Want to Write Great Speeches?
I was invited to deliver the opening keynote speech at the Toastmasters International Convention in 2001. In this 10-segment series, you view the anatomy of a keynote presentation. 7 of 10
“I was working with a company in Petaluma that had hired me to work with all its marketing managers, helping them design the talks for company meetings. The project went very well, and I was asked, ‘Can you work with our president? He’s an engineer, not a good speaker, and he hardly ever speaks. He’s been here for 10 years, but he’s only been president for eight months. They see him as a supportive guy, but they don’t see him as presidential. Also, although business was quite good last year, sales were flat. This is a sales meeting. Many of the salespeople are new. Can you help him write a speech and make him look presidential? And you’ve got three hours.’
“Well, I like a challenge as much as anyone else. I asked the president’s secretary a few questions about his background. Remember, a key to connection is conversation. The secret of conversation is to ask questions, and the quality of the information you receive depends on the quality of your questions.
Lesson One: Bring back a key idea introduced earlier in your presentation.
“When I met the gentleman, Barry, I said, ‘I know you don’t know me, but you have to trust me. You’re not very experienced, but I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve been going to conferences where I’ve seen presidents and CEOs give good speeches and inspire the troops, and I’ve seen them do pitifully and demotivate everyone. Now we don’t have very much time, so you need to do exactly what I tell you. I am your new best friend.’
“My brother says, ‘I’m not surprised my sister gets paid to tell people what to do. She was a very bossy little girl.’”
Lesson Two: Self-deprecating humor is good, but do not overdo it.
“I asked Barry, ‘Everyone tells me you are very supportive and very ethical. Where did that come from? Tell me about your parents. I hear you’re interested in sports. What sports?’ He said, “When I was 7 years old, I was on a water polo team. Because I was seen as a team player and also had leadership inclinations, they put me on the fast track for the Olympics.” I said, ‘You have to say that in your speech because that proves you’ve been in training for that job since you were seven years old.’”
Lesson Three: Writing speeches conversationally is the best way. As you can tell, it is much easier with an interested other asking the questions.
“You see, I don’t write speeches for executives. Rather I ask them questions, pull out their ideas, and help them organize them. Next Barry told me about going to the Olympics in Mexico City. He said, ‘Even though we lost, it was an exhilarating feeling.’ He talked about going to Russia where the best water polo players were, whom they would practice with, and then about going to the Olympics in Munich.
“I maintain that we never put our best material in our speeches. They are the stories that we regale our friends and family with over the dinner table. This man was not a good speaker, but he was telling me beautifully crafted stories he’d been telling his kids and dinner guests.”
Lesson Four: If your friends and family laugh at the dinner table, so will an audience.
“I said, ‘What you need to do is . . . I want you to stand up and answer the questions people have in their minds. Your employees are wondering where you are taking this company, how secure their jobs are. Sales were flat last year, so what are you going to do this year?’
“I told him, ‘Stand up, walk out, and say, “If I were you, I’d be wondering who this guy Barry is, and where he is taking the company in the future. Before I tell you where I’m going, let me tell you where I came from.” I said, ‘Tell them the two sentences about your parents. Talk about being seven years old, and tell those three marvelous stories.’
“Can you see the first row of the speech diagram in his presentation? All I did was stand in the training room with the man who is not a good speaker with the diagram you have in front of you on the wall.
“I continued, ‘Okay, this is your opening. You answered the questions they have of you, and these are the first three stories. The second point-of-wisdom chunk is the next line: how you upgraded headquarters. This is how you upgraded the products that you had problems with. Now you need to upgrade the salespeople.’ “Yes, that’s right,” Barry said.
“For the first eight minutes of his speech, he is eloquent and elegant. He tells the stories that he has told in conversations, and that builds his confidence. In his mind he sees the diagram. For the third example, I said, ‘You want your salespeople to be business consultants?’ He answered, “Yes, that’s right.” I said, ‘We’ll give them these questions to ask.’
“Then he gave his speech twice. I gave him the tape and said, ‘Go get your secretary to transcribe it. You’re not going to read it, but you’re going to look at it. You’re going to underline key ideas and reinforce your points of wisdom. You’re going to find any repetitive words that you can edit out so you can see how to improve it.’”
Lesson Five: A transcript of your rehearsal is invaluable.
“Ten days after I met with him, this man who was not a good speaker stood up and, with no notes, gave a talk that motivated his employees.
“That’s the power of a structure, and that was the perfect formula for him; where he came from, where they are, where they are going in the future. That was the last row about grading salespeople.”
Lesson Six: See your speech diagram in your mind while you deliver your presentation.
“Then it stands to reason if you start at the beginning, you start in the middle, a logical way to outline a speech would be to start at the end. The end of the story, not the end of the speech.
“I was speaking at a National Speakers Association conference in Phoenix, and a young friend of mine, Scott Halford, told a story in another session.
“His opening line was, ‘It was the scariest experience of my life. As a young man, I’d always been interested in movies, and my parents were supportive. I grew up to be a documentary filmmaker, and we made a documentary about death row. I actually spent a week in solitary confinement. We got as far as strapping me into Sparky, the electric chair.’ Scott asked, ‘Patricia, how would you tell that story?’
“I said, ‘Can I do it in my session tomorrow?’ I asked him for a few details. ‘What do they actually do before they put you in the electric chair?’ “Well, they shave your head and put a wet sponge on your forehead and tape it to you. Then they put on a helmet and strap you in.”
“This is what I mean by ‘begin at the end.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you walk out and say, “It was the scariest experience of my life. My head was shaved. The wet sponge was taped to my forehead. I was strapped in Sparky, the electric chair. Now, what are you thinking? How did he get out? He looks so respectable. What did he do?”
“The point is, when you have a dramatic opening, the audience is sitting forward, waiting to hear what came next. That’s the end of his speech, the way he did it, and then you go back to the beginning. ‘When I was a young man, I always loved movies. And my parents really supported me. I went to film school to become a documentary filmmaker . . .’ And then you go on. Doesn’t that make sense? So, let’s look at three ways to begin a story. Start at the beginning, start in the middle, start at the end.”
Lesson Seven: There are three ways to begin a story. At the beginning, the middle, or the end.
Note. Scott Halford is now a highly successful speaker and consultant.
Lesson Eight: What follows is an easy way to create a speech.
“It is by doing what Mike Powell basically did. I don’t care what you do in your life, what job you have, or maybe it’s just about being a Toastmaster. When you go to cocktail parties, people always ask you the same questions. Make a list of all the questions people ask about being a Toastmaster or about whatever you are.
“If you have a speech to give, you could just stand up and simply say, ‘These are the five questions I’m asked most frequently about being a nuclear engineer or about belonging to Toastmasters.’ You write those five questions down. You look at the first one, put your notes down and answer them conversationally.
“You may never have done it in a speech before, but you’ve done it many times at cocktail parties. It’s pretty much the same. You stand up and do it just slightly larger than life.”
“I wanted a super bowl quality coach. Patricia Fripp’s help in coaching and scripting was world-class. With Fripp on your team, you can go places.” Don Yaeger, Long-Time Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated magazine, Eleven-Time New York Times Best-Selling Author
“As the author of a best-selling sales book the best investment in my speaking career was to hire speech coach Patricia Fripp. She is the master at helping structure and script your presentation.” Andy Paul, Author, Zero Time Selling