IF YOU are a great writer, do not assume that your writing will translate immediately to the spoken word. When giving a speech, simply reading an essay to an audience can bore them to tears.
Here are some ways to adapt. A speech is not an essay on its hind legs, and great speech writers and public speakers adapt accordingly:
- SIMPLIFY. The average adult reads 300 words a minute, but people can only follow speech closely at around 150-160 words a minute. It’s important, then, to write brief and clear speeches. Ten minutes of speaking is only about 1,300 words.
- SIGNPOST AND REVIEW. In a written essay, readers can revisit confusing passages or missed points. Once you lose someone in a speech, she may be lost for good. In your introduction, state your thesis and then lay out the structure of your speech ahead of time (for instance, “we’ll see this in three ways: x, y and z”). Then, as you work through your speech, open each new point with a signpost to let your listeners know where you are with words such as, “to begin,” “secondly” and “finally,” and close each point with a similar, review-oriented signpost (for instance, “so we see, the first element of success is x”).
- DROP THE STATISTICS AND TELL A STORY. Lead or end an argument with statistics. But never fall into reciting strings of numbers or citations. Your audience will better follow, remember and internalize stories.
- YOU ARE YOUR PUNCTUATION. When you’re speaking, your audience doesn’t have the benefit of visual signifiers of emphasis, change in pace, or transition — commas, semicolons, dashes and exclamation points. They can’t see question marks or paragraph breaks. Instead, your voice, your hand gestures, your pace and even where and how you’re standing on stage give the speech texture and range. Vary your excitement, tone and volume for emphasis. Use hand gestures consciously and in accordance with the points you’re trying to make. Walk between main points while delivering the speech — literally transitioning your physical position in the room to signify a new part of the argument. Resist the urge to read your speech directly from the page. Become the punctuation your audience craves.