An Effective Speech Needs Ruthless Editing

 Someone once remarked that the strongest memory is weaker than the palest ink. Only an egomaniac would rely completely on memory for a speech of any length. Even if you eventually speak from notes, writing out the speech in its entirety helps you develop the reserve power you need to be completely confident at the lectern.

Writing out your entire speech will help you develop a consistent message throughout. It’s a lot easier to edit and organize your remarks on a written script than to continuously change and juggle notes. It’s easier to decide whether, and where in the presentation, to use visual aids when you’re working with a script.

A good way to initially check the length of a speech is to time how long it takes to read it using appropriate pacing and emphasis.

Put down all relevant thoughts during your first draft without worrying about length, then go back and edit, refine, and re-edit until you have a script that you’re reasonably comfortable with. It’s doubtful that you’ll ever come up with a script that you’re completely satisfied with. You’re apt to want to change something every time you look at it. It’s not unusual for experienced speakers to make changes to their notes while sitting at the head table waiting to be introduced.

If what you say is complex, mixed-up or vague, the audience is going to tune out. Your talk must be logically organized and easy to follow. You can usually depend on the fact that if something can be misunderstood it will be misunderstood, so prepare your speech not just that the audience can understand you, but also that they cannot misunderstand you.

An audience cannot organize your talk for you. Plan your bridges, segues, and transitions. You know where you’ve been, you know where you are and you know where you’re going with your message. Although an audience may know where you’ve just been, and where you are, they have no idea what’s coming next, so be sure it all ties together. It’s a lot easier to keep an audience’s interest than it is to get it back.

Ask yourself questions during the drafting of your speech such as: What does this really mean? Is it important to this audience? Why is it important to them? What are some solutions to the audience’s problems? Which solution should I suggest, and how can I best back up my recommendation?

Edit ruthlessly, eliminating all redundancies, except repetitions which were deliberately put in for effect. Although details make a talk come alive, too much detail obscures clarity, so don’t overdo it. Don’t assume anything. If you’re not certain about what you’re saying, don’t say it.

Ask yourself, “Could somebody else give this exact speech?” If this answer is “yes”, scrap what you’ve done and start over, putting more of your own experiences, opinions, and recommendations into it. If you hired someone to write the speech, you wouldn’t accept excuses for a poorly-thought-out and poorly-prepared presentation, so don’t accept one from yourself.

Quotations can often be used to prove that others share your views, but they must be relevant and the source should be authoritative. If the person you’re quoting isn’t well known to your audience, you have to briefly state his or her qualifications. Don’t ever rely on memory to accurately recall the quotation. Don’t paraphrase; always, without exception, read the quotation verbatim. Write the quotation out in full, with the source and the source’s qualifications noted if necessary. If you’re speaking from notes, write this information on a separate card.

           If you’re going to speak from the script rather than from notes, there are a number of important rules to keep in mind.

  1. It’s always better to have a lot of pages than it is to have a script that’s hard to read.
  2. Be sure the letters are large enough for you to read comfortably.
  3. Use upper and lower case, regardless of the type size.
  4. Each sentence should be typed as a separate paragraph
  5. The last sentence on a page must end on that page.
  6. Double-space each sentence and triple-space each paragraph.
  7. Use only the top three-quarters of a page. This will prevent you from dropping your head too low and losing eye contact with the audience.
  8. Number the pages on all four corners. This will make putting the pages back in order a lot easier should you drop them or they otherwise get mixed up.
  9. To make your talk sound right you should mark up the script with cues, such as underlines, double underlines, exclamation marks, slashes for phrasing, double slashes for pause points, and anything else that works for you.

How a speech looks on paper is totally irrelevant. It’s how it sounds to the audience that counts.