outstanding environment in which to learn not only how to write a speech but how to deliver one with confidence. Dave now speaks regularly as essential part of his business as an identity management and IT security consultant. He operates globally but always has a return ticket to Glasgow, Scotland.

Want to read more? I have plenty more original ideas to share. Please encourage me by linking to my blog from your own web pages, and please: Submit to Social Websites