Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

Six steps to a great script. Step 1: know your purpose

First up, please note that I didn’t call this post  ‘six steps to writing a great script’.   That is because one of the biggest traps for a speaker  is to think of a presentation as if it’s an essay, something you write.

It is not. The spoken word and the written word are different, and the key to success  for speakers is being good to listen to.  A speech is an oral presentation, and that’s a live gig, dynamic and immediate, happening now.

What difference does this make to how you prepare? Well, quite a lot. Not only do you have to be aware of your listeners and your setting; your vocabulary and sentence construction need to make sense in the spoken word. To get into the right gear, listen to yourself in casual conversation. You  typically use short words  and sentences, and you’re direct and straightforward.  Vivid even.

Contrast this with a  written document, report or article, which exists beyond the here and now. It’s written in a different mode. Written language is  more complex, using  longer words and sentences,  and there are commas and clauses and qualifiers and all sorts of features that, when spoken,  make a speech sound stilted, stagey and unnatural.

Before you begin to plan the actual words,  you should know what you want to say, and work out the best angles for this audience and subject. If you don’t do this it’s like building a house before you’ve drawn up the plans, or commencing a car trip without knowing the route – you’ll go wrong, get lost, develop  material you can’t use, and waste time making avoidable corrections.

A good script starts with some clear thinking. My advice at this early stage is simple.   Switch the computer off!

Getting started

There are six stages to go through.

  1. Define your purpose
  2. Develop a rough draft
  3. Clarify a takeaway message
  4. Arrange the structure
  5. Write the words
  6. Edit, rehearse, adjust, edit again, rehearse again.

Not everyone takes these steps in that order.  For some people, the rough draft stage is where they clarify their purpose and their ‘takeaway’.  Others put the structure in place first and backfill the content.  By all means do what works for you – with one reservation:  it is NOT OK to start out by writing the words.  Got that?

In this post we’ll look at the first of the six steps.

1. Defining your purpose

Before you begin any presentation, you need to know what you want to achieve. Unless you have a well-defined outcome, and your whole communication will be unclear and flabby.

It sounds easy but there could be lots of options.  It isn’t enough to have the goal “communicate the findings of my research.”  Or “wish Jared a happy birthday”.  You need to think through your purpose much more closely, and further define what exactly it is you want to happen as a result.

Ask yourself three questions:

  • What is most important/special/memorable about this issue/topic/occasion?
  • What is the main thing that the others attending should know, feel or understand?
  • What should happen as a result of my talk?

To get to the bottom of the first question, think about your own response to the issue or occasion.  Ask yourself what YOU realised, were moved by or interested in. Think back to when the subject was new to you too.

  • What surprised or interested you most ? Why?
  • What do you understand now that you didn’t before?
  • Is there a new or unexpected element that leads to your point of view?
  • Were there any lightbulb moments or revealing episodes or issues that stick in your mind? These can liven a speech up and focus attention – they are good sources of the stories that you’ll need to keep people interested.
  • Pretend you were talking about it to a friend. What would you tell them?  What would they ask you?

Write these points down to help you be clear about your focus.  Try to express your core purpose in a single sentence. If you cannot do this, you need more clarity.

Everything you say needs to support this  purpose  somehow.  It doesn’t have to be stated explicitly, although it might be.  You may use it as the hook that gets them in. Or it might be the spine, or invisible idea that holds the whole speech together. It could be the ‘inner compass’ or unspoken direction guiding your speech.

For instance if you want to motivate people not to smoke, your purpose is  ‘Encourage people to quit smoking’.  You could say why not smoking is healthy, and that if you don’t smoke you’ll live longer. Your purpose emerges as you make those points.  If you want to be direct about it you could say  it straight up. “Smoking is going to kill you. I’m talking to you today because I want you to live”.

Coming up:  The rough draft,  takeaway message, and arranging the structure.

Pick up Step 1Step 2Step 3Step 4 and Step 5  and Step 6 here.


One comment on “Six steps to a great script. Step 1: know your purpose

  1. Thanks Claire – I love the way this post supports doing the 6 steps in a different order, and that you use diverse yet commonplace examples (about research findings and birthday speeches).

    Also, so true about the difference between written and spoken words. For more on that, check out this discussion of transferring written quotes to the presentation medium:

    I am enjoying your blog, so thanks for sharing your perspectives.

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This entry was posted on 29/08/2012 by in Preparing a speech, Public speaking and tagged , .

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