5 1/2 Easy Steps to Writing and Delivering Great Speeches
by Molly-Ann Leikin (Molly-Ann Leikin is an Executive Speechwriter and Emmy nominee living in Montecito. Her website is anythingwithwords.com.)
Most people are happier being audited by a fiber-deficient IRS agent than speaking in public. They’re even less enthusiastic about writing their own speeches.
Sometimes, we have to do both. I can make it easy for you using the following suggestions.
1) Prepare early. The minute the date is set and you know you’ll have a speaking part in the celebration-memorial, start thinking about what you might say. Scribble everything down. There are no wrong answers.
2) Don’t be intimidated. You’re not addressing Congress or the Supreme Court. This isn’t your Harvard entrance essay or Doctoral thesis. You’re not Jimmy Kimmel, or Stephen Colbert, and you won’t be appearing on national TV. Not even on cable. And everybody will be cheering for you.
3) Make lists. Before trying to write sentences for my clients’ speeches, I make lists. Then my lists make lists. I move ideas around and add new ones. As a writer, I know better than to sit down at my desk, thinking I’ll nail something perfectly in the first draft. Instead, as ideas pop into my head, I scribble them on anything I can find, including my favorite green yoga t-shirt, or a jumbo brown egg carton from Trader Joe’s.
And rather than feel the panic of having to sit there and finish this speech tonight-tonight-tonight, I make an appointment with myself to write for five minutes a day. Not everybody has a couple of hours each morning, but we all have five minutes – no skipping.
I mark the appointment with me in my day planner. And even if the page is blank when my five minutes are up, I check off that time anyway. I’ve kept my commitment. Maybe tomorrow something good will appear during my writing session. Eventually, it always does. Be assured it’s all there in the hopper, and just needs time, plus gentle coaxing, to pop up.
When I get a draft – no matter how scattered it is, I congratulate myself and haul out the candy corn. Rewards for good work go a long way. Psychologists agree that it is the kid in us that does the creative work. So we have to keep that child happy. And all the kids I’ve ever been love candy.
4) Hook ’em with a great opening. You have a captive audience. Don’t lose it by starting with recycled language. You’re not a cliché. Your speech shouldn’t be a collection of them, either. “We are gathered here today…” not so much.
In your opening sentence, be clever. Maybe a little funny, too. Not all seemingly solemn occasions have to be approached as serious anymore. If you’re speaking at a memorial service, instead of a sad beginning, you could say, “I’m not going to rush my eulogy because the coroner assured me that Joe will be gone for quite a while.”
5) How long should I speak? Less is more. Keep it short. If you’re the only speaker, three minutes. If you’re sharing the time slot, two. You want to say what’s in your heart; leave your fingerprint in the room, and then, sit down.
5.5) To practice, using your phone, record your speech and listen back. Tweak the speech where necessary. Then re-record, and listen back, until it feels just right.
Don’t forget the candy corn when it does.