I write speeches. Well, actually, I write just about anything…eulogies to newsletters, corporate presentations to thank you notes, biographies, memoirs, applications….and lists. Lots of lists.
Before I turned to writing full-time, I fixed other people’s writing for a living. I evaluated writing, reported on writing, even got interviewed about writing. As a long-standing professional editor, and even as a novel-obsessed child, my interior landscape has consisted of words and their most apt expression. So I guess you could say that communication is my game. I love the challenge of molding an idea into a digestible piece of information, or an unforgettable phrase. I enjoy helping others to do it, and I love doing it for myself.
The way I look at, I’ve just broadened my sphere of influence a bit. Where the majority of my focus used to be strictly on the written word, I’m now encouraging folks to SAY IT OUT LOUD. Instead of an audience reading what my clients want to express, they’re now often listening to it. And just as movies tell a story in a different way than a novel, speakers gets to relay their story differently when they voice it rather than inscribing it on paper to be silently digested by their audience.
Most of what I’ve learned about communicating ideas comes from the people I’ve interacted with, either in person and in print, and there are many universal truths I’ve processed over the years. Such as:
1. Everyone has a story. Novelists, those lucky creatures, invent stories. They get the germ of an idea, and then they play “what if”, and a story emerges. But every single ordinary mortal has a story, sometimes several, to tell, whether fiction or fact, about themselves, a member of their family, a friend, a stranger, or an occurrence, and there’s a way to make it interesting and compelling for an audience.
2. Originality is overrated. In these days of electronic and global everything, thoughts and idea float in the ether, and then get re-purposed and re-mixed. There’s not much truly new under the sun; but the content of what you say is not nearly as important as HOW you say it.
3. Fear is so paralyzing, and so useless. Don’t let the fear of making a mistake or of appearing foolish stand in the way of expressing yourself. New watchword: “What’s the worst that could happen?”
4. Do it now! Procrastination is one of the biggest obstacles to expressing yourself, and it often stems from fear. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Just start! Write something!
5. Don’t get hung up on an ideal word length or time frame. Sometimes people get fixated on sticking to a particular length for a speech or presentation. Unless it’s strictly imposed on you (and sometimes even then), get down what you have to say in the most compelling manner possible. Then refine if necessary. If it’s interesting…and delivered well….people will not be checking their watches!
6. Less is More. Watch the adjectives, adverbs and qualifiers, such as “very,” “hardly,” “quite,” and of course, everything related to “amazing,” “incredible,” “gigantic,” “horrendous,” etc. They rob your writing of punch and immediacy.
7. The rhythm of your words is so important to an audience. Be conscious of balance and parallel construction. They help the audience synthesize your ideas and remember them better. And they make the speech more pleasant to listen to!
8. This is not a conversation. We all have verbal ticks and colloquialisms that we insert into everyday dialogue. “Um,”“ Eh?” “Like,” “Right?” Make sure they are banished from your written speech and verbal presentation.
9. Eye contact, eye contact, eye contact! The worst thing presenters can do is keep their eyes fixed on their written notes or the screen where their power point is displaying. There’s a trick to reading and not seeming to be doing so. It’s worth learning. Look ‘em in the eye, pardner. It shows you actually believe what you’re saying!
10. Do your homework! Check your sources. Get the facts right. Check spelling and grammar. Use a thesaurus if necessary. Then, after that, if you like, you can attempt for a casual delivery. But be prepared. Very few of us are gifted enough speakers to actually wing it and be effective.
So there you have it. My current top ten faves to keep in mind when you are faced with putting your ideas out into the world in a pubic setting. Are there other challenges you face when you are asked to speak? I’d love to hear about them!