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Excerpts From Writing Great Speeches: Professional Techniques You Can Use (Part of the Essence of Public Speaking Series)

By: Dr. Alan Perlman
Tel: (603) 899-3043
Email Dr. Perlman

"Maybe you already have some or all of the content of your speech, in the form of 'topics I want to discuss' or 'points I want to make.' Or maybe all you have is the subject, and you have to develop content from scratch. Whichever it is, you begin by asking the first of several questions will lead you to your subject matter itself, namely, 'What's my purpose?' Purpose controls content means that your decisions as to what to write must be covered in part by whatever changes you see to making your listeners' minds, lives, or behaviors."

"Regardless of which ending strategy you choose, always try for a final 'crescendo,' so that - just as with the end of the musical performance - the audience is that the heightened emotional state of the satisfying sense of closure. To do this, you must focus on all aspects of the closing."

"The people who write want-ads for communicators and insist that candidates must be familiar with this or that industry don't understand what they're advertising for. They think that it's what you know that will make you a good communicator. They're equating education with subject matter, whereas what really counts - especially now, when today's knowledge is obsolete tomorrow - is an agile mind that can locate absorb, integrate, and evaluate new information."

"An economical speech uses as few words as possible. It doesn't tax the audience's endurance or attention span. It's the shortest text that fulfills both speaker's purposes and the audience's needs."

"The symbolic process works like this: words and phrases really represent reality in ways that are understood and agreed upon by speakers of the language. That's part of what it means to 'know a language.' So a writer's decision to use a particular word is in fact the decision to classify a certain piece of reality - to put it in the group that deserves this particular label - on the basis of its characteristics."

"Think of your speech as a story - and of yourself as storyteller. The parts of it that occur earlier in real life occur earlier in the speech. Thus, I would always talk about my 'experiences' before I got into the 'lessons learned,' because that (unfortunately) is the way real life works."

"To edit for clarity is to go through your script, pretending someone else wrote it relentlessly examining each sentence for unmistakable, crystalline clarity of meaning. As you do, employ the following seven strategies..."

"Be sensitive to jingling rhythms and unintentional rhymes that distract listeners, e.g., the relaxation of limitations on the regulation of transportation."

"Your speech will be much more effective if you can learn to arrange material in the appropriate order - and convey that order to the audience. Why are these skills so critical? Because the arrangement of your text - in other words, the relationship of your ideas to each other - is an important part of your message."

"Another way to make your speech more listenable is to improve closure. Because communication is received linearly, listeners not only process the structure of the early part of the sentence; they also form hunches about the structure of the rest of the sentence well before they actually get to the end. You can help them do this by setting up expectations about how the sentence will go - and then by fulfilling them."

"All effective ceremonial speeches have one thing in common: they interpret the event. Yes, it's true, you're there to introduce, dedicate, or accept. But why?... Your ceremonial speeches should leave no doubt as to why you and your audience are gathered together. It should tell the listeners what thoughts and feelings are appropriate to such gathering."

"As you prepare to deliver those all-important first words, I must warn you against the following violations of etiquette, including, but not limited to...

  • "Disavowal of public speaking ability. Nothing I know turns audiences off more effectively than' well, not much of a speaker so here goes nothing?' If you're not so popular figure it out for themselves and not. Just do the best job possible with the skills you have - and skip the disclaimers.
  • "Gratuitous and/or protracted humor. Many people think a speech begins with humor, but the fact is that you are not there as an entertainer. So refrain from telling your favorite joke unless it's hilarious, G-rated, and relevant. Similarly, the audience is not interested in a long, meandering account of what happened to you just the other day on the way over here. No matter how amusing it seems you, skip it, unless you're sure it will genuinely funny to your listeners (you might field-test with an audience member or two before the speech) and relevant to the audience, occasion, and speech."

"I can't overemphasize this: keep it simple. Almost all speeches try to pack in far too much information and go way beyond the audience's attention span and retention capability. Confine yourself to a very few points that relate to your central purpose."

"Make sure that in the last 30-60 seconds of your speech, your listeners understand precisely what you're trying to tell them and what change in their thought or behavior you are advocating."

"Public speaking has an undeserved reputation as a source of anxiety. But there's really very little to worry about. If you've adequately prepared - if you fully understand your audience and have carefully crafted your message - you'll be fine. Preparation is the key."

"A gracious opening, a strong closing, a show of enthusiasm for an organization's mission, a willingness to share credit, a focus on 'audience value' - these and other examples and techniques that I'll show you are all implicit signs that you care about whether your listeners understand you...and about whether you connect with them."

"There are two writing styles that represent polar opposites, as well as a great many possibilities in between. One extreme is the personal style; this is the language of communication between familiars or equals. The other is the impersonal style, the language of power and authority."

Dr. Alan Perlman is a forensic expert who offers clients exceptional quality, experience, and expertise. He is an academically trained linguist, one of a small number of linguistics experts who assist the legal professions.

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