How to write a speech worth talking about

Microphone final better. JPEG

Great speeches resonate: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” as well as, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Yep, JFK and Churchill certainly knew how to blow their listeners away. If delivering memorable speeches is something that interests you, then read on as this simple technique might be the difference between a successful speech and something to cure insomnia.

I once saw Jerry Seinfeld say that recent research revealed one of the greatest fears is speaking in public – even more so than the fear of death. Then he cracked a joke saying that if this were so, the person giving the eulogy at a funeral was not as fortunate as the person getting buried.

Style and substance

Like a lot of communication, great speeches usually require two critical areas to focus on. In this case, one of them I can’t help you with at all, but the other is a cinch.

The first area is all about word gravitas. Choosing words like “ask not” instead of “do not ask,” and “human conflict” instead of “war,” are all part of why these speeches impact. Pumping out these requires an astute mind and a thesaurus – so good luck with that one.

The second area is a lot more doable and will still bring zing to your communication. It boils down to one major element: theme.

For example, I recently gave a speech for, of all things, an engagement. Before I put pen to pad, I spent some time searching for a relevant area that would mean something to him, her, their friends, as well as provide some ‘fat’ I could play with.

After looking at where they lived, their careers, hobbies, good/bad habits and family situation, etc, I finally cracked it. The couple were both middle children. So theme became: the middle.

Structurally, I crafted the speech around welcoming everyone to the evening, thanking the hosts, and advising the audience of the important things in this couple’s life. But instead of talking about love, commitment, faithfulness, and all the other expected areas, I started describing the TV show: The Middle.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s about a dysfunctional family that somehow stays together in trying circumstances.

Life imitating art

I threw in a few gags about overcoming dysfunctional habits of each other, while announcing that they were middle children. Although initially confused where I was going, the crowd quickly picked up the theme as it became quite obvious.

I mentioned the couple became engaged in the middle of their training, both their bedrooms are in the middle of their houses, they solve arguments by meeting in the middle, and how they finally knew they were meant for each other when they felt something strange in their middle, because that’s where the heart is.

There was an abundance of other middle-orientated situations to share, and then I wrapped things up by saying that I hoped nothing would come in the middle of these two… except the pitter-patter of adorable little children.

Each time I mentioned ‘the middle’ there were appreciable laughs and applause as I tied in the theme word with the lives of these soon-to-be newlyweds.

The rest of the evening was spent dotted with people I did and didn’t know thanking me for not only an entertaining speech, but an educational one at that.

So, whether you’re fronting the microphone in front of a wedding crowd, a financial organisation, or a committee, if you’re not an orator or wordsmith of considered note, take the easy way – theme your way to a great speech. It’s the last word in easy speech writing.

Does the age of your finance/super writer add up?

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If you’re in the business of communicating with your clients about superannuation, property investment and getting one’s life ready for retirement, just how familiar is your funky young writer with these ‘grey haired’ products?

From someone that’s been around the writing traps for years, here are a few thoughts to ponder over.

The recent budget was full to the brim of superannuation-affected changes. And yet, the few young writers I talk to emit a dull fog when I try and raise the subject. Hmmm, as well as realising I’ve gotta get out more, I’m also questioning if younger scribes can really connect with this particular product when writing about it.

My perspective is based on many years of copywriting, and having freelanced for around 100 advertising and marketing agencies, interstate and overseas. From the major agencies, the minors, and smaller two-man-bands, I’ve written for just about everything.

In the process, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve grabbed, squeezed, sniffed, eaten and ridden in the product I was working on. Really, the only way to understand what you’re writing about is to partake in it. Fortunately for me, I have never had to work on a funeral account.

Crack the idea

I even recall the week my art director and myself were working on the Le Snak account. We had wall-to-wall Le Snak up to our wahoozies, and we had to come up with a whiz-bang idea to fit the bus back, bus sides and metrolite (bus stop) media – the USP being portability.

In between experiencing all the other staff in the agency visiting us to say hi, briefly talk about life, and then briskly leave with a handful of Le Snak, I finally cracked the idea.

It was birthed from endless hours dwelling on portability, which led to a quick trip to the luggage section of Myers, Chatswood. As I started to look at all the different types of luggage – from airline bags and backpacks to bum bags, I started to notice that at the right angle their zippers looked like teeth. Ah, ha! Idea born.

We shot a series of bags with their zippers open, looking as if they were wild animals trying to eat a pack of Le Snak. The campaign ran nationally and was so successful, the client decided to run it the following year as well – plus, I was even able to keep some of the bags.

The point of all this, is that I had to connect with the product to deliver the strongest piece of communication.

And that’s the exact modus operandi that should be used for superannuation.

Aside from wine, the only thing that gets better with age is writing

In more recent times, I’ve been accepting the arrival of grey hairs as just God’s way of telling me the sleek, young body I’ve been living in all these years is about to get a factory recall. And, with that remodelling, thoughts arise of retirement and how to pay for it when I get that golden iWatch in 20 years.

Which means, when it comes to writing superannuation and investment copy, after all this time of playing with the clients’ products, I’m now actually living in one of them. And any writer over 40, such as myself, has more skin in the game than Kim Kardashian would on selfie night.

That’s why I’m throwing the gauntlet down at young writers. And by young, I mean someone young enough not to have any interest in super.

How much would they know about the product? Apart from the recent timing and contribution changes, are they aware of the propensity of people to have multiple super funds, on average around four funds each, and that females end up with about half the amount males squirrel away? Each fund sucking their very future away with fees and insurance charges. Yes, that’s a hassle. However, it can be even more of a hassle to combine them into one. And which one?

Which fund has strong returns and/or allows you to move your insurance over? What are the tax implications with the new super fund, if you’ve made after-tax contributions? And how do you avoid getting burnt by high fees with the funds you’re terminating?

Then there’s the hassle of getting it done. If you’re unsure which company you should pool your super with, good luck with the free government website – that site is more confused than Donald Trump’s hairdresser.

You should also be prepared for a shock when a private organisation offers their services. The one I contacted wanted to charge $1200, for something that a super fund will do for free.

Then, in the process of moving, when one of my accounts had the wrong birth date, instead of just changing it over the phone, I had to verify who I was with a frustrating trip to  a distant police station for validation.

The harder things come, the more you appreciate them

Fortunately, all this angst is quite educational. Yes, superannuation content usually involves issues relating to timing, personal circumstances and taxation planning; however, any writer who hasn’t personally tried to sift their way through the super minefield may be accused of already retiring – as their content will reflect their inexperience.

So, if the blog or native advertising writer you’re using may be more interested in things other than super – like cheese – then start packing their travel bags. As great content is only written by those that love, and know, what they’re doing.

http://www.thatdigitalcopywriter.com.au

Five ways to write copy that doesn’t suck!

Other-side-final

How many times have I been called in to pump up the effectiveness of either an existing blog piece or website content, to see the first problem is that “The King’s English” hasn’t been used. Why do I describe language like that? Simple. That’s exactly what my public school primary teacher used to say to myself, and my fellow pupils, encouraging us to communicate with effect – along the lines of: “Don’t waffle, boy, get to the point.” He obviously knew he was instructing future web content writers.

15 years of industry experience later, his words are still concrete. So much so, I often recall his message when I’m contacted to write a blog piece of key worded web copy – well, that and a few other bits and pieces I’ve picked up on the way.

Here’s a checklist that might help you craft stronger copy:

1. The first thing you need to do is stop. Don’t type. Think. Prepare in your head what messages you are going to send to your typing fingers, and how efficient your communication can be. In order: who you are, what you do, and what you can do for your prospective customer, is the usual format for websites; not too disimiliar from what that teacher taught us: intro, story, conclusion. Then, as Siimon Reynolds (shameless name dropper, me) once drilled into my writer’s mind: “Juice it up!” Meaning, why not insert a powerful headline/subs, facts, funny observations or freak-out snippets that can make the message more engaging?

2. Write tight. If you are writing along the lines of: “The dog was being chased by the boy,” it’s more efficient if you say, “The boy chased the dog.” Always subject actioning the noun – it’s quicker to write, read and understand.

3. Craft efficient sentences. Limit these to 30 words, or less. Try, also, to insert commas within 15 words. Yes, commas, semi-colons and dashs have to conform to the laws of punctuation, however they also provide a breather for your reader, and a nano-second for your message to sink in.

4. Paragraphs should also be finessed – three or four sentences. Think of them as an episode of a soap opera, with the sentences telling the story of that half hour soapy. Next paragraph should have a new story to tell.

5. Headlines and sub heads should get attention. Seven words, or less, is the old rule-of-thumb. They should direct viewer traffic to the subject of your message – and if entertaining, then all the better. So try to be as punchy as possible, with relevance to the copy. However, don’t be too cute. Only employ clever humour, as readers want information, not silliness.

Now, aside from proofreading like crazy and editing your copy to waffle-free statues, you’re all set to go. And, if you’re writing website copy, remember to write about the web product’s benefits… not features. After all, web visitors are shopping for a solution, and what’s in it for them. Those that know data well, reckon you’ll have a maximum of five seconds to ‘capture’ each website visitor before they ‘bounce’ to your opposition. So, focus, write tight, engaging copy, and your successful content will be king.