SPEECH WRITING is a delicate balance of keeping to your topic interesting; keeping the audience engaged and showing how it is applicable to you (and your audience). If your words are powerful and meaningful (to you and to them), your audience will remember parts of your speech for years to come. It is your job to ensure that they remember the overall theme of your speech and that their interpretation is positive and relevant.
Speeches are prepared for various occasions: welcome addresses and keynote addresses at schools, graduations, and for other special occasions; motivational speeches; thank you speeches; and for lawyers in particular, speeches on behalf of the Inner and Utter Bar at Special Sittings. This list is by no means exhaustive. When called upon to write speeches for others, this can be more challenging as in most cases, the writer has to adapt to the speaker’s style and may not be present to see the audience’s response and receptiveness to the speech. Therefore, there is no learning curve in terms of the outcome of the speech except to rely on the speaker’s interpretation.
In this article, we will look briefly at speechwriting for lawyers. Lawyers are called upon to give speeches very often due to their legal training skill set. On occasion, lawyers are asked to give speeches impromptu which is ill-advised as preparation is key to a good speech. Therefore, it is not advisable to accept an invitation to give a speech ‘on the spot’ for any reason. Here are some top tips from speechwriters on preparing a good speech – whatever the occasion.
In my humble opinion, there are two key ingredients to a good speech: it has to be well-written and well-delivered. We will focus on the first aspect for the purposes of this article.
Choosing the right words: A speech can go completely wrong if the message you wish to convey is not clearly expressed. Think about what it is you want to say and then how you intend to say it. Use positive language in your speech, avoid negative association or comment.
A strong introduction: your audience is most attentive at the beginning of your speech. If you are not interesting, engaging and relevant from the moment you start your speech; you have lost a great opportunity – your audience has most likely stopped listening. Ensure your speech starts with something memorable – a personal story, a joke or appreciation for the invitation to speak.
A good structure: when the writer is preparing a speech: structure, content and length must be carefully considered. What is the purpose of the speech? Who is the audience? What is it you ultimately want them to remember from your speech, A great start and a strong finish leaves your audience wishing you would continue your speech for several more minutes, not looking forward to the next item on the programme.
Tell a joke, if you can: the late HilfordDeterville, QC mastered the art of speechwriting and delivery. His speeches were the most anticipated on any programme. At a Special Sitting, you did not want to follow one of his speeches. His speeches were always well-structured, well-rehearsed, relevant, and always made the audience laugh. What can we learn from Mr. Deterville (in terms of speechwriting)? Injecting humour at least once in your speeches is critical. On the other hand, for speeches that are personal and emotional, the delivery is key and so is a really good speech!
Relay a personal story: writing a speech must mean something to the writer for maximum effect. If you are asked to deliver a speech at a graduation for an Early Learning course; a mother, grandmother or the like could relate to the issues of the topic and the importance of the graduation ceremony to the students, their teachers and by extension the learning institution. More recently, the writer spoke at her book launch and the speech was personal in its entirety. It described her writing journey, thanked her family, friends and well-wishers with readings from her book. The speech at the book launch took several hours to prepare but lasted only about thirty minutes.
A strong conclusion: “end with a BANG!” Once your speech has been on point, well-structured and relevant, you have to end memorably as well. If you have not told a personal story (if applicable) this could be a good time to do so. Depending on what type of speech you are delivering you could either summarise key points made in the speech or thank everyone for listening.
Once you have agreed to give a speech, remember it will take some time to prepare. For example, it can take as long as two hours to prepare a five minute speech for a Welcome address for the writer. On the other hand, a speech at the Special Sitting for the late Desmond Mc Namara, CBE, QC took the writer less time, although it was a longer speech, lasting about fifteen minutes, it was an emotional farewell.
Final note: Start your speech early, rehearse at least once and make sure you know how long you are expected to speak for. Never do a speech without notes or a script, unless you are an experienced speechwriter and speaker like Dr. Winston Parris!
Ms. Trudy O. Glasgow is a practising attorney at the law firm Trudy O. Glasgow & Associates, a court-appointed mediator and author in Saint Lucia (and has also taught law at University level in the UK)*
This column is for general use only, for advice specifically for your case, please see your lawyer.
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Next week: Why listening matters