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HOW TO WRITE POWERFUL SPEECHES AND TALKS by Suzan St Maur

Most of us get nervous about making a speech, whether it’s to 2000 conference delegates or a PTA meeting at our child’s school. Often, though, people find that’s the worst part of the whole process – the anticipation. The reality is often a lot easier to handle and can even be quite enjoyable, provided that you take the necessary precaution of doing your homework beforehand – preparation.

So, what does that entail? Really, it’s about remembering those key golden rules that apply to all good business writing and they are:

1. Define exactly not so much what you want to say, as what you want your speech or talk to achieve – ask yourself, "what do I want the audience to be thinking as I come to the end of my speech?"

2. Find out as much as you can about your audience and ensure your content is very, very relevant to them and their needs

3. Use language and tone of voice that the audience will understand and identify with – and blend that in with your own natural style of speaking

4. By all means use a bit of jargon and a few "in" phrases as long as you’re certain the audience understands them, but never use jargon others may not know

Cut the clutter

Your success is almost entirely dependent on what your audience remembers of what you say. People have very bad memories, and if a speech has been boring or complicated or both, they will remember even less of its content and only recall how terrible it was.

When assembling material for your speech, write yourself a list of points – a structure. Try if you can to keep the main issues in your presentation to fewer than five, no matter how long your speech is. If you can’t actually put it together as a traditional story, what you must do is ensure that one topic leads logically on to the next using some good, workable links.

Links

It is possible to change direction abruptly in a presentation, but you need to be a practised speaker to pull it off and know how to use your stage body language as well as that other wonderful presenter’s tool, silence. Nothing gets an audience’s attention faster than a few seconds of total silence when they’re expecting a stream of words.

Whether you use a bit of silence or not you need a short, effective link. Links are actually quite useful even if they are a little abrupt, because they act as punctuation to your material. They also tell the audience that we’re now moving on to something new. Your links can be as simple as a few words, or up to a few sentences, but no longer or they cease to be links and become mini-topics.

Openers and closers

Many people will tell you that a powerful opening and close of a speech are terribly important and in fact as long as those are good you can say pretty well what you like in between. I don’t necessarily agree. Sometimes simple, unpretentious and honest openers and closes are far easier - and more effective.

The opener and closer don’t have to be earth-shattering, but they do have to be part of you and your material. If you’re naturally a quiet, private sort of person there’s no way you should struggle with a passionate, emotive ending to your speech, even if others think you should be able to carry it off. If a few, self-effacing words of "thanks for listening" are all you think you will feel comfortable with at the end of your speech then that’s the best choice, because you’re less likely to get it wrong.

Spoken speech

Once you have created a structure and decided how best to open and close your speech, the best way to ensure it sounds natural is to switch on an audio recorder, talk through the structure to yourself, and transcribe the recording. (It’s a terrible job, but worth it.)

Now, edit that transcript and tidy it up a bit, but don’t take out the commas and the periods. Long sentences in speeches can leave you gasping for breath and losing the plot. And don’t add in anything you wouldn’t say in real life. If it sounds right, it is right, and if it sounds wrong it is wrong even though it may look right on paper or screen.

Okay, you shouldn’t give a speech in the same casual style you might use to tell a story to your friends in the changing rooms at the gym or the 19th hole at the Golf Club. But you must ALWAYS be, and write for, yourself and your own personality.

The right style is always conversational. The best speakers always talk to audiences as if they were talking to a friend over a cup of coffee – a natural, friendly, personal style.

Rehearse, rehearse

I don’t want to be depressing, but once you’ve finished all the hard work of preparing your material, writing your speech and (if relevant) organising your visual support, you then get down to the really hard work – rehearsing. Memorize the speech as well as you can, but don’t worry if you forget the odd "and" or "but." If you say "er" and hesitate slightly now and again, it will make your speech sound more natural. What you must memorize perfectly is the content, and the order.

And then, go out there and enjoy yourself. If you’ve prepared your speech well, you will!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Canadian-born Suzan St Maur is an international business writer and author based in the United Kingdom. Read more - and check out her free biweekly business writing tips eZine, Tipz from Suze, - at her website, SuzanStMaur.com