Posts Tagged ‘FAQs’

“But That’s the Most Important Part of the Draft”

script editWhen you reach a certain level of experience as a speechwriter, and your hair turns a certain shade of grey, people new to the profession seek you out for advice. One of the most important, and challenging, questions I get is “What do you do when you’ve written a great script and the client makes changes that really weaken the draft?”

I usually respond with a long winded discussion of diplomacy in the workplace, the duties of a professional, the consultant/client balancing act, etc.

From now on, I’ll just refer all tyros to a terrific blog post by Mike Long, veteran speechwriter, author, educator, and award-winning screenwriter and playwright. (You can find it on his blog and on Vital Speeches of the Day.)

The whole piece is spot on, and the last full paragraph should be part of the Official Speechwriter’s Creed:

When requests for changes come back, accept or argue against them according to structure, substance, and taste. To hold onto your satisfaction with the work, consider any changes to be carpentry – customization of an already excellent product provided to get the paycheck. Cling to that first version as the evidence of your talent, and take your pleasure from having written something so good, even if it never escapes your hard drive and your client’s harsh opinion.

I would only add that it also helps to reserve part of your time for your own writing. Give speeches; do freelance articles;  or get creative with that novel, poem, or screenplay. As long as the writing is yours alone, it will help keep you happy…and sane.

(More) Advice on Humor

o-STAND-UP-COMEDY-facebookI would bet that the question I get asked most often when I give a presentation is, how should I use humor in a speech? My quick answer: “very carefully.” As I noted in a post a couple years ago, using humor in speeches is risky, so proceed with caution.

But do proceed. Here are some guidelines on how to amuse.

Like just about every other speechwriter and presentation coach I know, I strongly advise against starting by telling a joke. Most jokes bomb; very few people are good at telling them; and they almost never sound natural or authentic. The result is that the first impression the audience has is that you are inauthentic at best and a phony at worst.

To prevent that from happening, keep in mind the very important distinction speech coach Christopher Witt draws between “a joke” and “humor.” “When you tell a joke, you’re trying to make people laugh,” he says. “When you use humor, you’re wanting to amuse them. You’re happy if they smile or chuckle.”  And I strongly agree with him that the safest and most effective form of humor is self-deprecating.

The late John Cantu,  who coached working comics and comedy writers as well as public speakers, thought long and hard about humor. You’ll find a lot of great advice on his SpeakerHumor site. Especially useful is his recommendation to  speakers who are just beginning to get comfortable with humor:  never use a bit of humor UNLESS it illustrates, clarifies, or specifically references the point you are trying to make.

So, proceed carefully, but do try adding humor to your speeches, talks and presentations.

FAQ: What should I know about my audience?

FAQMy smart-alecky answer to this question is: “Everything.”

My more serious answer is: when you’re preparing a speech, it’s not enough to write carefully crafted sentences and phrases, or to present elegantly worded talking points. A successful speech is one that engages the audience. To do that, you must discover what audience members are most concerned about. What is worrying them? What are their hopes? What are they curious or confused about?

Sometimes, when a CEO is addressing his or her organization’s employees for example, that kind of research is fairly easy. (Although CEOs have been known to ignore their employees’ concerns. They are usually not around too long.) In other cases, you simply have to do the research.

When I have a client who is speaking to large meeting, for example, I’ve found that the meeting organizer is an invaluable asset. Get in touch with him or her and ask lots of questions about who exactly will be in the audience, what they’re probably thinking about, what speakers they have heard in the past (or have heard earlier in the meeting), etc.

And then go online to research the sponsoring organization, check recent news stories, and social media. Anything that will help you understand the folks who will be listening to you is valuable.

Remember: A generic speech given to a unique audience is almost always a speech that fails.

FAQ: How Should I Use Statistics?

FAQMy basic advice on using statistics is: tell stories instead. But I’m actually not a statistic abolitionist. Statistics can be effective in a presentation, under two conditions.

First, use them sparingly.

Second, find a way to describe the human impact of the statistics you use.

The first condition is pretty straightforward. I find that executives as a group really love statistics. That’s understandable, because statistics are vital when you want to know how your organization is performing. But putting too many statistics in a speech is a sure way to make audience members’ eyes glaze over.

While it’s okay to use a few statistics, don’t just drop numbers on the audience. Present the well chosen stats in ways humans can relate to.

For example, if you say that roughly 45,000 people die each year in automobile accidents, that number is so big, it doesn’t really register. But people will be moved if you make it more dramatic, by saying that is the equivalent of a fully loaded passenger jet crashing…with no survivors …every day for a year.

Or you can paint a word picture to illustrate the statistic: “The energy saved by this simple measure would be enough to power all the homes and businesses in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia for the rest of the 21st Century.”

Check out It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It by speech coach Joan Detz for additional ways to make statistics resonate..

FAQ: About Q&A’s [Part 2]

FAQIn an earlier post on how to handle Q&A sessions, I warned that they can be risky, and I offered a couple of suggestions on how to cope.  But the fact remains,  if you finish with Q&A’s, the last words the audience hears from you will be out of your control. And as Angela DeFinis, a true industry expert in professional speaking, once told me, “That last question can lead your whole speech down a rat hole.”

No executive wants that to happen.

How to prevent it? DeFinis has a great suggestion: Be sure to reserve a little time for yourself after answering those pesky questions. Then step to the podium and deliver your final, final remarks. The last words your audience hears will be the ones you want.