Does this scenario sound familiar?
It’s 10pm the night before your conference keynote, and you WhatsApp your speech writer to ping you urgently as soon as he or she has emailed you the script.
You’re a bit nervous, because your presentation is at 9am the following morning, and you haven’t even had the chance to read the speech, let alone rehearse it.
If you are senior – or lucky – enough to have a speech writer, it’s time to either change their job description, or to let them go.
To understand why, you have to know what a speech writer does and how they work.
Their effort comes from the heart. They want to deliver the perfect speech to you. They attach great importance to writing your speeches for you, they take great pride in being the author of your words, and they are keen to demonstrate the strength of their research, and their commitment to ensuring you have all the information you could possibly need.
If their job starts with research, it ends with the delivery to you. Once you have it, they’re done. Just in time for the conference. The time between sending the speech to you and the moment you are introduced on stage is elastic to them. Does it matter whether you need it a week, a day or an hour beforehand, they might ask. After all, they’ve done the hard work of writing it. Now all you have to do is go on stage and deliver it. What’s so hard about that?!
That’s why you’re getting it the night before.
Some of them might even reason that by sending you their speech the night before, you’ll have little chance to spoil their perfect work with changes.
After all, a speech writer spends an inordinate amount of time fine-tuning your speech. While the bulk of the text is written in a few hours, s/he then agonises over it for many more hours editing it, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, rearranging or rewriting, dressing it up.
But that’s just the problem:
- You’re going to rewrite parts of it anyway. Unless you have worked with your speechwriter for years, it is unlikely the script is congruous with your voice (ie, it sounds like it came from you). You are bound to make changes to suit your delivery. Instead, ask your speech writer to send you their research and first draft of the speech one week ahead of your conference keynote, and make it your own without the laborious but superfluous fine tuning.
- You’re going to sound scripted. It’s rare that a speech is delivered so naturally that you can’t tell it’s scripted. No one likes to be lectured, or read to. And because most speeches are not delivered in an authentic voice, it’s a turnoff for the audiences of our time who prefer authenticity and candour over stage management and carefully choreographed words.
The bottom line is, discard written speeches. You are better off with research laid out in dot points, structured using a message grid. When you then deliver your speech, you will sound well-researched yet conversational. You will be able to make more eye contact with members of your audience and connect to them emotionally, rather than just reading to them.