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.

Five ways to write copy that doesn’t suck!


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.