Secrets of a speech-writer

Written by Glen Stone

Some CEOs would rather have the flu than give a speech. Others look forward to speaking to a crowd, thriving on the dozens or even hundreds of eyes focused on them. But whether you love it or hate it, public speaking is an integral part of a CEO’s job. So it pays to be good at it.

PROFIT convinced me to reveal some of my top-secret tricks for writing and delivering engaging speeches, developed over years of speechwriting for major corporations and politicians:

  1. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. The single best way you can improve your speech is through practicing it. You will not only deliver your speech with more confidence and fewer mistakes, but you will spot difficult areas that need to be re-written or practiced diligently.
  2. Say it aloud. Reading your speech quietly to yourself doesn’t count as a rehearsal. You have to rehearse out loud, at the same volume and pace that you would use for delivering the real speech. This is the only way you’ll improve, catch problem areas and get an accurate timing of your speech. (The odds are high that your speech is longer than you think when read aloud.)
  3. Bigger is better. Do yourself a huge favor and print your speech in large type, at least 18 points. This will make it easier to keep your place and prevent you from having to bend over the podium to read your remarks.
  4. Shorter is better. Short sentences provide greater impact to your listener and are more likely to get your message across, as well as being easier for the orator to deliver. Short sentences are punchier and easier to read. See what I mean? Now, go through your speech with a heartless razor blade and cut out all the fancy words and phrases in favour of short and simple ones.
  5. Use professionals well. If you’ve hired a professional to write your speech, then never be afraid to ask for changes or improvements. A good speechwriter wants you to be 100% comfortable with the final product, so don’t be afraid of hurting our feelings by rejecting our work.
  6. Don’t get ripped off. Prices for professional speechwriters vary widely and are usually as high as the market will bear. Look for a writer who provides flat rates, includes at least basic revisions and guarantees not to exceed your budget without your prior approval.
  7. Be careful of using humour. You might have a great sense of humour, but that doesn’t mean you’re great at telling jokes or that you know what kind of humor will work in specific situations. Nothing can open up an audience faster and better than good humour — but nothing can shut one down and ruin your credibility as quickly and completely as inappropriate or failed humour. Stick to one or two humorous remarks instead of jokes or stories. Better a mere chuckle than gasps of offense.
  8. You are the medium for the message. The greatest speech in the world cannot live up to its potential without an equally outstanding delivery. If you think you might be falling short of your material, then get public speaking training.
  9. Save your square peg for a square hole. It seems everyone has a favourite story, joke, anecdote or statistic that they like to quote. As good as your material may be, it may not work in every speech. Don’t try to shoehorn your Tarzan joke into your speech to the United Nations. Save that fascinating factoid about how many yards of elastic there are in a golf ball for your address at the country club.
  10. Cheat. There are no rules against making your life easier when delivering a speech.
    • Mark up your text with underlines to emphasize words, slashes where you want to pause, colored highlighters for faster / slower and louder / softer.
    • Use your finger to hold your place when you look up at the audience.
    • If you sweat a lot, put extra-thin sanitary pads under your armpits (I’m not kidding — it works).
    • Look humble when people applaud and they’ll keep clapping.
    • Memorize your ‘ad libs’.

Glen Stone is a leading speechwriter whose clients have included CEOs and executives at companies such as Lexus and Sprint; politicians such as Mike Harris and Jean Charest; and directors of non-profit and charity groups. Learn more at http://www.GhostWriterInTheSky.com

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© 2004 Glen Stone

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com