Write It to Say It Rather Than Read It

Has the written speech had its day? That question, posed at the UK Speechwriters’ Guild Conference in February, is getting a lot of attention. The debate started when Russian presentation specialist Alexei Kepterev argued that impromptu communication is more authentic and preferable to safe, dull written speeches. His remarks sparked a spirited response from other speechwriters in their blogs and even the Huffington Post. Follow the links to read posts by the always interesting Martin Shovel, Max Atkinson, Charles Crawford and Kepterev himself.

Now, I don’t agree that authenticity and written out speeches are mutually exclusive ideas. However, Alexei Kepterev’s observation that formal speech texts are often dull is spot on. And the reason why is simple: they’ve been written for the page, rather than the stage.

One of the keys to crafting a good speech is to write it to be spoken, not read. Here are three techniques for using a script to engage in conversation with your audience as opposed to merely reading them your speech.

Write the way you speak - Spoken English follows a simple model: subject, verb, object. “I have a plan.” We naturally speak in the active voice. So, keep sentences simple, direct and active. Oh, and don’t get hung up on the rules of grammar. People often speak in sentence fragments; and they split their infinitives, misplace their modifiers and leave their participles dangling too.

Set up the page to help your delivery - Long paragraphs and speech texts don’t mix. It’s hard to keep track of your place when the page is filled with dense chunks of text. Instead, start every sentence (or fragment) on a new line. Or, do as Churchill did, and set up the page so that each line ends where you want to pause or take a breath.

Rehearse - Read your speech aloud and amend it until the words flow off your tongue. Then practise your lines until you just have to glance at the script from time to time to stay on track. It helps if you let go of the notion that you must say every word exactly as it’s written.