Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!
1. Allow enough time
The biggest mistake most people make is to underestimate how long this takes. Speeches may appear unstudied, casual, or ex tempore, but to get them that way takes ages in preparation. Don’t think you can sit down to write 20 minutes worth of copy in one sitting.
Lucinda Holdforth, a highly experienced Australian speechwriter says this:
A short speech may be even more challenging and time-consuming than a long speech. A major ANZAC Day speech or the introduction to a Prime Minister can be career-making opportunities. Every word needs to be perfect, and this can take considerable time. A solid draft of a major speech will take no more than three days and completion no more than six. But the usual length of time in total for completion is between two and three days.
That’s full time. Other experienced speakers say that for even the smallest speech – a few minutes introducing someone or marking an event, they start getting ready a couple of days in advance. So, if you are giving a long form talk like a conference paper, you will need many hours of preparation.
It’s a bit like estimating the cost and time of house renovations, multiply your estimate by four and allow a generous margin for error.
2. Write in short bursts
Writing takes concentration and application. Or, as one person put it, ‘Writing is easy, just stare at the paper until your forehead bleeds’. Three to four hours at a time is a reasonable maximum working stretch. Your concentration will flag after that and you’ll be writing rubbish, so you may as well pack it in.
Don’t kid yourself you can write your script and also take phone calls, answer emails, check your FaceBook page and twitter feed. Those distractions torpedo your concentration and cost you momentum, clarity of thought and productivity. If you really can’t last for a few whole hours on one task, be disciplined enough to work in half hour spurts with no interruptions, then break, get your social media fix, and resume again.
3. Hack it back
If you’re following my methodology, you’ve already done the thinking before you begin to write. This is a great short cut when you sit down to crank out the copy. Nonetheless, expect to write much more than you use.
Set everything you want to say down, then go away and leave it for as long as you can – overnight, or for days or even weeks if possible. This is really important. When you return, it will look quite different to you. Sift through it, and pick out only the good bits.
Don’t worry about what you waste, it’s normal. It’s a bit like making a movie, a lot gets left on the cutting room floor, but to come up with the good stuff you have also to come up with the bad and the useless stuff.
4. Write the way you talk
Make sure you use short words, and sentences that are direct and straightforward. Anything that we’d normally say in speech (like ‘we’d’ not ‘we would’) is fine.
Avoid commas, they mean a sentence is complicated by a sub-clause or phrase which delays you getting to the point, and sounds convoluted – which loses people.
Cut out most of the adjectives and adverbs. If you’re using lots of words ending in ‘ly’ it means you are padding. Removing excess verbage means you express yourself more strongly. Twitter and text messages are excellent ways to train yourself to get to the point. (When I revised this I removed one ‘usually’ and one ‘directly’.)
Use concrete information. The words ‘for example’ make an audience visibly sit up and take notice, so put those reality bites in. “By the time I’ve finished talking to you, 8 cars will have been stolen”, is much more powerful than “car theft is imposing an ever increasing burden on the community, the police and the courts”.
5. Read your words aloud
You need to find out what your script feels and sounds like. By saying it out loud you can see if it’s working the way you want, and whether you can physically get your lips, teeth, and tongue around the words.
6. The fresh-eye check
Once you’ve read out loud and you think it’s OK, have someone else read it. There’s always something you miss. When someone with a different perspective reads it, the holes or errors or missing links become obvious.
7. Write it up
A speech is normally presented on paper in 14 point type, double spaced. This makes it easy to glance at the page and back at the audience.
Alternatively you may use palm cards. In this case you don’t write the speech out word for word, you use a headline and some bullet points.
You can also put your speech on an ipad or kindle, which solves the problem of handling bits of paper or card, and can be a very neat presentation option.
You are now ready for the finalisation phase: rehearsal and final editing.