Imagine that you stand up to give a speech. You have an excellent script in front of you — it’s well organized and looks phenomenal on paper. You start your delivery and the crowd stays with you. You try to tell a joke — crickets. You continue on, making point by point. It’s a well-structured speech, but it ends with tepid applause. What went wrong?
You wrote the speech as if it were a blog post or a book chapter. It had a beginning, middle, and end, but lacked the rhythm, pauses, energy, and excitement, that you would find in the spoken word. Written pieces have their own natural rhythm that doesn’t always translate to the spoken word. Even funny sentences when we read them with our inner voice sound different when said out loud — the tone and pace of delivery affect the humor just as much as the words themselves.
As a speechwriter, I have a few tips that can help you compose your next speech. By not just writing it down word for word, but saying it out loud, through each step of the writing process.
I use this method for my own talks and the ones I write for others. Clients come back and tell me that the speech sounds natural and truly captures their voice.
If you adopt this method, your next speech (on Zoom or in-person) will sound more like a conversation than a dissertation.
In fact, it mirrors what Brenda Mahler said when discussing Donald Murray’s approach to writing, “A writer’s skills improve through the practice of manipulating words and experimenting with the language. If we remain open to discovery, our toolbox of techniques grows.”
Composing out loud is that experimentation — you give yourself a chance to hear how your words sound as you write your speech.
The Key Takeaway:
Test each part of your speech out loud during the writing process to ensure what you have on paper sounds right when said aloud. Doing this ahead of time, before you step on stage, will also help with practicing and memorizing your speech, too.
Tip 1: Composing Out Loud While Brainstorming
If you are stuck on what to say, try giving your speech out loud. Start at any point that feels natural and speak what comes to mind. Have a recording app going while you do this. Give yourself permission to jump around from part to part. You can even compose the ending first — Dan Brown does and so does Jen McGahan.
Once you’ve exhausted your ideas, get the recording transcribed (no affiliate, but Rev.com is fast and high quality). Then, piece your speech together based on what you said. But don’t put on too much of an editing hat. We often speak in phrases and half-sentences — transcribe your speech more as free verse poetry than a thesis.
This method works by unleashing the mind’s natural creative forces. Our mind wants to fill in the gaps and we have no problem doing so when talking to another person or ourselves.
Tip 2: Composing Out Loud While Writing
When writing a speech, try a cycle of writing a portion, saying it out loud as if it were your speech, and then editing your work. You’ll instantly hear awkward phrases, sentences that are too rambly, and other weird quirks that your inner voice didn’t catch when you wrote those words. If you find places where you should pause or speed up for effect, be sure to write those in.
You want a cycle of writing — >voicing aloud — >editing to get the words on paper to match what you say out loud. As you add on each part, incorporate the previous sections when you give your speech out loud to ensure that it sounds like one piece rather than a set of distinct parts.
Tip 3: Composing Out Loud While Rehearsing
Many speakers try to memorize their entire speech all at once or they go in the opposite direction and read directly from their perfectly scripted notes. Both methods end in either frustration or a bored audience.
Start with the full script of your speech and give it aloud until comfortable with it. Next, create an outline that contains the main ideas. Give the speech aloud just from those ideas. Repeat again, creating a smaller outline each time.
This method has two payoffs:
First, you’ll get more comfortable with your material while relying less upon the notes themselves.
Second, as you internalize the material, you’ll deliver it in a more comfortable and relaxed manner where your focus will be on getting the main ideas across rather than worrying where each “and” or “that” should be in the speech.
Give it a try:
Speeches are meant to be spoken, not written. The next time you have to speak, compose your speech out loud first before writing on the blank screen in front of you. Your brain is surprisingly great at coming up with things to say on the spot when there’s no audience to make you nervous. Allow your natural creativity and talent to shine through as you compose your speech out loud rather than write it.
Photo credit: Aryan Singh on Unsplash
This will be a part of the upcoming book: Toast: Short Speeches, Big Impact. Get notified when it launches here: www.ricespeechwriting.com/toast-book