Lessons from a movie: providing value beyond words

Speechwriters the world over are talking about the movie The King’s Speech and its insights into the relationship between a high profile speaker and the one person who was able to help him overcome a stutter.

According to the film, speech therapist Lionel Logue went to great lengths to support King George VI. Before important broadcasts, he created a “cosy” setting, opened the windows, and performed like a maestro, conducting his royal client through the script. 

Your speaker probably doesn’t need or expect you to take those steps. However, you can provide value that goes far beyond the words you write. 

Here are five things to do to help your speaker succeed.

1. Get a good sense of the lay of the land.
Whenever possible, speak with the event organizer to get a clear understanding of the speech window. Find out how long the speaker is supposed to talk as well as the time allotted for other activities such as the introduction and Q&A session. Ask who else is going to speak, in what order and for how long. Then make sure your speaker is well briefed so there are no surprises.

 2. Knock down the barriers between speaker and audience.
Build a profile of the audience and use the information to choose language, imagery and examples that will help your speaker connect with his or her listeners. Also, ask yourself: what do these people need to hear to get behind the speaker’s ideas? Then make sure the answers to that question end up in the speech.

3. Provide a script that’s easy to read.
Set up the speech so that each sentence is its own paragraph. It’s too easy for a speaker to get lost in a sea of words when the text is set up in dense clumps. To help your speaker hold his or her head high, only use the top half of each page. And, just as you would never give someone a draft without reading it out loud first, read the final copy out loud again.

4. Leave time for your speaker to pause
Speakers and listeners both benefit from pauses. The speaker can use a pause to gauge the interest level of the audience. Listeners enjoy them too, as they provide a break and a chance to reflect on what is being said. Pauses can also heighten the drama of a speech. Write in a pause after a question, or, to add to the intrigue, just before the speaker says something really important.

5. Understand that the last reason to include humour in a speech is to make the speaker funny.
Most speakers aren’t skilled enough at handling humour to get the audience rolling in the aisles. Nor should they try. That’s what comedians work hard to do, with varying degrees of success. Audiences are more than happy with the kind of humour that elicits a smile or a few chuckles. Quips, one liners and personal anecdotes all hold the potential to warm up the atmosphere, allow the speaker to express some personality and give the audience a chance respond through smiles, laughter or even applause.