Don’t put pen to paper or even write a single word until you know what your message is. If you don’t know what your message is, the audience certainly won’t. Your message needs to be so clear that you can write it down in ten or less words. Once you have a clear message you can start brainstorming your content.
So, you have your clear message and it’s time to collect your material. Remember at this stage you are only collecting and brain storming material. So don’t cull or censor any material at this stage. The next question is how do you find your ideas, your content and your material? Well, ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. They usually come to you when you’re just about to fall asleep, when you’ve just woken up, when driving your car or taking a shower. In fact, ideas usually pop up at the most inconvenient time and location.
Did you know that you only have 7 seconds to record or make a real effort to remember an idea. If you don’t write on down or record, it will be forgotten forever? So always try to have a writing implement and paper, or a recording device nearby. Most importantly, start a story file. Stories, especially personal stories, are the most powerful ways to illustrate any point.
SELECTION & EDITING
So what do you with all this content? Well, have you ever heard the saying, “All roads lead to Rome”? Ok, when it comes to speech writing, all roads should lead to your message. That is, any thing that doesn’t add, further or support or promote your message, will detract from your message. Even if it’s the most brilliant, funniest and cleverest piece of prose you’ve ever written, save it for another speech. This applies to your openings, points and stories. It also applies to your quotes, metaphors and humorous lines.
Would you agree with me, that usually, it’s easier to find things when things are organised? It’s the same with speeches. When a speech is organised and has a logical structure, you’ll find it easier to present and it’s certainly easier for your audience to follow. In a nutshell, the structure of any speech can basically be described as having an introduction, a body and a conclusion. This is sometimes referred to as, “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you’ve told them.” I will try to expand on this basic concept.
An introduction has basically three parts, the title, an opening and the setup.
If your speech has a title, it will probably form part of the MC’s introduction of you. The title should be something that is short, memorable and arouses the audience’s curiosity. It could be your message, however, it should not be so obvious that it gives the game away.
Have you heard the saying, “You only get one chance to make a good first impression”? The first few seconds are crucial in making a first good impression. You need to grab the audiences attention from the get go or you’ll lose them right there. Most audience members will be thinking about the previous speaker, or engaged in their own thoughts, or compiling their shopping list. It’s your job, as a speaker, to get their attention back to you and what you have to say, right up front.
Story – There are a number of ways you can do this. However, starting with, “Hi, my name is Henk van den Bergen and I’m happy to be here….” is not one of them. Neither is “Ok, how much time have I got? Instead, go straight into a story that leads into your topic.
A Controversial Statement – Alternatively, start with a controversial statement like, “Talking on your cellphone will give you cancer”. This could be a great introduction to the topic of why we shouldn’t want to believe everything we read in the papers.
A Quote – Maybe use an uncommon quote. By that I mean, I don’t ever want to hear the quote by Thomas Edison and his light bulb ever again. You know the one, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Speaker and comedian, Darren La Croix’s attitude to quotes are, “Be quotable” and only use a quotes by stating what the quote means to you. If it’s your own quote, you could finish with, “By Henk van den Bergen.” If done well, it’ll probably get you a laugh.
A Little Know Fact – Another way to start is with a little known fact can also arouse the audiences curiosity and gain the their attention. If you started by asking, “Did you know that Donald Duck comics were banned from Finland because he didn’t wear pants?”, that would get their attention. This could lead into a topic about how things change.
A Rhetorical Question – You could start with a rhetorical question. One of the world champion speakers, Craig Valentine, uses a technique called, “Tap and Transport”, where you ask a rhetorical question that taps into the audience’s experiences and then you transport them into your scene or what your topic. Always make sure, whatever technique you use, that it leads into your topic.
The Set Up
This part of the introduction sets up the body and the
content of the speech. It signposts where you’ll be going without giving away the plot. Sometimes a rhetorical question like, “Have you ever been actually hungry?”, can lead into a speech on world poverty.
Your body is the central part of your speech. It should contain your material, your content and your points that supports, illustrates and promotes your message.
Your speech should have no more than three points, regardless of how long your speech is. Why three? No one really knows. However the “Rule of Three” has been proven to work across all aspects of public speaking. Any more than three main points to get your point across will only confuse your audience. As Daren LaCoix says, and I’m paraphrasing, “If you need more than three points, get better points.” Your points are examples, expanded on to generate understanding. Nearly all public speaking coaches emphasise that the best way to illustrate your points are with stories.
What do I mean by segues? Segues are the smooth transitions between your points. It’s interesting to note that most speakers go blank at their segues. This can happen when the segue doesn’t naturally flow or lead into the next point. It can help, if the connection, smoothly leads into the next point. Or alternatively, you can memorise your segues.
This is the final part of your speech where you bring home the bacon.
The Wrap Up
This is where you summaries your points, present your body in a nutshell, to help promote your message
The Take Away
After that comes your take away. The take away can be in the form of your title, your foundational phrase or a call to action. This can also be in the form of, what sometimes is referred to, as the next step.
Come Full Circle – Repeating the title at the end of your speech, especially if it summarises your main points and your message, will give you speech a kind of finality. It gives it that feeling of having come full circle.
A Foundational Phrase – A foundational phrase is a powerful way to finish. This is especially so, if you have all ready engrained it into the audience’s mind through repetition throughout your speech. If you can get them to say your foundational phrase or complete it for you, than the audience will own the message and buy into it.
The Soft Sell – A call to action, or the next step, gives each audience member a clear guidance of what your message is and what you would like them to do. This always works better if it is a soft sell. For example, in my speech titled “The Wall”, in my Story Structure post, I say, “Now, I don’t know about you, but can I suggest that when you are facing your wall…”. I think using the word suggest, is a softer sell. Other examples of the call to action are to provide an authors name for them to follow up on, or asking them to reflect on your message or an aspect of your message.
The Gift – Whichever way you choose to conclude, make sure that it portrays your message in a nutshell. It’s your gift to the audience, all wrapped up with a pretty bow around it. When you have clarity, in particularly a clear message and a logical flow to your speech, you are more likely to connect.
Speak to Connect, to make that Difference.