by Michael B. Perini, ABC
perini & associates
Public speaking often takes the #1 spot as a phobia or fear. This intense anxiety prior to, or simply at the thought of having to verbally communicate with any group can cause physical distress, nausea or feelings of panic.
I have had the opportunity to be both a public speaker and the individual drafting up comments to be delivered by someone else — from U.S. Presidents and general officers to small business owners and non-profit leaders. An estimated 75% of all speakers experience some degree of anxiety/nervousness when public speaking, according to Communicating for Results: A Guide for Business and the Professions/Edition 8.
I know I have felt some uneasiness just prior to stepping to the stage but have been able to overcome this distress with experience. Organizations such as Toastmasters International, POWERTalk International or Association of Speakers Clubs (in the United Kingdom) are great sources for training and gaining the confidence to reduce the fear to manageable levels.
Writing a speech, can for some, be an equally daunting task and can seriously add to the discomfort associated with public speaking. As I mentioned, I have written numerous speeches for all organizational levels and all possible public events. Here are tips from my many years of perseverance, perspiration and inspiration. There is nothing better than to start with a blank page and end with a standing ovation.
- Find out the nature of the speaking occasion. Details and more details. Here is where you conduct research about the purpose, venue and props. The occasion will dictate content, duration, tone and audience expectations. This is a necessary first step that cannot be shorted. Again, dig deep and deeper still.
- Meet with the person delivering the speech. What I call “Ghost writing” or writing a speech for someone you don’t know has many risks and is often the key reason for ending with a bad speech. So, meet with the speaker. Bounce off ideas and word choices to ensure that the speech is in the style that is comfortable for the speaker. Learn from results and key on enhancements that make future speeches even better.
- Come up with a theme. Determine the “road” that the speaker and those in audience will follow to ensure that no one gets lost along the way. Remember, the heart of a speech is the message. The job of both the speech writer and the public speaker is to pass that message to the audience. Ask yourself: “Are we conveying a theme? Evoking an emotion? Eliciting a response either emotional or a call-to-action or maybe both?”
- Who is the audience. Young? Senior? Special? Educated? How many? Today, with the internet and smart phones the audience is NOT just those at the venue. The speech could be a useful vehicle for informing others and this fact should be part of the brainstorming process when reviewing speech topics. Also, associates of the speaker or experts in the subject matter should be consulted as a source for additional information to fine-tune the speech. These additional aspects — golden nuggets — will enrich the speech and be appreciated.
- Yes, you need a structure. Start with a speech outline. Key categories include: Introduction, Main Sections and Concluding comments. In other words, determine the “chapters” or main points — like in a book — to chart the direction of the speech. Your public speaking goal should be to engage, stimulate, entertain and pique your audience’s interest as you convey a message.
- Seek Feedback. Many speechwriters loath this advice. I have found, however, that feedback is an invaluable step. This practice will potentially save you from much controversy and embarrassment. It’s better to learn any problems with the speech before it is delivered, don’t you think? I try to seek feedback from 2-3 people to include one not directly related to or attending the event. Through experience I have gained feedback regarding inappropriate content, error(s) of omission, grammatical problems and appropriate use of humor.
- Your voice or perfect English. I’m a strong advocate of using natural language with it comes to writing non-formal (e.g. business, award ceremonies) public remarks. The familiarity will allow the audience to engage with you and put the speaker at ease when delivering the speech.
Again, as a formal speechwriter I’ve studied many speechwriters and many public speakers. In my opinion, the best was Abraham Lincoln, and his best speech is the Gettysburg Address.
I would like to hear from you. What essential speaking tips have you learned? What are your favorite speeches? Speakers?
Remember, we are here to take your speaking ideas from blank paper to standing ovation.