I’ve been basking in my latest speechwriting glory that left the speaker mobbed on the evening and over breakfast the following morning: people pressing grateful congratulations, including people who praised her for ‘helping us think in a different way’.
We talked yesterday – some of her points:
- I used to be terrified – the hardest thing I had to do was submit to your approach!
- But I’m 100% converted now – no more trepidation
- I’m not one to boast. But we hit it out of the park!
- You’re a magician at all this! A wizard!!
She also said something I had not quite expected:
I was used to talking from a much more ‘narrative’ text – like reading a teleprompter. The way you wrote and laid out the speech differently really helped.
Interesting. And important.
Look at the following passage from a UN-type speech:
This is easier said than done. The challenges are enormous and each context is different. At the same time, the results of our interventions on the ground – as shown, for example, in the video on the Dimitra Clubs in Niger we saw just a moment ago – are encouraging. When rural women are empowered to have more say in decision-making and to enjoy equal access as men to key resources, services and economic opportunities, then agricultural outcomes improve and the rates of poverty and hunger go down.
It’s 87 words. Served up to the speaker in a single paragraph: two shortish sentences, then a longer sentence, then a final very long sentence of 38 words.
It’s the way 99.9% of UN family organisation speeches are presented to a speaker. Nay, it’s probably better than many of them.
And it’s quite useless.
The language and ideas are lifeless/’heavy’. There’s nothing in the way the text is presented on the page to the speaker that helps the speaker speak in an energetic engaging way, with just the right emphasis in just the right places.
Try this instead:
Easier said than done!
The challenges? Enormous!
Each context? Different!
But – we’re getting results!
x x x
The Dimitra Clubs. In Niger
Rural women having their say – in decision-making
Rural women with equal access
To services. To opportunities
x x x
People grow more
People have more
Fewer hungry mouths
x x x
Things get better
This is some 52 words. A full 35 words shorter!
The text is pared to the minimum. No full-stops! Scarcely grammar as such. Tiny ‘sentences’ or just simple phrases, of just a word or two.
Yet this text does so much more. It lets the words and ideas and images breathe.
The speaker can glance at the page and follow. Improvise. These micro-sentences allow the speaker to run them together or not, as makes sense on the day.
Note too how this second version indicates places where the speaker could pause for emphasis. It suggests words that might benefit from extra stress. It uses punctuation to help the speaker adjust energy and tone.
In short, this version is a transformational improvement. Its very form encourages the speaker to think differently about speaking: to get away from a flat teleprompter-like ‘narrative’ and just express herself boldly and with conviction.
BUT, of course, this does not work for the website. People reading the speech there are a different audience, who are indeed reading. The text should be formatted in a more ‘formal’ way to help those people do just that. Rather longer sentences in short paragraphs, precise grammar, smart layout and so on.
Whether you’re writing out speech ideas for yourself or for someone else, don’t fool yourself into thinking that the way it looks on your screen in neatly laid out brisk prose paragraphs using nicely turned grammar is what the speaker needs.
It’s not. Present the work so that the speaker draws energy and emphasis from BOTH the words AND the layout.