Public Speaking Tip: Speechcrafting Goes Beyond Speechwriting

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speechcrafting
Speechcrafting is a special discipline of which speechwriting is but a single element. The effective speechcrafting professional understands the art of narrative and also the power of stagecraft—timing, pauses, dynamics, gestures. Eloquent words delivered by a lackluster presenter will miss their mark. The charisma of an engaging performer may bring an audience to their feet, but a weak message will not be remembered or put to use.

When creating a speech for a polished presenter, provide the words alone and trust the interpretation to the speaker. When writing for yourself or for a speaker whose academic or professional qualifications exceed their speaking experience, speechcrafting techniques ensure a more engaging performance.

The following excerpt from a client’s keynote speech reveals hidden elements of speechcrafting—not only what is said, but how it is said and why it’s effective. We worked together to finesse the writing, timing, dynamics, and stagecraft to engage the audience and drive the message home. The end-result is funny, captivating, outrageous, natural, and connected to the speaker’s personal voice and style. If delivered well, the audience will not perceive it as having been scripted.

Here’s the original script:

 

In less than twelve months, I went from being optimistic with a growing income to being unemployed with over five hundred thousand dollars of debt and no income. I was in shock! For the next two months, I was depressed. What happened? I woke up every morning with a dull pain in the pit of my stomach. I felt like a failure. I had no idea what to do next so I did what any sensible person would do. I prayed. Please God, send me a business that’s fun, and easy, with no competition, a business with a highly engaged, reliable, and productive team, one with great customers who are always a pleasure to work with and insist on paying me a lot of money, a business just like your business, right?

 

Time flies on the stage. Audiences’ attention will wander quickly so every line must be crafted to keep listeners’ attention and advance the performance toward a set of clear outcomes. Because the goal of a speech is to transform the audience, the speechcrafting speaker clarifies the intended outcomes. Brad developed this section of his speech with clear purposes in mind:

 

  • He wanted his audience to find him relatable to so he told a story of the failure that led to his success. His audiences learn that he understands their pain; he’s one of them.
  • Intellectually, the audience understands the story will end in redemption—transformation (otherwise he wouldn’t be on-stage talking to them)—but this early section of the speech sets up the conflict that drives the story. The audience wants to know how the speaker overcame his obstacles. This is Cinderella sitting in the castle in the kingdom of Happily Ever After, holding the prince’s hand and sipping a glass of wine while telling a reporter about the days she spent living with her evil stepmother. The audience is captivated by the power of story, even though they already know about the happy ending. They want to hear about the darkness because they know it will resolve into light.
  • An element of self-deprecating humor lightens the mood. Relax. Enjoy. This will not be a typical, boring, “data-dump” lecture. Brad’s desperate, sarcastic, and entirely unreasonable prayer is comic theater.
  • Many speakers are monodynamic; they use their “radio voice” at all times or stick to a conversational tone. Experienced speakers use their full range from soft to loud, from mild to wild. This passage exploits the captivating power of range by consciously considering the dynamics of word and gesture.
  • Bring it back to the audience—make it all about them by closing with, “a business just like yours, right?” This cues the audience that he’s telling their story; he’s not there to do his therapy on-stage by whining about his hard times. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if business was that easy—for all of us? In written prose, I’d hesitate to add a tag like “right?” at the end of the closing sentence but in this context, it asks each listener to reflect on the meaning and relevance of what they’ve just experienced.

 

We started by breaking the original paragraph into its spoken pieces. Putting each phrase on a line suggests ideas for pacing. Though you wouldn’t write it this way in a book, you’re not writing a book; you’re crafting a speech. Winston Churchill, who wrote out all of his speeches this way, called it “psalm form.” Experience the difference:

 

In less than twelve months, I went from being confident and optimistic to being unemployed with over five hundred thousand dollars of debt and no income.

I was in shock!

For the next two months, I was depressed.

What happened?

I woke up every morning with a dull pain in the pit of my stomach.

I felt like a failure.

I had no idea what to do next so I did what any sensible person would do.

I prayed.

Please God, send me a business that’s fun, and easy, with no competition, a business with a highly engaged, reliable, and productive team, one with great customers who are always a pleasure to work with and insist on paying me a lot of money …

a business just like yours, right?

 

Each line is read separately—less like an article and more like a speech.

Then we set certain words in bold to create emphasis, and we added pauses (…) and longer pauses (……) so the text can be read in a way that further connects it to live performance. Pauses give listeners time to “fill in the blank” … which can be particularly effective if you come back with something unexpected:

 

“Eeny … Meany … Mighty …… Joe!

Joe may have been only five feet tall but he was the toughest kid in our neighborhood…”

 

Pauses “tease” the audience and demand attention. Here comes the punch line … wait for it … here it comes … drum roll, please … “To get to the other side.”

Pauses give your audience time to laugh at your gag lines.

Pauses give your audience time to envision or process what you’ve just said.

 

In less than twelve months, I went from being confident and optimistic … to being unemployed with over five-hundred-thousand dollars of debt and no income.

I was in shock!

For the next two months, I was depressed……

What happened…?

I woke up every morning with a dull pain in the pit of my stomach…

I felt like a failure……

I had no idea what to do next so I did what any sensible person would do…

I prayed…

“Please God, send me a business that’s fun, and easy … with no competition … a business with a highly engaged, reliable, and productive team … one with great customers … who are always a pleasure to work with … who insist on paying me a lot of money…

a business just like yours, right?

 

Now add some stage direction. How can we move from telling to showing? Instead of narrating, “I prayed,” why not just do it?

 

I had no idea what to do next so I did what any sensible person would do…

Come to the front of the stage

Put your hands together, close your eyes, and kneel

Count to three in silence, then begin speaking softly and humbly

“Please God, send me a business that’s fun, and easy

Add wants like a kid improvising a Christmas gift list, a little more emphatic with each line

with no competition…

Turn praying hands into clasped hands

Get louder

… a business with a highly engaged, reliable, and productive team,

Louder, raise hands more

… one with great customers who are always a pleasure to work with…

Loud!, Separate hands and clench fists

who insist on paying me a lot of money…

Open hands and raise them to heaven

Hold this and count to three

Get back on your feet and scan the audience

Speak softly

… a business just like yours, right?

Smile. Cue the audience that it’s okay to laugh

Give them time to finish laughing before continuing

 

Actors read from a script; they have no latitude to change the words and must engage the audience through the fine art of interpretation—an admirable challenge that speechcrafters have the luxury of sidestepping. Speakers and speechcrafting professionals create eloquent words and intentionally combine them with dynamics, gestures, and pauses—and the options to add graphics and props create additional opportunities to engage the audience. They have the luxury—and the responsibility—to write with stagecraft in mind.

When you create your next presentation, think beyond the words:

 

  • Write with a clear purpose. What is the value of each line for the speaker and/or the audience? How does it capture and keep the audience’s attention? How does it advance your presentation toward its conclusion so it can deliver its intended outcomes? How does it build rapport between you and your audience?
  • Add emphasis. What are the most meaningful, relevant, and powerful words in each line? Clarifying emphasis will reveal opportunities to insert…
  • Pauses … before you deliver humorous punchlines or surprise answers … when you want your audience to think and reflect … or when you want to add a note of tantalizing tension.
  • Engage the audience in “dialogue” (as needed) by asking rhetorical questions and giving each participant time to think about how they’d respond if you actually called upon them to share their answer.
  • Avoid unconscious “pacing and waving” body language by crafting deliberate hand and body gestures that support your message.
  • Show; don’t tell. Instead of telling them that you prayed, jumped for joy, shivered in the cold, looked up at the big bully, or surrendered to fate, do it! Act it out and show them.

 

Are you a speechwriter or a speechcrafter……?

The answer to that question is written … on the faces in your audience … and in the degree to which you transform their lives and businesses.

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Dave Bricker: StorySailing®