Review: 10 Steps to Writing a Vital Speech

10 Steps to Writing a Vital Speech

By Fletcher Dean

Vital Speeches of the Day

Want to give a great speech at work, in the community or on the campaign trail?

There’s one big question you must answer first before putting pen to paper.

Who’s listening?

Know thy audience is the first of 10 steps in crafting a vital speech, says author and award-winning speechwriter Fletcher Dean in his must-read guide.

“For a speech or presentation to be successful, you need to talk to the individuals in the audience about ideas and concepts they’re interested in,” says Dean.

“A good speech, like a good love letter, is warm and personal. Recipients feel like it was written and delivered just for them. And they return that warmth with attention and respect.”

When you don’t know who’s in the audience or what’s on their minds,  your speech will have all the warmth of a love letter addressed to whom it may concern.

When you don’t care about your audience, your audience won’t care about you. Your brilliant insights and calls to action will be ignored.

So do your homework. What does your audience like and dislike? How do they view the world? What are their hot button issues? Where do you have common ground, mutual interests and shared values? Which one of their problems can you solve?

It’s also worth remembering that your audience wants one of three things in life.  “They want to be healthier, wealthier or happier,” says Dean. “Your goal is to help them achieve at least one of those. Achieve all three and you’ve hit the jackpot.”

Abraham Lincoln once said, “when I get ready to talk to people, I spend two-thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one-third thinking about what I want to say.”

Once you’ve figured out what your audience wants to hear and what you need to say, you need to deliver your key message in a way that’s easily understood.

And one of the best ways is to tell a story. Dean calls this the Theory of the Campfire. “People love stories. There is something primordial – something deep in our psyches – that is attracted to them. If you want to be heard and understood, you need to be a bold storyteller.”

Stories entertain and inform and can win you both hearts and minds.

“Only stories convey the depth of emotion that audiences react to,” says Dean. “They do that by allowing audience members to place themselves in the story, relate it to events in their own lives and compare it to something personal to them.”

So what stories should you tell?

If you’re a new leader or political hopeful, the “who I am” story is a must. Your audience won’t follow you until they know you, like you and trust you.

The “why I’m here” story speaks to the reason you get up every morning and do what you do. It’s a story that shows your passion, your purpose, your inner drive and personal motivation. This is not a time to hide what you believe, says Dean. “Drag it out, share it and you’ll be amazed at how many people will respond positively.”

And then there are teaching stories. Tell inspirational stories about your customers, clients and patients. Share stories about frontline staff who solved a problem and ordinary people in our community who’ve done extraordinary things.

If you want to grab your audience’s attention, skip the usual greetings and salutations at the front end of your speech and launch right into your story.

“It’s astounding how rapt and attentive an audience can become if you do this,” says Dean. “You’ll have their attention, which is sometimes the hardest part. If you need to come back and thank the host organization, that’s fine. By then, you’ll already have the audience’s attention.”

Once you’ve got your messages and stories on paper, ruthlessly edit. “Be hard on yourself, be willing to kill all of your darling phrases that don’t work,” says Dean.

You need a speech that delivers on three fronts. It needs to be simple and clear. Exciting and fresh. And warm and personal.

Strip out unnecessary words and jargon that muddies your message. Go easy on facts and stats, rounding up wherever possible.

Put some punch in your speech by asking rhetorical questions, inserting rhythmic triads (sets of three), changing up the length of your sentences and embracing word play. Allow alliteration always, says Dean.

Use self-deprecating humour to show humility and openness. But whatever you do, don’t joke about your ineptitude when it comes to public speaking. “Speakers who make light of their speaking abilities demonstrate an enormous lack of confidence and are extremely dispiriting,” cautions Dean.

And one final piece of advice. Insert the word “you” throughout your speech. “If you don’t have three or four “you” words on each page, rewrite,” says Dean. “Rewriting to include more “you” words makes the speech more direct and personal for the audience.”

After all, a great speech is never about you. From beginning to end, a vital speech is always about your audience, their hopes and dreams.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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