I just can’t understand it.
Learning how to write speeches for leaders improves writing skills, boosts income, and provides access to top decision makers. It’s the easiest way to skip a few rungs on the corporate ladder as a writer.
I should know, I’ve been a speechwriter for more than a decade at the highest levels.
Many writers, however, remain stranded in communications hell, churning out press releases, media advisories and white papers (the triumvirate of tediousness) that nobody reads.
Mention speechwriting to them and they’ll often claim it doesn’t come “naturally”—as if they missed the magical “speechwriting gene” at conception.
Here’s the truth: if you can write, you can learn how to write speeches.
The benefits go far beyond getting paid to write words others repeat.
Speechwriting can improve your career and personal life in ways you never imagined—even if you never write a speech.
How? Five ways. Drum roll, please.
You’ll Sound Better During Office Meetings And Presentations.
Speechwriting is about learning how to write for the ear by mastering four essential elements: style, substance, storyline and structure.
Structure is the black sheep of this family. Nobody likes to think about structure because it’s not very sexy. In my experience, however, poor speeches are almost always the result of poor structure.
It’s an easy thing to fix.
Try this structure for your next speech: develop a clear point, support that point in three sections, and conclude by restating that point and asking the audience to take action. Click here for my in-depth article about structure.
How is this any different than your office meetings and presentations? Think of them as mini-speeches. You need to work on that structure.
Many believe the problem is confidence, but it’s difficult to build confidence if you have no roadmap for what you want to say in the first place.
The simple structure I outlined above can help you master it, whether you’ve written something out in advance or have to speak on the spot.
Instead of rambling on, make one clear point.
Instead of random associations and statistics, support that point in three clear ways (or one, or two…three is only a suggestion).
Instead of fading at the end, restate your point so people don’t forget it.
Finally, get people to take action on the point you made.
All of this takes practice, but it’s worth the effort.
Consider the alternative: sitting on your hands, saying nothing. How does that help your career? How many promotions, how opportunities are you willing to miss?
But you must practice. Becoming a speechwriter or taking a speechwriting course helps. Delivering speeches to friends in groups such as Toastmasters helps as well.
Armed with a strong structure and experience, you will get better.
It Helps You Master Job Interviews
I used to be terrible in job interviews. I’d do the same many do: list a bunch of qualifications I’d already established in my resume.
But here’s what I’ve learned about job interviews: they already know your qualifications. That’s what got you in the door.
What they’re looking for is an experience of you.
They want to see the whites of your eyes and get a real sense of who you are and—something people almost never consider—if they can work with you.
How can you give them that experience?
Think about how we connect—really connect—with others.
Most often it’s through stories and shared experiences. We know stories, we love stories, as evidenced by our love of books, movies, and TED Talks.
How are stories usually told? Often in a three-part format: beginning, middle and end. Our three-part structure.
Speechwriting is all about storytelling. We’re telling stories about an idea, a campaign, a product, anything that connects with the audience in some way.
In job interviews, we’re telling the story of ourselves.
And to tell a good story you must transform your boring data into a narrative that links your experiences and skills with one ultimate takeaway message: I can also do this for you and I can’t wait to do it.
Let’s see how traditional speechwriting structure and storyline work in a (very) simple example:
State it: “I’m perfect for this job.”
Support it: “there are three reasons why I’m perfect… (state them)”
Story it: (for each reason)“For example, I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar…that much is true…had a crazy idea but…. improved profits by 1,000%…can do it for you.”
Summarize it: “Because of these three reasons (restate them), I’m perfect for this job.”
Learn how to write speeches and you’ll give potential employers an experience of you they won’t resist.
Third: It Helps You Master Other (Usually Boring) Communications Tasks
I worked in communications for years—I understand that press releases, media advisories, and white papers will, sadly, never go away.
I think I’d like them more if they were, you know, readable.
Here’s how speechwriting can help.
Remember I told you that writing speeches is about writing for the ear instead of the eye? In other words, people listen to speeches, they don’t read them. We have to paint word pictures instead.
What we’re really focusing on is writing style.
Because people are hearing our words, our writing must be clear, concise and easy to follow. It’s what separates speechwriting from other communications functions.
But why restrict this style to speechwriting?
Not to put too fine of a point on this, but clear, concise language is exactly what we need when it comes to those dry press releases and white papers.
Ever been asked to send out a release and the president’s title is its own five-line paragraph? It’s an embarrassment.
Writing a good press release is really not that different from a speech.
You need to get my attention—just like a good speech opening—and you need to hold it.
Once you’ve got my attention, get to the point of what it’s all about and support it with a few examples (see, I didn’t even call them stories).
Write it all in a style I can actually understand—I don’t have time to decipher your office lingo or ego. One word of jargon, one unexplained acronym, and I’m out of there.
Finally, I could care less how any of your information benefits your company. I want to know how it benefits me.
Oh, and what action do you want me to take? Let me know.
The moral of the story? Changing your writing style by learning to write for the ear can also help you write for the eye.
It Supercharges Your Product Pitches
Perhaps you’re familiar with the TV show, Shark Tank.
It’s a show where hopeful entrepreneurs who want investment money pitch their ideas to potential investors.
Who usually gets that money? Those who have a great product matched with a great presentation. The best presenters? Those who have—wait for it—crystal clear style, structure, substance and storyline.
The pitches are also relatively short.
What does this mean for you? If you’re an entrepreneur or have an idea to pitch, learning how to write better speeches (call them presentations if it makes you feel more comfortable) can have a huge impact on your success.
Think about it this way: if you have one chance to stand in front of the investor of your dreams, are you willing to risk everything by winging it? Or do you want to know how to do it right? Speechwriting can help.
Before I leave the subject of pitching, speechwriting can help freelancers as well. Ever had a potential client on the phone and you’re trying to convince them to work with you? It’s a bit like the job interview we discussed earlier.
Organizing your call (or interview) into a point/support/story/action approach will help you sound better and come across more professionally as well.
Finally, Learning How To Write (And Deliver!) Speeches Can Help You Attract A Mate.
Laugh it up, but I saved this one until the end for a reason.
Actually, for two reasons.
First, writing and delivering your own speeches will boost your confidence.
Don’t believe me? Try writing and giving one small speech per week for six months and report back. I promise you’ll feel different.
Now match that confidence with the ability to say something with substance in an engaging—perhaps humorous—way. And who doesn’t like somebody who can tell a good story?
Second, an important part of learning how to write speeches is about listening; to audiences, to interview subjects, and to the speaker ultimately delivering the speech.
Think about how this is done poorly. Think about the bad dates you’ve been on where the other person just talks about themselves.
A bad speech is the same thing. You know the type. The speaker that gets up and drones on about his company, his policies, his financial targets.
But what do we really want to hear? Recognition that they’ve at least heard our needs! Hell, recognition that we’re even there!
Instead of speaking to, what would happen if we spoke with?
I believe it could radically change our relationships. Not just attracting a mate, but developing long-term friendships.
If you want to truly speak with, you need to figure out something about that potential audience (or date, or friend).
In a speech, we want to find out as much as possible about what the audience really cares about before we give that speech.
Same with a date. I’m not talking about interrogating the other person (that’s just creepy), I’m talking about getting to know them a bit.
Who would you rather go out with? The man or woman who blabs on and on about themselves? Or somebody who includes you in the conversation? Cares about your needs and desires? Not just hears, but actually listens? One who exudes not cockiness, but confidence.
Wouldn’t you like to meet that person?
Wrapping Things Up
We covered a lot, but it should be clear by now: learning how to write speeches has more benefits than simply helping somebody else stand up and say a few words.
In fact, writing and delivering better speeches can give you a distinct advantage over others. Whether you want a new job, say something in office, write better press releases, a person whom you want to date or just deliver a great speech, learning how to write speeches can change your life