I was asked to give a speech for a local company’s “high achievers” group a little while back. It had been quite some time since I had actually had to sit down and think long and hard about what message I really wanted to get across to an audience. This made me go do some research on how good speechwriters find ideas that really shine.
Everyone who writes speeches for a living seems to agree about one thing: just get the first draft done. There are countless stories about folks who get hung up on trying to write the perfect speech and who spend so much time editing word after word that they never complete the speech. Just let the words flow and resist the urge to edit. Once it’s all out there, then you can go back and have at it.
Write for the ear not the eye. What sounds great on paper probably sounds stilted and awkward when read aloud. For example, we use a lot of contractions when we speak (can’t, won’t, shouldn’t) but we don’t use them as much when we write. This difference will show up as a wordy, formal tone in any speech. Solve this problem by reading your speech out loud and actually listening to how it sounds. Then go back and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
PowerPoint is not all bad. Dr. John Medina’s book Brain Rules discusses how audiences lose focus after 10 minutes, so shifting gears, telling a story, etc. every 10 minutes will keep them focused and awake. Another rule is that a combination of both auditory and visual stimuli make your message 6 times more memorable than auditory alone. What this means is that if you use it the way that it should be used (as a helper, not a crutch), PowerPoint can boost the impact of your speech. But be careful — it’s easy to go overboard. My favorite saying is “There is a reason that you never see PowerPoint used during an eulogy.”
Writing a speech should be an adventure. Often where we think that the effort will take us ends up not being where we finally arrive. However, doing a good job of speech writing will pay dividends that will have a value that lasts long after the speech is done.