How to Speed Up Your Speechwriting
10 min read
What you’ll learn:
- Finding your ideas with playful planning
- How to create your very own ‘story library’.
- Thinking in terms of problems and solutions.
Speechwriting doesn't have to be difficult.
This post will help you to speed up your speechwriting.
I’ll show you how to write a superb speech in minutes that will fool people into thinking you’ve been practicing for months.
Every artist, writer, or speaker who stopped procrastinating and sat down to work, has uttered the line:
“I don’t know where to start!”
Procrastination is great fun for a while, but when it’s finally time to “put the ass in the seat” as Dorothy Parker once said, where do you begin?
Don’t worry, I’ve been there.
Every writer and speaker has been there, and worrying is the very last thing you should do. Instead, here are five things you should do to get the first draft of that speech written in record time.*
*I mean your personal best. Don’t go calling the Guinness people just yet*
Great speechwriting starts with playful planning.
If you’re anything like me when starting an essay or speech, you’ll stare at the top of the blank page and wonder when your muse will arrive.
Muses do not appear upon command: they are like cats.
They come of their own accord, usually when you’re feeling relaxed watching the tv, or doing something else that doesn’t involve them.
Unlike cats, however, they do stick around once you have their attention – without the need for a feather or secret cache of treats.
But to do that, you need to make it seem like you don’t even need them.
As Paulo Coelho says:
“You should treat a muse like a fairy.”
In which case, never look directly at it!
Instead, begin your speechwriting session by getting into a creative and playful mood. Listen to music, draw, read something inspiring. Or better yet, play with your cat if you have one
Once your mind is detached from the task at hand, then focus on your goal.
But try not to focus on the stress of doing it. Rather, focus on the joy of completing it. I mean all the way to the end of the best man speech, business presentation, or big interview.
If you imagine a presentation going splendidly well, with your audience in tears of laughter or sat wrapped to attention, your muse will come forth to make it happen. Think about the positive outcome you want to achieve, then visualize it playing out in your minds eye.
You wont gain the support of the muse by sitting there and struggling. So there’s no point being a speechwriting stereotype. Banging your head against the table, hoping for a miracle or cursing writer’s block for your failings.
All great creations start in the imagination, so begin every writing session by tapping into this through playful planning. Imagine your ideal outcome, and then let the magical muse come to your aid.
Always riff, before you write.
Have you ever watched a musician create music? Either in real life or on television?
Musicians have a process that typically does not begin with any writing at all. They start to play musical notes and melodies to hear the combinations of sounds they can create.
Through a process of strumming strings, or tapping a tambourine the musician finds a rhythmic flow. Musicians call this process ‘riffing’.
The great thing is: once they have riffed for a while, a true sound will emerge that can be written down almost note-perfect.
You can use riffing when speechwriting too. A speech that is written and read word-for-word is painful to hear. Nobody wants to see a speech delivered in parrot-fashion because it doesn’t sound natural to the ear.
We do, however, love to hear speeches that are organic and seem to come ‘from the heart’. You can master this art by riffing. It’s like rehearsing your speech even before it’s written.
Here’s how to riff your speech ideas:
Think about how you would like your speech to sound, and what ideas you’d like to share
Say it aloud, off the cuff, using whatever words and phrases come to mind. Then, reflect on what you improvised, make any adjustments, and try delivering it again.
Repeat this process over a few times, and you’ll find that your speech begins to assemble itself.
Once you’re happy with the flow and delivery, commit it to paper along with any prompts to remind yourself how it is delivered – use our speech structure to help keep it streamlined.
As I mentioned before, it’s like rehearsing from the start, so when people see you deliver this speech, they will think you have been practicing for months. When in reality, you may have only started practicing in the car on the way to the venue.
Do away with countless hours of rewrites. Instead, use riffing to do your best speechwriting in minutes of motivation rather than weeks of worry.
Build a speechwriting story library.
I once saw the most amazing speaker who had no notes, slides, or teleprompter.
He was able to unleash an unending stream of enchanting tales, one after the other, without the use of anything but his voice and imagination.
The time flew by as the audience watched him recount stories of his life, and the lessons he had learned from them. The weird thing was, he had only been asked to speak at the beginning of the day when another speaker lost their nerve.
The MC, of course, made a big deal about this and had asked the audience to “be kind”. We had no reason to be kind. He received a standing ovation for his efforts and he deserved it. It was an incredible speech!
Later, I asked him how he managed to remain so composed and fluid at a moment’s notice.
He told me:
“I have a story-library I can access at any time I like. I just go to my library and pick out a story or two and read them aloud. I just deliver about 80% of the speech and then add some observations about the event or people I’ve met in the other 20%”.
Could it be that simple? I tried it and I can honestly say it is that simple.
Let me explain.
Creating your own speechwriting story library.
Here’s what I did… I bought myself a little notebook and wrote the letters of the alphabet on each page from A to Z. Then, I racked my brains and browsed the internet for stories and categorised them by letter.
So, for instance, I would think of an interesting birthday story and write that down. Then, I thought of a graduation story and wrote that down. After a while, I had a bunch of stories.
I hear you cry:
“…there’s no guarantee I will ever be asked to speak at one of those events”.
Bear with me, friend! After I had created my notebook of stories, I started to practice a story whenever I could. I would just say “oh I was at a birthday and guess what happened?” Then I would go straight into my story.
After delivering the story to a friend or stranger, I would make a silent review of it in my mind.
- Did they laugh?
- Were they able to understand it?
- Did they ask further questions about it?
You see, what matters isn’t the story itself, it’s the ability to tell a good story.
The ability to grasp the essence of a story, and know how to repeat. That’s where the real magic lies. You can develop a fingertip-feel for storytelling and metaphors just by telling them more often and seeing how people react.
If you don’t want to go to the lengths I did, just grab a few jokes and start with those. There’s some actual science behind why stories work so well.
Without going too much into the neuroscience behind it all, stories ignite the parts of our brains that link our logical nerve centres with our emotional centres.
A well-told story will win over any audience because the critical part of their mind is soothed by the emotional side that releases some juicy chemicals for your brain to feast on.
When you know a story well it will fit into any speech like Lego. Be ready for anything. Build a story-library and be ready to shine when your next need for speechwriting arrives.
Timing is everything in a speech.
Here’s a super simple way to structure your speech. It’s something we teach at our public speaking courses.
A good speaking pace is around 125-150 words per minute (WPM).
Whether it’s a TEDx Talk of 18 minutes or a keynote speech of between 30-45 minutes, you will always need to be fully aware of how long your speech is and how fast you speak.
So, here’s what to do.
Find out the amount of time you have to speak. For this example, let’s say it’s 10 minutes long. Then, write the number of minutes as bullet points down the page like this:
… all the way up to 10.
Once you have your speech broken down like this, we can apply a simple strategy to break it down further.
You will need an Introduction and a Summary in any speech you do which take up 10% of the structure each.
The rest of the speech can then be split into three sections which are 2 minutes each. That’s 20% depending on your speech length, and have transition points of 30 seconds each. (You won’t need to transition into the summary as it recalls everything else anyway).
So now, you have something like this:
1 – Introduction
2 – Point 1
3 – Point 1
4 – Transition 1
5 – Point 2
6 – Point 2
7 – Transition 2
8- Point 3
9 – Point 3
10 – Summary
Just like Lego!
You can now split that up even further and include some stories from your story-library. These can be used at the first half of each point to tell a short story.
Then, use the second half of the point to rationalise it logically, showing the audience how it’s relevant by sharing the lesson you learned. Do you see how simple it is to create a structure out of nothing but the time you have available?
Discipline yourself to stick to a structure like this to avoid over-researching, overwriting, or including too many points to cover. It gives you a clear indication of how much capacity you have.
Word count on paper does not equal a spoken word count. It’s much better to record yourself speaking and then understand what your natural speed is. All though, bear in mind that you will often speak faster under pressure.
See if you can get a friend or two to watch you deliver your speech. Or better yet, consider investing in some public speaking coaching to truly elevate your skills.
Think in terms of problem-solution.
One of the simplest frameworks for speechwriting is to solve a problem within your speech.
If it’s a business meeting, you may need to motivate staff to increase productivity.
If it’s at a local community conference, you may need to convince people to commit a certain amount of their time to pick up litter.
It doesn’t matter who your speech is for, as long as you understand why you are being asked to deliver it. In life, we are surrounded by problems and oftentimes we find ourselves complaining to others.
You’ll often hear people mutter:
“you’ll never guess what happened to me!”
What is less common in gossip groups is the line:
“…and, here’s what I did to fix it”.
As a speaker, writer, or leader you should always be focused on solutions. I remember years ago when I was in my first career as a salesman. I would have the pleasure of pitching my company’s products to unwilling audiences on their doorsteps.
Initially, I would just jump in at them with a solution as they opened the door: “hey do you want to save money on your gas and electric?”
Another door closed itself in my face.
It was only when I realised that every audience needs warming up, even when knocking door-to-door, that I started to make some sales and keep some doors open.
By asking questions first and understanding how much they were paying, I could qualify if they were the right customer for me.
I needed to find out if a problem existed, before I could offer a solution. This was a huge eye-opener for me.
Start with a problem, then present the solution.
In a presentation, you will often not have the chance to ask the audience many meaningful questions, but what you can do is set out the problem for them.
Show them how climate change is impacting the world, or how their time spent fiddling with a buggy accounting system is costing them money.
Show them using examples and numbers they understand – help them relive that pain for a minute. Nobody wants to hear about your problems, but they always want to hear about their own. Especially if you have a solution for them.
Over time, you will become adept and instinctive at understanding the needs and problems of your audience. But until you do, just focus on being curious and inquisitive.
Keep asking yourself questions that pose a specific problem, and how it can be solved. Use examples, stories, and case studies of where you have overcome these problems and how your audience can too.
Put these speechwriting tips into practise.
You can slash the amount of time required to plan, write, and deliver a winning speech anywhere and at any time with these tips.
Don’t wait until you’re asked to “say a few words” before you start preparing.
You can start your writing process by being playful and imagining a positive outcome. Then, writing some simple bullets to measure your timings.
You can start a story-library today and start riffing on how you would deliver those stories. When it comes to problems, well, they’re everywhere.
Just listen closely the next time someone says:
“You’ll never guess what happened to me!”
You can and will speed up your speechwriting if you focus on these few points.
So grab your pen, have some fun, and get ready to speed write your speech.
If you have any questions, get in touch and let’s talk about your upcoming presentation or speech.
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