I recently had coffee with Doug Berger, an old friend who spent years at the Direct Marketing Association as the Chief speechwriter. Listed below, take a look as his shares his top five tips on writing a great speech.
Doug is terrific and we also found out when we met that we grew up about 20 miles away from each other in small towns in Southern Illionois!
SPEECH WRITING 101: FIVE TIPS
Write a speech…me…? But when a new boss asked me to try my hand at drafting the CEO’s big speech for the marketing event of the year, no less, what else could I do but gulp and exclaim, “Absolutely!” With that request, I was off into Speech Writing Land, producing more than 400 speeches over the next decade.
Based on my experience, here are five tips to help you craft a content-rich, crowd-pleasing speech.
1. Know Thy Audience.
First, the writer must learn about the host forum and the audience. This is, typically, no harder than visiting the forum’s Web site and calling the person in charge of the program. Key questions include:
· What is the forum’s mission/theme?
· How long is the speech to be?
· Who else will speak and on what topics?
· Who will introduce the speaker?
· What are the on-site logistics?
· Who actually will sit in the audience — i.e., get a “snapshot” that includes titles, industry segments, and companies?
· Most importantly: What will this audience want to learn from this speaker?
2. Know Thy Speaker.
Next, meet with the speaker and brief her on what you’ve learned about the gig.
· Present a detailed outline based on what you consider appropriate content for the host forum and audience.
· Shut up, listen, and take voluminous notes (better yet, record it).
· Leave with a clear understanding of what the speaker expects from you and her speech, including a timetable when you’ll submit first/subsequent drafts.
3. Brain Dump Then Edit, Edit, Edit.
So, now comes the fun part: Writing the speech.
· Start with the speaker-blessed outline that includes an audience-grabbing introduction, principal speaking points, and a meaningful conclusion.
· In the introduction, provide the audience an overview of where the speaker is headed.
· Write the speech as “conversationally” as possible so as to avoid the perception that the speaker is merely reading words on paper.
· Ask yourself: Does this speech deliver on what we have promised the audience in the introduction?
4. Do Not Write a Commercial.
Case studies and speaker’s real-life experiences are particularly rich content for speeches. However, the writer must be diligent to present the content in a way that the speaker’s audience will not perceive as “salesy.” Failure to do so will likely elicit a thumbs-down from the audience and perhaps even unflattering press.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice.
Come hell or high water, deliver a “finished” draft to the speaker so that she has plenty of time to “live” with it and give the writer time to accommodate changes.
Next, schedule time with the speaker so you can read through the speech together. This line-by-line review provides the speaker with an opportunity to poke and prod at the speech, request edits, and guarantee that each word will be properly delivered.
If you’re not on-site to manage logistics, encourage the speaker, prior to her speech, to check out the stage, the microphone, the podium lighting, and the equipment that will power the speech’s “show and tell” (e.g., video, PowerPoint). After all, you want to make certain that “surprises” are detected and remedied before going “live.”
Douglas Berger began his career in Washington, DC as a congressional aide and lobbyist. He then took an unexpected turn onto the road of corporate communications — and never looked back. At the Direct Marketing Association, he wrote more than 400 speeches for three CEOs and 10 chairmen of the board, among other things. Berger lives in NYC and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.