Time to polish off the last of the Quality Street and prise yourself off the sofa. Christmas is over and a new year begins.
If you’re anything like the rest of us, you’re probably feeling the bulge. And we don’t just mean your waistline. At this time of year, everything – from bank balance to hobbies – could benefit from slimming down or toning up.
We can’t force you to join that Zumba class, or miraculously reduce your overdraft, but we can help you to get fit for your next big speech-writing challenge. Whether you’ve got a presentation to deliver or a wedding speech to write, just follow our Healthy Speaking Plan and turn yourself into a lean, mean speech-writing machine.
Healthy Speaking Plan
This speech isn’t going away, so take your head out of the sand. Whether you’ve got three weeks or three months to prepare, you need to start getting in shape now if you want to feel fitter and more confident on the big day.
Don’t launch straight in. We advise easing yourself gently into your speech workout. Create a master document and use it to write down all your thoughts. Don’t worry at this stage about what’s most interesting or funny. Put everything down. You’ll find it really useful when you come to structure and write your speech later on.
Work as a team
Now is the time to get in all your requests. If it’s a wedding speech, you will need to ask friends and family for anecdotes about the bride and groom. If you’re speaking at work, you’ll want to talk to colleagues or clients. Stories and anecdotes are what turn a bog-standard speech into something light and heartfelt. But many people (particularly parents) don’t like being rushed for information – so ask now and give them plenty of time to get back to you.
Get in line
Whenever there’s more than one person speaking at an event, there’s always a slight risk that you might tread on somebody’s toes. Find out what the other speakers are going to be saying – and edit your content to avoid overlap.
Stay on track
Relevance is the most important aspect of speech writing. There’s nothing worse than the majority of guests feeling left out of a joke that only the best man and a few of the stags are in on. Make sure you understand your audience and construct your speech around them. And include something for everybody.
Go with the flow
Before you start writing your speech, put a structure in place. You need to decide how the speech is going to flow, and what your key message and theme will be. Once the bones are in place, fleshing out your speech will seem a walk – or a gentle jog! – in the park.
Focus on maintaining the tone of your speech and you can’t go far wrong. E.g., who is your speech for? Does it need to be serious or light? Will that anecdote offend Great Aunt Maud? If you’re using a theme, make sure it’s coherent. And don’t forget to consider your own strengths. Are you good at the witty one-liners? Or can you nail the serious stuff? Don’t move too far out of your comfort zone.
With all speeches, brevity is key. Aim to speak for no longer than 10 minutes, or 1,000 words, and keep all sentences and paragraphs short and punchy. Take a red pen to your work and get rid of everything that doesn’t add anything. You’ll be surprised how much padding there is.
Get in training
When you’ve written your speech, don’t just pop it in a drawer and forget about it. Start practising. The aim is to read it aloud so many times you know it inside out (but not necessarily off by heart). Ask a friend to listen to you, nudge them for feedback, and repeat until they beg you to stop!
Play your cards right
Write your speech on a series of numbered A6 memory cards and make sure they’re in order, in your pocket before you start talking. Use them to prompt you throughout your speech.
You. Need. To. Speak. Slowly. Much more slowly than seems natural. Take plenty of pauses, especially in places where the audience will want to laugh and applaud. And be careful not to gabble as you near the end of a sentence.
Watch what you drink
As tempting as it is to steady your nerves with a few glasses of fizz, resist. You need to stay sharp and clear-headed to give the best speech. Alcohol may make you feel more confident but it rarely improves your performance.
Stick to the plan and you’ll soon be striding happily towards that podium – memory cards in hand. But if you’re still struggling to get in speech-writing shape, then take a look at www.greatspeechwriting.co.uk, where both Lawrence Bernstein and Anna Quayle offer tips on how to edit, structure and write your speech and even advice to help you deliver it.