Monday, April 14, 2008

How to Write a Speech

As you hang up the telephone, the icy fingertips of panic grip your stomach; your heart races. Your most recent project was delivered on time, within budget, and is approaching payback one year ahead of schedule. As a result, your Industry Association wants you to address their annual convention. Relax! They believe you have something to offer. Here are some steps to ease your palpitations.

  • Remember that all great speeches, and even some not so great, require shape. The old saying is hard to beat: "Tell them what you will tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them."
  • "Shake hands with the audience." You have something worthy of being said. Former Ambassador Robert Strauss used to begin his addresses like this: "Before I begin this speech, I have something to say." This passage was always composed in a style that enabled him to reclaim a powerful tone for the instructive portion of his remarks. Put on your smile; calm your nerves, then get to work. You may want to start with a smashing one-liner or an anecdote.
  • Rise to the occasion. In other words, feel passionately about your topic. Recall old Uncle Ned's tear jerking toast at the wedding? Even ordinary folks can deliver great moments of oratory if they rise to the occasion. Make sure the audience feels how important the topic is to you, so that they begin to think about why they should care.
  • Build clear and sensible transitions (segues) from one thought to the next. The biggest mistake speakers and writers make is to assume people will follow their leaps of logic. Spell out to the audience when you are taking a turn in your thoughts with phrases like: "As an example of this" or "This brings us to the larger problem of," and so forth.
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