Welcome back to our five-part series on how to write a speech!
When you’re starting a speech, the number one dilemma that most speechwriters grapple with is how to tell a story. Business professionals and novices alike all struggle with the elements of storytelling, there’s a reason that some people tell amazing jokes and some skip around, lose focus, and accidentally drop the punchline prior to the setup. Storytelling is hard. Inflection, when to pause for dramatic effect, how to captivate an audience through your prose, these are all the kinds of skills that accomplished actors and performers spend lifetimes studying and honing their craft. To think you’ll just pop up on stage or in front of a large audience day one and crush it is both an act in faith and an act in futility. It’s just unfathomable to think that you’re going to step onto a stage and be the next Simon Sinek or Oprah Winfrey.
So what's a professional to do when they are new to the craft of storytelling and looking to avoid the pitfalls that many aspiring Hemingwayesque writers have befallen? When one is trying to figure out how to write a speech or create a business presentation, there are many tried and true rules of the craft to abide by.
In this third lesson in our five-part series on how to write a speech, we’ll be covering the “W” of our POWER method. W in our speechwriting acronym stands for “writing for the ear, not the eye”.
What we mean by this statement is that you need to write for the auditory senses, not for what you enjoy reading on paper while you’re writing the speech.
We’ll get back to the W in a moment, but let’s recap what we’ve already gone over in the previous series and the POWER method.
Write with POWER – The Power Method
The term POWER is an acronym for presentation writing and over the course of this series we will dive deep into each letter:
- P – Purpose – How to write with purpose. No one has ever heard a speech and said, “that was great, but what was the speaker’s point?”
- O – Organize – We will teach you how to organize your thoughts and how to write the outline to a speech.
- W – Writing – Writing tips and techniques are the best tools at the disposal of any good presenter. We will cover how to harness the power of the pen.
- E – Engage – Engaging your audience is of the utmost importance, if your audience is not engaged in your words and delivery, it’s going to be an uphill battle.
- R – Revise – Even Michael Jordan wasn’t good at basketball to begin with. He was cut from his high school team. As much as it is painful, we learn our best life lessons when we are challenged. No one starts out on top, the greats are the ones who stick around until the end. It’s been hypothesized that it takes GRIT and roughly 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill.
Now that we’ve had a refresher on the POWER method, let’s get into the “W” of the process.
How To Tell A Story
If you can’t explain it to your grandmother or the seven-year-old next door, then no one is going to buy it. That’s an old adage about the power of being able to tell a good story. If you are unclear to your audience on what you want them to take away from your speech, they’ll be unclear on it also.
We’re going to focus on the second step in the “W” method, which is: Simplify To Amplify. What that means is to find simple clear ways to make your point. If you’re a quantum physicist or have 12 PhD’s, your arguments and details are complex. But are you sure that everyone in your audience has 12 PhD’s also? It’s important that you know your audience and make sure that every point is understood by everyone in the room. People love to sound smart, but your audience doesn’t love to feel dumb. People like to use the biggest words and use the fanciest jargon. Unfortunately there are a million poor, unclear ways to say something and only one clear direct way. If you choose one of the million bad ways, you invite your audience to start daydreaming and you’re not going to persuade, teach, or inspire anyone. We recommend that you take a look at the jargon in your talk and ask yourself these questions:
- Is this an audience that’s in your industry and will they understand your jargon? Will it help them understand your point better?
- Or, are these people outside of your industry? Do you need to remove the jargon to help them understand and to keep them inspired? What is the best way to encourage your audience to follow along and connect with your message?
Once you’ve asked yourself these two questions you’ll be able to pinpoint what information needs to be removed from your speech and what needs more clarification to keep your audience’s attention. And that’s how we simplify to amplify.
Another part of the “W” in POWER is to write to how we talk. This is a really important step when you’re writing your first draft. The language in your presentation should be conversational. It should sound like you’re having a conversation with the audience, not reading them a report or factoids.
One trick is to focus on the way you talk and not the way you write. One example of this lesson is that when writing, we’ll often write “optimal” but when speaking we’ll use the word “best.” Some words just don’t flow when you’re hearing them, but they are otherwise optimal when you’re writing them or reading them.
We typically use simple and descriptive language. It should sound fluid and like the language that you use in your everyday life. Think of how you speak when you’re at your best? If you don’t use a lot of contractions normally, don’t try to force them into your speech.
Don’t forget to consider who your audience is. If you’re a doctor and you’re speaking to other doctors in your field, it’s fine to use terms that only those in the medical field would understand, but don’t expect an audience of people who are not in the life-science field to be able to follow along in a highly specialized speech that uses jargon they’re unfamiliar with.
For all the lessons, videos and worksheets on “W” and the rest of our Write with POWER method grab one of our online programs below or for a high level look at our Write with Power method download our eBook below. Check out our Speechwriting page for more information about our speechwriting, content and ghostwriting services or for a tailored approach or done-for-you speech schedule a call with us here.
In our next blog we’ll be in the home stretch and covering the “E” of the POWER method. The “E” stands for Engage, for Engaging the audience. We’ll go over tips for how to grasp your audience’s attention and how to maintain it once you’ve got it.