A speech writer's take on important speeches, and the craft of writing for an audience.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Speech Writing Elements - What You Must Know
We will, on occasion, examine the fundamental elements of a good speech. Here is the first of these elements.
There are many elements to a successful speech. Carefully chosen words, well-crafted phrases, fully developed ideas, a good delivery, a significant occasion, a fancy Power Point presentation. All make a difference. Which element is most important? Like virtually every human endeavor, success lies in learning the things you must know.
How does a speech writer learn those things? Research. Solid research is the fundamental element of any good speech.
Here are the things the researcher must know -
Know the facts:
It sounds so basic, but it can easily be taken for granted. Especially when you are given information by an “expert.”
I once wrote a speech for a Senator, who had been invited to address a trade group. The Senator’s staff helpfully provided a list of legislation the group supported and the Senate had considered. Each of these bills had passed the Senate, but not the other chamber. It was helpful information, but I took the extra step of checking the precise tally of the vote in the Senate. It turned out only two Senators had voted against the legislation the association wanted. One, was the Senator I was writing the speech for.
That little extra research not only saved the speaker from potential embarrassment, but provided a deeper understanding of the issues facing the intended audience. Which, of course, led me to do a lot more research. From there, I was able to develop a speech along an entirely different theme.
Know the audience:
A clear understanding of what is important to the audience, is at least as essential as knowing what is critical to the speaker for whom you are writing. The audience wants the speaker to deal with their problems, not the speaker’s. At the same time, that audience is almost certainly looking for creative solutions to those problems. Those possible solutions should be provided by the speaker.
What every speech writer must keep in mind is - while they write for the speaker, they also write for the audience who will be listening to that speaker.
Know the greater context:
What outside forces of society affect both the speaker and the audience? How do you deal with those outside forces in trying to achieve your goals?
Know the voice of the speaker:
Each audience and speaker is different. To effectively convey the message, the language must be appropriate for the occasion, the audience and the speaker.
Know the ultimate goal of the speaker:
Is it to address just this one audience? Or is it to reach a larger target? Both audiences must be considered.
In the end, research is the basic element of speech writing, in the same way that Hydrogen is the fundamental element of the universe.
A veteran writer, researcher and lecturer, with more than 25 years experience in politics, political communications, and public relations. I’ve studied speech writing at NYU, and authored a number of published articles on the practice of lobbying as well as topics in American history.
My lecture on the War of 1812: 1812 – Uncle Sam’s First War, is now a lecture in the New York Speakers in the Humanities bicentennial commemoration series.