Getting back to working on my e-book, Speechwriting for Leaders.
Some of this is fruity and unexpected and highly operational stuff, if I say so myself. How about the current chapter on e-heckling:
Some events make a virtue of the interactivity provided by IT. Screens round the walls of the auditorium carry live Tweets or other e-comments responding to the speaker as the speech is continuing. These Tweets/comments may have been posted on the Internet by people sitting in the room itself, or by people on the other side of the planet following the speech via a live feed.
In other words, leaders get a different sort of conversation with the audience in the room and beyond whether they like it or not. These days a leader making a speech needs the intellectual wherewithal to cope with these flickering distractions in the room on the day. If a leader’s team and speechwriter have done their homework, they will have checked whether live Twitter-screens will be in the room and briefed the boss to try to keep an eye on them to check what is being said.
Random e-heckling can be devastatingly disruptive. Some women speakers have found themselves embarrassed and rattled by sexist comments about their clothes/appearance scrolling across conference screens while they’re speaking. Or a leader might find that a Twitter follower is posting for a large e-audience scathingly sarcastic but highly effective abuse denouncing the speaker’s words, within seconds of those words being uttered.
Imagine a leader giving a serious, substantive speech but not noticing that the screens in the room are carrying a witty live e-demolition of those very words. The Tweets undermining the speaker may be sexist or racist, or merely sharp and funny, or utterly untrue (HAHAHA this heroic socialist lectures us on world poverty while wearing a FAT ROLEX COSTING $10000!!!! LOL #hypocrite #jerk #stringemup).
The audience starts tittering at the incongruity of this situation. The leader thinks that the audience is laughing with the speech, not at the leader’s plight, and adjusts his/her words accordingly. This produces more e-banter and more audience hilarity. The speaker and speech spiral out of control but the speaker does not know why. Horrendous…
A huge part of any speech is getting off to a good start. Thus this, from an earlier piece on this site:
I was helping someone the other day with some well-chosen words for a senior private occasion of some 100 people. The task? Suggesting ideas for the seemingly simple task of opening the proceedings and introducing the main speaker(s).
Of course it’s not so simple. The words had to be effective and touching to match the occasion.
So we worked up some pithy phrases, saying several Big Things in a few words, and with an explicit personal touch. On the night, a huge success. Three loud bursts of spontaneous applause from the distinguished audience in a four minute opening.
So, folks, if you are out there grappling with the scary task of having to make a speech and finding your bowels tightening (or otherwise) with nerves, think about telling a story, then linking that story to the point of the gathering. The more unobvious and unexpected the story is when it starts, the better.
People don’t remember extended opening courtesies and flowery language. In fact, they barely listen to them, waiting instead for something interesting to happen.
They will remember – and appreciate – words that come from deep in you. Words that tell a story which (even if it sounds corny when you look at it on the page) means something to you or the occasion.
The story need not even be true – you can purport to tell a true story that leads into a roundabout joke which links back to the occasion. The one of the multilingual dog applying for a job works in all contexts. Or you can tackle things head-on:
“Ladies and Gentlemen – you are expecting me to give you a speech. But I am no good at public speaking. So you’ll be pleased to hear that I’m going to tell you a story instead.
What’s more, it’s a true story … no, it really is!”
Within seconds you’ll have them hanging on your every word. Agog, wanting you to keep going, not to shut up and sit down. Can’t miss.
Note that when I say that ‘the story need not be true’, I do not mean telling lies.
Rather speak from the start using ideas and imagery grounded in real-life events (or apparently real-life events) rather than animated abstractions. That can be done by drawing on episodes which have happened to you, or on funny stories/jokes which have a real-life feel to them.
A speech is an artificial event. The speaker has to try to engage as if personally with a large group of people, many of whom s/he has never met and who may be some distance away in the room – even harder to accomplish when speaking outside. So catch their attention right from the start by asking a question:
“Do you know what I saw yesterday?”
“I was unusually pleased to get the invitation to come here today. You don’t know why. So let me tell you …”
“This morning I sat down to prepare this speech. After two hours’ work, I ripped it all up. Why did I find it so difficult? Let me tell you…”
Any of these openings and many more like them will quickly get the audience tending to like you – and wanting More…
Back to the grindstone.