Tuesday, May 22, 2012

If You Don't Write It, You Won't Say It

I recently had a speech contestant ask me if I'd watch his speech at the contest that night and give him some feedback. Always happy to do that - it's my job, but also a passion to help other speakers when I can.

I emailed him some basic thoughts, and asked if he'd send me his script so I could help him work through some  kinks in the speech. His reply? "I haven't written it down." My jaw quickly collided with my keyboard.

On one hand, it's somewhat impressive that he got as far as he did without a script (District Level). On the other, I can't help but wonder how much farther he would have progressed if he'd been willing to put his speech to paper, or at least to an electronic document. Why put yourself in the position of giving what amounts to a rehearsed impromptu speech time after time? Why put your audience in position of having to listen to it, for that matter?

I've written before on the benefits of writing your speech - but maybe it takes focusing on 3 Points of Pain to get my point across:

1. Sloppy Stories - you may have the perfect story in mind, but your mind has a way of adding fluff and diverting your train of thought mid-sentence if you have sharpened your story in writing. Don't risk wasting words on an aspect your story that doesn't matter. If you're talking about recovering from a head injury after a car wreck, for example, we probably don't need you to go into the details about how you financed the car when you bought it.

2. Train Wreck Transitions - you've memorized the order of your stories or point chunks, kudos to you. But if you aren't smoothly going from one point to the next, your audience gets mentally thrown around as they try to follow you from point to point. You can end up leaving them at the last town and, by the end, wondering how you got from the station to the final destination. Transitions are one of the few parts of a speech I recommend memorizing, if possible. It'll save your listeners from mental bumps and bruises, and possibly save you from getting derailed entirely.

3. Clumsy Closes - nothing ruins a great speech like a lousy close. People finish with the meat of their speech and then just seem to hit the eject button. They may be out of time, out of energy, or simply out of ideas - and they end up leaving their audience out in the cold. No matter how exciting, funny, and/or insightful the journey has been, if you don't bring them to a moment of closure, your message will be lost. I admit, finding your close is difficult - I do a wonderful job finding closes for others, but often call in help on my own.

The Bottom Line: If you don't write it - you won't be able to consistently improve upon it or even remember to say it from presentation to presentation. I'm not saying you have to memorize everything word for word, that you need to read your notes, or that you have to be perfect. In fact, I'm a big proponent of the trigger method of using notes in a longer presentation. But if you don't have something to reference as you prepare, something to build upon other than merely the ethereal and ever changing mental images in your head, you're limiting your audience's experience, and your own ability to Speak....and Deliver.


  1. Great post, Rich! You have me convinced of the value of written speeches - especially after I delivered what you referred to as a "rehearsed impromptu speech" at the District 7 conference three weeks ago. I'm waiting to see how I did (hopefully I'll receive the video within the week) but I know I definitely could have done better had I written my speech.

    It's really hard for me to break the habit of delivering impromptu speeches but I'm working on it. After years of being the de facto "Queen of Impromptu Speeches" I'm ready to relinquish my crown. :-)

  2. Yet another great blog post!

    However, I have to agree with you only 95%. There are well developed and fastidiously rehearsed speeches that have not been rendered word-for-word on paper. Some of us work with an outline and the "spoken" word in greater detail than with the "written" word. I am not saying that you can give your best with a speech that is totally off the cuff, but for some of us the detailed selection of just the right word is not as effective as producing just the right thought, emotion, or experience.

    But as usual, Rich your message is right on target: prepare, prepare, prepare.

  3. Great advice! And, I dare say, there's not a World Champion of Public Speaking out there that did not "write it down."



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