Thursday, June 23, 2011

Write It Out - A Guest Post by Speaker & Blogger David Goad

“If I write out my speech, it will sound too formal and stiff. I like to just speak off-the-cuff with a basic outline.”  
For many speakers this is a valid approach and perfectly acceptable way to avoid an over-scripted delivery.  But what are you missing out on if you swing the pendulum too far toward non-scripted?

Writing is a discovery process, not an end in itself. The final draft is not as important as the thinking it forces you through along the way. I’ve heard many speakers deliver truly insightful content in a rather unorganized way, stealing away the maximum impact they could have had on the audience. Sometimes it’s just missing an underlying structure that would have helped the audience follow along and remember the message.

I try to achieve a solid structure through a process of writing, feedback and editing.  By putting down my thoughts in a word document or email and asking for feedback in advance of my speech, I always get tremendous recommendations for improvement (and a boost of confidence before I take it live in front of the group.)

You’ve surely heard about professional marketers conducting research in “focus groups.”  They gather a group of willing (and paid) participants who fit the demographic and psychographic profile of their ideal customer.  With marketing geeks watching through a one-way window, the participants answer a series of questions about a product or service in a moderated forum.  The insight that comes from this research is extremely valuable and helps you make critical adjustments before a product launch.

Speech feedback works the same way.  Write out your draft and send it to a few trusted toastmasters for their opinion.  I send mine to fellow Toastmasters, non-Toastmasters and even a few professional writers I know from my company.  It’s a fun little exercise and I distribute to different folks each time to keep it fresh and not burden anyone too much.

I really started to discover exponential benefits after I began blogging.  I started a blog called Short Stories With a Point, inspired in part by the short format of a Toastmasters contest speech.  As I began sharing stories from my life and thinking about what I learned from each one, I noticed I could tell instantly which messages were resonating by the number of pass along statistics I saw in the blog and in Facebook.  It was like a giant focus group on steroids, sometimes reaching hundreds of visitors and generating 8 to 10 insightful comments that I could use to improve each story.

So what’s my point?  Writing makes you think.  And the results of your writing will put your thoughts in front of others in a form they can respond to.   Whether you email, blog or scratch it out on a rock with a pocket knife, you’re going to get better feedback than only asking for a critique after a speech. 

Grammar doesn’t matter. Spelling doesn’t matter.  Exact word choice doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you sit down, ask yourself a question and write out the answer.  Or speak out loud, record it and transcribe it… whatever style works for you.  The real magic, and improvement, happens when you put it in front of others and test it out.  Sounds a little like stage time, doesn’t it?

David Goad is a father, husband, marketeer, web conferencing veteran, Toastmaster and blogger… roughly in that order. / /


  1. Interesting article with many valid points. I agree there is a value to writing as a way to gather thoughts.

    With writing and in speaking, I find it helpful to OUTLINE my talk rather than script it. What am I trying to achieve? What do I need to cover to get there? What can I leave out of my talk? (the hardest part).

    For me this helps keep me on track and focused. While I do see a value in writing it out - it is like strolling without a destination. I will get somewhere. I just may not get to where I was hoping to be.

    Good points. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. I am a big believer in outlining too, but that often comes AFTER the longform writing for me. Especially with stories, I treat writing like brainstorming and just go, go, go with as much sensory detail as I can muster. Then the chopping begins. All of my 7 minute contest speeches started as 12-15 minute speeches before I took the chainsaw to them :)

  3. I agree with your points. I've found that I can say more, in a shorter amount of time, and in a more memorable way...when I take the time to write. Additionally, as my buddy, David Brooks said, you cannot edit what you first have not written.

  4. World Champion Jim says write it out... 'nuff said :)



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