Executive Speech Coach & How to Write a Speech

For many years I have attended the Ragan Speechwriters Conference. Many of these heroes write for history. Rob Friedman is one of the most talented and interesting friends I have made there. Everything he writes and says is of interest to me.

This is a repost from Ragan. Enjoy…

How to write a speech for the ears
By Michael Sebastian

Speeches aren’t print articles, so write accordingly. Top Eli Lilly executive communicator Rob Friedman explains how

Crafting a speech is unlike writing a press release, e-mail or article in the employee publication. On paper—or screen—you’re writing for the eyes. The words are portable; readers can revisit them; there are pictures.

“A fundamental aspect of speeches is writing not for the page, but for the ear,” explained Rob Friedman, director of executive communications at pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company. “It’s what we say and how we say it that’s important.”

Friedman calls speeches made for the listeners’ ears “oral writing,” and explained at Ragan’s Corporate Communicators Conference last May the “Six R’s of oral writing.”

Here they are.

Real—Speeches should be conversational, Friedman explained. Unfortunately, business speeches too often include jargon. “If you’re using [jargon]—cut it out!” Friedman said. “One syllable words are important—use the best word, the easy word,” he explained. “Use this simple test: If it’s a word you use in conver-sation with a friend, it’s fine in your speech.”

Here’s an example from Friedman of a stiff sentence made real: “We’re endeavoring to construct a more inclusive society.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned that sentence into, “We’re going to make a country where no one is left out.”

Repeat—“Because listeners can’t reread, speakers must amplify, embellish and repeat key points,” Friedman said. Since speechwriting is about persuasion, repetition is important.

“The spoken word is ephemeral,” an AT&T speechwriter once said. “The words I’m speaking now pass through the air; you can’t bring them back unless I bring them back. When I do, that’s not repetition that’s amplification. Everything I say, I should say two or three ways. I shouldn’t say it only once. You have to hear it again.”

Notice how many times he repeated his point?

Rhythm—“Listeners love rhythm,” Friedman said. “Studies have shown that applause during speeches is triggered more often by cadence than by content.” So how do you get rhythm? Friedman has three tips.

Variety. Sing-songy rhythms are bad; avoid them by ensuring your sentences aren’t all the same length. Take this example of long and short sentences from Winston Churchill: “If you have an important point to make don’t be subtle. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again and then hit it a third time. A tremendous whack.”

Balance. Strike an accord with your statements and do so with conjunctions (“but,” “and,” “or,” “because,” “when,” “without”), or employ correlative conjunctions like “both/and,” not only/but also, if/then, either/or.

Friedman offered an example of balance in a business speech: “We delivered those solid results without deviating from our core values. We aggressively expanded into new markets and lines of business, but stood by our tradition of customer service. We brought new operations and employees into our family companies, but didn’t forget that people make the difference.”

The rule of threes. A list of three suggests finality, Friedman said. It makes a sentence sound complete. For instance, “I want your input, your ideas, your inspiration.”
Rhetoric—Friedman suggests using these four rhetorical tools to make your speeches easier on the ears:

Anaphora is a Greek term meaning, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a series. For instance, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” had several anaphora like, “I have a dream” and “Let freedom ring … let it ring”

Rhetorical questions, ask them. Take something declarative, Friedman said. It grabs the audience’s attention. Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant sound. Take this example from Friedman, “We’re making major investments to modernize our plants.” Notice the Ms’?

Fragment sentences. People use them in conversation; you should in your speeches. It helps build rhythm.

Rock & Roll—Good speechwriting, like all good writing, must be three things, Friedman said.

Be dynamic. Nouns must be specific, not abstract, he said. For instance, if you say, “imagine a plant,” someone might think of a building, a fern, perhaps a spy. Instead, try specificity: “Imagine a Pepsi bottling plant.” Also, avoid boring verbs; use energetic ones. Profits can “go up,” Friedman said. Or they can “explode,” “skyrocket,” even “evaporate.”

Be vivid. Write for all the senses. Unlike a magazine, speeches don’t come with images. So create imagery and go beyond the limits of a page or screen. For instance, “The Pepsi plant smelled of burnt metal and sweat.”

Be imaginative. Use analogies, tell stories, work props into the speech. For instance, “The Pepsi plant smelled like cheap soda tastes—pungent and nauseating.” Then produce a prop, a cold bottle of Pepsi, and drink from it. “The end product from that plant is anything but.”

Rousing—Boring speakers need rousing speeches. Friedman wants you to face facts: Sometimes you write for people who are bad, boring speakers. Here are several tips to fight that problem:

Find passion. Your speaker is passionate about something. Learn what that is and weave it into his or her speeches.

Create a story they want to tell, perhaps a personal story.

Develop a stump speech, like that of a politician, with consistent themes and stories. The more your executive delivers that speech, the better it becomes.

Write humor into a speech, even if your executive is humorless. Just make sure the speaker is comfortable with it.