One of the most common refrains I hear when coaching senior leaders in public speaking is they have to rewrite most of the speeches drafted for them.
Much of the time the person struggles to deliver the speech because it has not been written for them. In the words of one agency head, “it doesn’t capture my voice.”
I have written many speeches. I see my job as writing the speech that the speaker themselves would write if only they had the time. I have to stand in the shoes of that person and see the world as they see it.
Below are some tips based on how I capture my speakers voice.
Listen to recordings of the speaker at events and conferences. If you are a staff member observe the speaker at town hall meetings or during internal webinars.
Get to know your speaker
You must have access to the speaker so that they are involved in the drafting process. During a phone call or in-person meeting, together, you will first have to define the purpose, audience and argument of the speech. But don’t forget to drill down on the essence of that person – what drives them? What are their beliefs? What type of person are they?
You can often find out a lot about people by asking them about their motivation for doing the job they are doing or the lessons they have learnt through success or failure. These sorts of questions typically elicit stories that give an insight into the person.
Record the conversation so you can play it back and become familiar with their voice
Identify their speaking style
When listening to the recordings from your research and meeting, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is the speech in their mother tongue? Or a foreign language?
2. Are they a fast or slow speaker?
3. Do they prefer long or short sentences?
4. Do they like simple or sophisticated words?
5. Is there style plain or florid?
6. Do they use metaphors and analogies?
7. How do they structure an argument? Do they get to the point and
then explain how and why or do they lead up to the point?
If you are writing for a non-native speaker, then make sure that you don’t use words that that they can’t pronounce. I once had a speaker who could not say the “ch” as in climate change, which was a shame as he was head of an environmental agency. So, we would use climate crisis or emergency instead.
Write for the speaker
It is very tempting to write for yourself, so guard against this by playing the recording of their voice. You need to hear the speaker’s voice in your head as you write. If they use a lot of intensifiers like “really”, “extremely” “hugely” then you need to reflect that, bearing in mind though that they might start to sound like King Charles!
Read it out loud
This may seem to contradict my previous point. But you will soon see if the argument stands up, if the ideas are too repetitive or if the sentences are too long for anyone to say with impact.
A speech is not written in a day. It needs to be honed and validated by the speaker so it not only says what they want to say but also sounds like them.
If you follow these tips you have less of a chance that the speaker will go off script or announce with a flourish that they are discarding the speech you have carefully crafted!
Photo caption: H.E. Mr. Didier Burkhalter, Federal Councilor and Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks during the High-Level-Segment of the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council. UN Photo / Elma Okic
I am watching closely as the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council starts in Geneva. I am hoping that some of the diplomats I trained recently in public speaking for the UN Institute for Training and Research (http://unitar.org) are going to read their statements with impact.
As a former BBC Geneva correspondent I used to cover the Council and despair of finding a clip that I could use of a diplomat who was sounding natural and looking confident. Most of them would read their statements looking down at their text and in a monotonous tone.
I accept that sometimes diplomats don’t want to draw attention to their statements or at least not find themselves on the BBC news. However, often, on an issue as important as human rights, they do want to stand out and make their voices heard.
So, what are the techniques for making sure that when you read a prepared text such as a speech or a statement, people sit up and listen? By the way, these tips apply whether you are a diplomat or not!
One of the best ways to project confidence when speaking in public is to follow a technique mastered by some of the great public speakers – Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill.
They all managed to read a speech, sounding conversational and unscripted, using a technique known as “See-Stop-Say“.
First of all print your text in large font with double spacing. Make sure that the sentences are short – ideally not more than 10 words so that your eye can absorb them easily. You may want to put key words in bold, as this will help you with emphasis and rhythm.
Practice speaking in the following way:
- See – see each phrase and “record” a picture of it with your eyes. Instead of reading the whole section, let your eye “record” only the phrase or part of the phrase that you can commit to memory.
- Stop – look up from the page and pause.
- Say – say the phrase out loud from visual memory. Pause again before looking down to memorise the next phrase.
Pausing is the key to this skill. Pauses
- Help you remember the phrase
- Allow the audience time to digest your ideas
- Punctuate your sentences
- Build anticipation.
The great American jazz musician, Miles Davis, once said, “in music, silence is more important than sound”.
This applies to public speaking too. Pausing is your best way of sounding authoritative. It automatically gives you “gravitas”. And, if you have a key phrase or message, pause before and after it for increased impact.
Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse
When I am preparing managers, executives, and CEOs to deliver keynote speeches, they are always amazed when I tell them that professional speakers, journalists, and moderators, always practice their first 20 seconds. It is the moment when you are most nervous so it calms the nerves if you know what you are going to say.
If you watch TV journalists before they go live, you will see that they are walking to and fro (movement aids recall) preparing their first answer.
It is always important to practice reading out loud your statement or speech so you become familiar with it. If you can remember the first 20 seconds that will also help as you can keep eye contact with the audience before you follow the “see-stop-say” model.
If you are delivering your remarks on stage, choose five spots in the room, which form the shape of a W – practice making your points to each spot. This will ensure that you include everyone in the room – even those on the sides who are easily ignored.
If you are reading your statement seated, like the diplomatic delegations at the UN, then you need to look up and straight ahead. The UNTV cameras will focus on you and the journalists, who receive the video footage, will be delighted as they will have a wealth of clips to choose from as you deliver your statement with impact.