I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this lament:  I have a speech/presentation/tribute /introduction/thank you/eulogy/pitch/essay/personal statement) to write, and I JUST DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START!

We’re all in the same boat.  Remember Newton’s first law? You’re going to stay “at rest” or “in motion” unless acted upon by an external force. So to kick start the process, and get yourself in motion rather than stagnating at rest, I suggest interviewing yourself.

If you had the luxury of hiring a speechwriter to write this piece for you, what would the professional ask you?

First, some logistics; the where, when and who.  They’re important, because they will affect how you craft what you’re going to say.

  1. What’s the venue? Where will this presentation be delivered?  If you are speaking, is it in a well-lit conference room or hall with a sound system, or are you addressing a crowd outdoors at a picnic with the sun in your eyes? Good to keep in mind in deciding how simple or complex your sentences should be.
  2. If your project is being  composed and written rather than delivered, is it being read by one person (who has several hundred similar pieces to evaluate in a short time frame) by a board, or is it being published and subsequently available to the public? In other words, does it need to be formal or more casual, and do you need to put all your effort into making it stand out, or are you, for this effort, the only game in town?
  3. Who is the audience? What’s the size (hundreds of people who don’t know you, a couple of dozen you know intimately, or a mix of both?) What’s the demographic? (mostly business, mostly social, mostly family, mostly young, mostly old, or again, a mix of all of these.) Determining this will affect the style of your final product.
  4. Where do you fall in the line-up of speakers/presenters? Are you the one and only… the star of the show? (if so, who are you representing?) Are you the last speaker? (if so, are you expected to be the one who sums up, draws conclusions, and pulls disparate threads together?) Or are you the first speaker? (are you expected to give an introduction to or preview of the program to come? ) Are you somewhere in the middle of the roster? (if so, how to distinguish your message from the others on the program?)

Now, for the content; the what and the why.

  1. What’s your point? Many times, particularly in a speech designed for a social setting, speakers have trouble formulating an effective toast or tribute because they forget this essential question.  You may be speaking about a best friend, family member, or a product, but you should have in mind one major point. I often ask people, “When you walk away from the podium, what do you want people to remember the most?”  Your sister’s generous nature?  Your father’s kindness?  Your product’s cost-effectiveness?  Make sure you state your point, and make sure you repeat it.
  2. Why does it matter? Your point matters to you. Your job is to convince your audience it matters to them too.  If you’ve done that, you’ve accomplished your mission, OR you’ve accomplished the mission of the person or organization that asked you to speak (and represent them!)
  3. How can you best illustrate your main point or theme? Anecdotes, not statistics, are what engage your audience.  They make the subject relatable.
  4. If you’re speaking about a person, try getting at the heart of the matter by asking yourself what you’d most miss if this person wasn’t in your life, or conversely, what you consider his or her greatest attribute. If you’re speaking about a product, a program, or an institution, ask why it will save time, money, energy or be good for the environment.  That’s what your audience will want to know.
  5. Where do you want to end up? Stephen Covey, of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame, reminded us to always “Begin with the end in mind.”  If you are lauding an individual who just donated a million dollars to a home for troubled teens, begin by telling that person’s story.  How did they get there?  What inspired them?  Did they start out as one of those teens they’re now trying to help? There’s usually a compelling personal narrative that drives such instincts, and mining it will push your audience’s emotional and intellectual buttons.

Do you have standard questions you ask yourself when you are about to tackle a communication project?  If not, should you be drawing some up for yourself?  And are you willing to share them with us?

This post originally appeared, in slightly different form, on the Write Touch blog as “Interview Yourself!”

Let’s get back to basics here for a moment. If you have been chosen to serve as someone’s best man at an upcoming wedding, that’s because someone considers you to be the BEST person for the job.  With honour comes responsibility, folks.

Just be thankful we’ve come a ways since the good ol’ days. Back then, the original duty of a “best man” was apparently to serve as armed backup for the groom in case he had to resort to kidnapping his intended bride away from disapproving parents. The “best” part of that title refers to his skill with a sword, should the need arise. (You wouldn’t want the “just okay” member of your weapon-wielding posse accompanying you when you set out to steal yourself a wife, would you?)

The best man would stand guard next to the groom right up through the exchange of vows (and later, outside the newlyweds’ bedroom door), just in case anyone should decide to attack or a skittish bride should try to make a run for it.

Huns, Goths and Visigoths are said to have taken so many brides by force that they kept a cache of weapons stored beneath the floorboards of churches for convenience.

So, nowadays, no swordsmanship or weaponry skills required. But you do have the duty of having the groom’s back on his special day, That said, certain obligations you’re expected to fulfill are just common sense.  No need to tell you to show up on time, be of good cheer, be helpful, serve as as a go-fer if necessary, keep the rings safe, calm a jittery groom, etc.

However, sometimes less obvious are pitfalls to avoid–particularly when you are delivering your “best man speech’ and/or toasting the happy couple. Here’s a quick list of Danger! Beware! ‘s that I recommend:

  1. Don’t mention exes (especially if you’ve had a previous relationship with the bride…or the groom!)
  2. Don’t try to upstage the groom (or anyone else for that matter)
  3. Don’t insult/demean/bad-mouth the groom (though gentle teasing is ok.) This is NOT a roast!
  4. Don’t respond to hecklers argumentatively.
  5. Don’t try to be funny if you’re not. Sincerity trumps subjective humor every time.
  6. Don’t speak negatively about the future in-laws.
  7. Don’t reveal confidences: the groom may have told you things in private he does not wish to share with everyone he knows best in the world!
  8. Don’t take advantage of your close relationship with the bride and groom by peppering your speech with inside jokes. The remaining 99% of the audience will not appreciate this.
  9. Don’t give advice in areas in which you have no expertise: if you’re single, no sage words about “handling” a spouse; if you’re not a parent, no lessons on how to raise a child!
  10. Don’t, under any circumstances, “wing it.” You have been entrusted with an honour. And you need to acquit yourself honorably by preparing a speech or toast AND practising it beforehand so you can deliver it confidently and sincerely.

Oh, and one for the road.  You know this.  I KNOW you know this.  Don’t drink too much before you deliver that speech.  Save the shots for later, once your formal duties have been performed!

Do you have your own “bewares” for the best man?  Do you have your own cringe-worthy examples of inappropriate best man behavior—word or deed—that you’d like to share?  We’d love to hear them!

Ok, I admit it.  I am not only a list maker;  I’m the kind of list maker who, if she has forgotten to add to her list something  that she’s already taken care of, goes in and adds it just for the pleasure of checking it off!

Yeah, a little crazy, I know.  But it does give me such a feeling of satisfaction to check things off.  That sense of accomplishment, of spending your time productively, is what motivates you to keep pushing forward.  At least it does for me.

As I’ve already mentioned in previous posts, I’ve just completed a major house move, which included considerable divesting of long-held possessions.   All my friends have told me how good it’s going to feel when it’s over.  And I’ve kept saying, “uh-huh,” and secreting doubting there was ever going to be an end to worrying about where everything was going to go.  But today, this morning, I actually unpacked my last box!  I disassembled it and got it ready to discard.  It felt good.  But what amazed me was that quite suddenly, I was truly home.  All my stuff was here, and I was finding just the right spot for each thing.  OR…realizing maybe I didn’t need to bring it along after all!

So it goes with writers.  Sometimes the lines that seem so brilliant, so inspired, don’t make the second or third cut.  And you wonder what you ever saw in them in the first place.  But you cut, because the ultimate goal is to get to write THE END.  To know that you unpacked every thought in a logical order…or at least made it logical afterword, and that you’re finished unpacking now.  You’re going to stop.  Journalists used to write –30–.  I guess for courtroom lawyers, that sense of accomplishment comes with a rap of a gavel and an announcement that the case is closed.  And then there’s an acquaintance of mine who works with young, sometimes challenged children.  I once asked her how her day went, and I’ll never forget her response:  “I helped a little one say ‘Mommy’ for the first time today.  Best day ever!”

What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment?  I’ll bet answers will vary wildly from young moms, professionals, care workers, seniors, or even your kids.  Please share………!