I am sure you have on occasion listened spellbound to a speaker who has their audience on the edge of their seats.  What a wonderful experience it is to listen to a riveting speech or presentation which maintains our interest, challenges our thinking and sparks our curiosity – all too rare in most workplaces.

As Socrates famously said all that matters is ‘delivery, delivery, delivery’.  And he was right – up to a point.  But what also matters very much is the actual written speech, the words used in the presentation – the ideas conveyed, how the messages are crafted and the entire creativity of the spoken words.  This is the job of the speech writer.

Speech writers in history and in current times have held revered positions in seats of power such as the White House, Number Ten Downing Street and the Kremlin.  They are the people who craft the compelling messages that leaders want to convey to the general populace.  And you can learn from their examples.  Having the ability to write a great speech or develop a really good presentation is a wonderful skill, whether you are writing it for your CEO, boss, senior partner, Chair, trustee, or even yourself.

Using some of the oratory techniques used by President Obama, the late Steve Jobs, Tony Blair, and others can help add drama and creativity to your writing. Ever hear of ‘ascending anaphora’ or ‘captatio benevolentiae ‘ or ‘praeteritio’ ? Let alone knowing how to spell them!

A good speech has three parts:  Opening; Body; Close.  The purpose of the opening is to set the scene for the speech and to engage the audience.  This early engagement is very important – if you don’t spark interest in the first 2 minutes you are likely to lose the audience’s attention for the rest of the speech.

In the body of the speech you should include your key points or messages – a good rule of thumb is no more than 3 to 4.  Finally in the close, you bring the whole thing together.  Restating the main messages and summarizing your key points.  You may also have a call to action.

Always remember what Mark Twain said about speech writing: Develop a strong opening and a strong close and keep them close together!

Let me give you another valuable tip:  Anticipate questions and develop answers for them.  So often a speaker is caught off-guard because he or she had received an unexpected question.  Of course, it is quite acceptable to say that you don’t know the answer or deflect the question to someone else, but you don’t want to do this through the entire Q/A session.  Remember to keep your answers brief (30 seconds or less) and to incorporate the question in your answer.

When writing your speech you should refer to your favourite book of speeches (mine is The Penguin Book of Modern Speeches edited by Brian MacArthur ) and also make sure you have a book of quotations handy.  Both of these will provide you with inspiration.

The ability to write and deliver inspiring speeches is a key skill in education and in business and one that, sadly, is rarely taught in schools.

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