Speech Writing, Photo by Hrayr Movsisyan on Unsplash

Speech Writing Mode

It is time for speech writing for our Friday Gala. Writing is as you can imagine the easy bit for me. So my first take is done on one go. However, speech writing needs to fit an end goal and, for that, more editing than usual is required. Especially given my feelings about public speaking

The First Cut

I find that the first cut at speech writing is better done in free format. If it is a keynote speech, you probably want to avoid looking at previous ones so that you let your brain (or heart) put out what is relevant right now. Where you are today may not be where you were 2 years (or 2 months) ago when you last had one of those. You can come back to those later, so start with a blank sheet of paper (or screen). 

Gather your thoughts

If a blank screen is too daunting and text does not flow easy, start with a list of topics. What do you need to cover? Are there topics you committed to? What is important that people get when you are done? In my case, here are a few examples, but you will find they apply to multiple businesses and not just charity:

  • Why I created UPG, and what the tipping moment was. For some reason people always like to hear about the moment when you decided to solve a problem
  • How UPG has evolved over time, what has changed, how many lives we touched; potentially how much money is involved
  • Who is involved. It is not ideal to go with a long list of people but in my case we have a small team and a couple of mentions are worth doing
  • Who benefits. This is the more important who. It is your chance to show how your solution solves the problem at hand. In my case, the children we took from the streets, the ones that went on to study, the families where we changed their path. You can go broad in showing the multiple cases where your action goes, or pick one deep story that will be your main chain of thought throughout the speech

Watch out for style

Now that you know what you will talk about, it may be easier to start with the actual talking. In fact, unless we are talking about the presentation of a scientific paper, you are best to speak as you talk. What does that mean?

  • Use simple sentences, short and to the point. Remember comas are not always visible when you speak, and dashes or parentheses aren’t either! The max you get away with are air quotes
  • Use some humor, small bits to make you relax. It can refer to you or the audience, or both. When I describe what I did as volunteer in Mozambique, and painting is one of them, I can’t help but refer that this was my worse subject in school. It shows awareness of yourself but also in my case that sometimes you just need to do what you can. Be sure that your humor does not offend the room!
    • Now watch out for a woman specific constant of apologising in advance for mistakes you will not do during your presentation
  • Put passion in. I am going to have to assume you are doing a speech about something you care about. If not, I am not sure this one applies. Think of yourself in your last dinner party when people touched this topic. What language did you use, what references did you make. What touched people? That is the emotion you want to put out there.

Get your facts accurate. And to the point

I tend to overdo on facts. Not surprising if you have been reading this blog on a relatively regular basis. But I am aware of it. So last night I concluded my speech writing failed on the facts (surprisingly). Because I know our gala is as much a fundraiser as it is a party, I wanted to make it light.

Once I was done with the first cut, I then allowed myself to look at old speeches, as well as my big Sister P. speech for the same night. I could tell facts were missing. I am not saying you go through the 25 pieces of research that demonstrate how great you are. But certainly something like

‘Only 40% of students complete primary education’


is probably worth having in there.

Whatever is the fact that you know will catch the audience to provide dimension to the problem and impact to the solution, that needs to be in.

Lead with the problem…

Facts will help. But sometimes stories will help more than numbers. Or putting a face to it. Whether you are selling a product that resolves  the issue for a target client set that the audience can relate to, or selling to the audience themselves how you are solving their problem, you have to state the obvious.

A few years ago, I found enormous consistency when I started looking at start-up pitches and they all started with ‘the problem’. It focuses the mind, typically on some sort of multi-million dollar problem. Speech writing needs not to be different.

In my case, it focuses the mind on a problem that we try and keep away from our minds. Like only 4 in 10 kids completing primary education. Or 40 pct of girls falling pregnant before age 18. Those are pretty powerful problems.

…and offer the solution

You have now made the environment pretty gloom, or who knows, someone very excited about the room for improvement in the face of your problem. Make sure you bring them to the matter at hand: how YOU are solving it.

There are many players across all sectors. In our case, we are a small charity with a small budget. My claim is not millions, my claim is deep intervention. Family by family, child by child. Personalized and deep care. That is our value proposition.

Don’t forget: Make the ask

Whether you are pitching for client business, looking for a partner or investor, or in my case, asking for money, you have to ASK. I know, scary. If you there for a keynote, you might just be able to get away without this piece, and your expertise is what people will seek. But often you need to explain what you are looking for and how people can connect.

In my case, introducing the dinner and getting people warmed up for the charity auction is key, so I need to make an ask that does not break the passion of the speech but rather enhances it with a reaction of ‘finally I get to be part of this awesome charity’

Speech Writing is Just the Beginning

Don’t forget that practice makes perfect. If you suffer from some form of fear of public speaking, I am hoping these tips can help you. I still fear it and it is a huge threat to my self-confidence to edit my speech too many times, especially if by other people. I feel the closer to the original writing the better, as I am confident about my writing.

But I have come to learn that I have to face it and read it many times until I know what is coming in the next line. And yes, I will tweak it along the way, stopping the voice recording memo app while I do it. Practice makes perfect.

Photo by Hrayr Movsisyan on Unsplash

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