Archive for the ‘Speechwriting’ Category

What if Speechwriters Took Cues from Sports Announcers?

This State of the Union is brought to you by

Are we close to the day when a President’s State of the Union is peppered with sponsor teases?

A mention of healthcare, for example, prompts the President to say: “Speaking of healthcare, let me pause to thank Lipitor, a key sponsor tonight, which lowers bad cholesterol and it’s clinically proven to blah blah, blah.”

This may sound ridiculous, but not if NFL play-by-play announcer Kevin Kugler was writing presidential speeches. In yesterday’s Bears-Seahawks game on Westwood One Radio, it was stunning how he squeezed in sponsor promos in the middle of live action play.

In the first quarter, while the Bears drove down the field, Kugler didn’t even wait for a break in the action to plug H & R Block.

Nearly out of breath from describing the Bears’ running back’s push towards the end zone, Kugler added: “Wow! What a block from Jay Cutler! Speaking of block, it’s nearly tax season. Consider H&R Block before filing your taxes.”

As part of the listening audience, I felt like my brain was blindsided by a left tackle. Where did that come from?

Kugler’s play-by-play partner Mark Malone even sarcastically commented seconds later, saying something like: “Good job in squeezing that sponsor in there.”

Kugler’s abrupt H&R Block pitch made me feel like the first time I saw the final scene of the Sopranos series finale, arguably the most talked about ending. When you’re expecting a blood-bath, the screen just goes black… on purpose!

Squeezing an ad into play-by-play is nothing new. The San Francisco Giants announcers often use a pitching change as an opportunity to plug an oil change sponsor. … When it’s time to make a change, go to Speedee Oil Change.

However, there is a big difference: usually the Giants’ sponsor plugs are during dead air time, not in the middle of live action.

Kugler’s pitch during live action was a train-wreck to the listening audience.

I sure hope President Obama’s Director of Finance was not listening to the game on Westwood One and thinking, “Sponsor teases in the speech? Awesome. That can help lower the budget deficit!”

We’ll see on January 25.

This blog post is brought to you by Advil… Advance Medicine for Pain Caused by Abrupt Trauma to the Head.

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Repurposing A Presentation For Multiple Occasions

Repurposing A Presentation For Multiple Occasions

The ability to condense any full-length presentation (whether it’s 7 minutes or an hour) to two minutes is a valuable skill to have. Two minutes is the perfect length for just about any question in a job interview or a business-networking event.

If you are in Toastmasters, you are familiar with Table Topics, the impromptu speaking exercise, where you have two minutes to answer a question on the fly.

But how many times have you taken one of your favorite 7 minute prepared speeches and condensed it into a two-minute answer?

Some time ago, I had prepared an hour-long presentation for a client, which showed key performance indicators for the recently ended economic quarter. I hopped on a plane to the client’s headquarters, and was shocked to hear the CEO tell me in the hallway: “Hey Kevin, I can’t sit in on your presentation. I’m short on time.”

Right there in the hallway, I condensed that hour-long presentation into 3 or 4 minutes – focusing on the biggest nugget of the presentation: an analysis that benchmarked the company against their competitors in a very challenging economic climate. That peaked his interest. “I look forward to reviewing your PowerPoint. Make sure you leave it behind,” the CEO said.

The formula for condensing a speech to its core – in many scenarios – is:
1. Outline the problem
2. Explain the solution
3. Demonstrate the result after implementing the solution

This formula fits perfectly into one of the most common job interview questions: Tell me a time when you’ve used your skills when tested?

In the end, each two-minute speech should wrap up with a single sentence containing a key message or lesson learned.

If you prepare a few of these succinct success stories to have at-the-ready, you will master the art of communicating under pressure in no time.

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Reynolds: 15 Tips For Your Continuous Improvement

Reynolds: 15 Tips For Your Continuous Improvement

September 27, 2009

Presentation design expert Garr Reynolds posted a fascinating blog item today about the kaizen approach to improve, or ways to continuously strive to improve your presentation skills. (BTW – many of the 15 tips can be applied in other areas of your life or career beyond public speaking.)

In his lengthy blog item, he stresses the importance of daily, continuous steps toward a goal are far more valuable than most people think.

“Tiny improvements are o.k.,” he writes. “Over the long-term, these add up to great improvements.”

Reynolds is a former Apple Computer manager, author of Presentation Zen and a marketing professor at Kansai Gaidai University in Japan. As a result, his design methods are often heavily influenced by the Japanese culture.

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The Creation Myth – Branding Your Business

March 1, 2009

When you hear the Hewlett-Packard Story, the image that often comes to mind is that of a Palo Alto garage. When people think of the eBay Story, they think of the founder’s fiancée trading pez over the Internet (even though eBay acknowledged years later that that story was fictionalized).

Most well-branded companies have a creation myth, says Terry Gault, VP and managing partner of communications consulting firm The Henderson Group, based in San Francisco.

The Creation Myth was the title of a highly interactive workshop Gault led yesterday at Presentation Camp at Stanford University. He defined the Creation Myth as a unique quality of a company or person.

To illustrate this, Gault told two stories, or “myths” of the creation of two separate companies. One was how David Henderson decided to leave a lucrative law practice and take a chance on launching a communications consulting business, which eventually landed Oracle as a client.

The other story was about the launch of Cirque du Soleil, the wildly successful circus show. After a successful launch in Canada, bankrolled by the Quebec government, the founders took the show to L.A., with only enough money to fly the crew there. If it had failed, they were stuck. However, it not only succeeded, Cirque du Soleil has launched an unprecedented 15 spin-off shows without a single failure.

While the story behind corporate Creation Myths may be at least partially true to some extent, if not completely fabricated, they all have several elements in common.
1. Memorable characters: Characters need names, because audiences have a hard time rooting for a nameless protagonist.
2. Vulnerability: the protagonist must show a vulnerable side, because it makes your character human, and your audience can relate to that.
3. High stakes: for a story to be truly compelling, stakes have to be very high. For example, if Cirque du Soleil failed in L.A., then what?
4. Details: Providing details that make it easier for your audience to visualize the story is key. In fact, details are far more powerful than adjectives.
5. Be Selective in Details: How do you know what details to put in and what details to leave out? The answer: If the details don’t enhance the scene or contribute to the myth, they should be left out.
6. Dialogue: In describing a scene, give the characters first-person dialogue. Instead of saying, he was panicking, demonstrate it with visual details. His hand shook as he held the phone. Sweat poured down his face.

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Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

Monday, January 19, 2009

Barack Obama’s inaugural address tomorrow is arguably the most anticipated inaugural address to date.

More than 2 million people are expected to brave the near-freezing DC weather to hear Obama address the nation in front of the U.S. Capitol as the 44th president.

It’s hard to imagine a more anticipated inaugural speech for several reasons. Not only will it be by the first African-American president, but also Obama rose to prominence as a prolific speechmaker. His 2004 Democratic National Convention speech catapulted him into the national political spotlight. And hardly anybody can argue that the current economic crisis builds more anticipation for Obama‘s first speech after taking the oath of office.

Obama’s 10-year-old daughter, Malia, is also adding additional pressure, according to a CNN article. After a family visit to the Lincoln Memorial, which has Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address inscribed on its walls, Malia turned to her father and said, “First African-American president — better be good.”

In a John F. Kennedy-like move, Obama, in tomorrow’s address, will ask Americans to restore a national value system that honors responsibility and accountability, according to Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, in a Sunday interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

JFK’s speechwriter and advisor Ted Sorensen told the New York Times, Obama should keep his focus on the country’s international standing.

“That Inaugural Address is going to define his presidency in the eyes of the rest of the world,” Sorensen said. “It should be “bipartisan in tone and global in reach.”

Speechwriting Style

In his critique of Obama’s speech style, Sorensen told the Times, “I would say that occasionally his sentences and words are not always short.”

That was a key element of Kennedy speeches written by Sorensen. In fact, a recent New Yorker article references Sorensen’s comment about Lincoln’s inaugural addresses: “Lincoln never used a two- or three- syllable word where a one-syllable word would do.”

While it’s common today for presidents to have their speeches crafted predominantly by others, Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs insisted in a Sunday TV interview that the president-elect had written the bulk of his inaugural address.

The Jan. 12th New Yorker article, written by Harvard history professor Jill Lepore, has a rather amusing title: “The Speech: Have Inaugural Addresses Been Getting Worse?

Throughout the campaign, Obama’s speeches have focused on hope and unity, such as the opening line of his Presidental-Elect acceptance speech last November in Chicago:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

I haven’t heard anyone say they anticipate Obama to give a bad speech, but Lepore noted that most inaugural speeches are not memorable, aside from a few snippets (or soundbites).

Quite comically, she also noted: “A bad inaugural address doesn’t always augur a bad Presidency. It sinks your spirit though.”


Inaugural Address Trivia

(courtesy of Lepore’s article)

First inaugural address broadcast on the radio: Calvin Coolidge, 1925 (prior to that, inaugural addresses were only read by the general public in the newspaper)

First televised inaugural address: Harry S. Truman, 1949

First inaugural streamed online: Bill Clinton’s second term address, 1997

First expected to be Youtubed: Take a guess

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Using Fewer Examples = A Memorable Speech

August 23, 2008

When you see a standup comic, such as Robin Williams, rattle off hundreds of one-liners in the course of a 30-60 minute performance, you often leave the show thinking that was hilarious, but I don’t remember any of the jokes.

If you are a public speaker, that’s not what you want your audience thinking as they leave your presentation (maybe the “hilarious” part, but of course, you want them remembering at least parts of your speech).

A friend of mine recently gave a speech loaded with great examples to illustrate his speech premise. In fact, in the course of his seven-minute speech, he used so many examples (5, 6, maybe even 10), I lost track. Not only that, I hardly remembered any of them.

To make your speech memorable, it’s best to wrap a story around your key points. People remember stories, but bullet points are often lost on them moments after the speech ends, if not sooner.

If you have multiple examples to illustrate a key point, choose the most powerful example and run it through the Sinatra Test, a phrase that comes from the book, Made to Stick (which I wrote about here).

Stories stick in people’s minds. And best of all, stories can have the power to make people act.

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How to Write a Speech that Resonates with the Audience

March 30, 2008

In the next ten minutes, you are going to learn how to captivate an audience using a simple technique that subtly makes listeners pay attention.

That technique was used subtly in the previous sentence, which was to replace the word “I” with “you.” By putting the audience in the opening of a story personalizes it for them, and therefore, connects the speaker to the audience.

Some speakers start a speech by telling their audience what s/he (the speaker) is going to talk about, by saying, I’m going to outline steps on how you can captivate an audience. Instead of doing that, it’s far more effective to tweak that sentence by saying, During this presentation, you are going to learn how to captivate an audience.

Here are two examples on opening a speech. The first is written in first-person. The second example uses you, then transitions to first-person:

Example 1: My first paid speaking engagement couldn’t have gone any worse. As I took the podium in front of 300 real estate professionals, my knees wouldn’t stop shaking. I knew I would be nervous, so to calm my nerves, I tried opening with a joke, figuring that if I got them to laugh early on, my nerves would subside. But as I delivered the punch line, there was dead silence. How does a speaker recover from that?

Example 2: Imagine that you have been hired to keynote a conference, which will put you in front of the largest audience you have ever addressed – 300 real estate professionals. You take the podium. Your knees are wobbling as you peer out at a sea of unfamiliar faces. You deliver your opening statement, which you thought was laced with humor, but it is met with dead silence. (Pause) When that happened to me four years ago at my first paid speaking engagement, I imagined I would never be hired to speak to anyone ever again. But I overcame that disastrous experience and here I am, years later, making a living as a public speaker.

In Example 2, the speaker allows the audience to visualize themselves in that situation. Similar to when you watch a movie, you are living vicariously through the character, or in this case, the speaker. By the fifth sentence, the speaker seamlessly transitions the point-of-view by saying: When that happened to me four years ago at my first paid speaking engagement… By then, the speaker has hooked the audience, and now he can talk about his personal experience and how he overcame that frightening time.

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Writing a Speech that is Clear and Concise

Writing a Speech that is Clear and Concise

March 22, 2008

Speakers who can simplify their message through clear and concise examples have a far greater positive impact on there audiences. Instead of using multiple examples to illustrate a single point, it’s often best to use one very powerful example, and run it through the “Sinatra Test.”

The Sinatra Test, coined by Chip and Dan Heath, co-authors of the NY Times bestselling book Made to Stick, refers to the singer’s classic “New York, New York.” In the chorus, Frank Sinatra sings about starting a new life in New York City, and declares “if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.”

The Made to Stick authors elaborate on the point by suggesting if you run a security company that has provided security for Fort Knox, there is no other credential you need to prove your credibility to another potential client. In other words, this one example alone is powerful enough to establish credibility, that no additional examples are necessary. Therefore, it passes the Sinatra Test.

By using an example that passes the Sinatra Test, a speech will have the clarity and simplicity to keep an audience attuned to your message.

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Grabbing Your Audience’s Attention

Grabbing Your Audience’s Attention

January 14, 2008

Motivating and inspiring speeches start with a powerful introductory statement. One that connects with the audience and leads them to believe what they are about to hear is very important to them.

You do this by answering two fundamental questions they are all thinking. One: Why am I listening to this? Two: How can I use this information?

If you are keynoting a small conference or leading a sales seminar, a common misstep is to open by reintroducing yourself following the MC’s introduction of you.

The MC’s introduction should not only introduce your name and title to the audience, but also establish you as a credible expert in this field or on your topic. For example:

Our next speaker made headlines when he was hired by XYZ Corp. to revitalize its corporate sales department. Within three years under his leadership, XYZ went from the world’s eighth largest automaker to third. Here to share his secrets, please help me welcome, XYZ’s VP of Sales, John Smith.

An MC introduction like that allows John Smith to go right into the speech with an introduction that would paint a vivid picture in the audience’s mind of a common problem sales team’s struggle with and how he inspired his sales team to work together to overcome those problems.

If John’s introduction fails to grab the audience’s attention, he loses most of them for good.

Therefore, whatever powerful points he may have in the body of his speech or in the conclusion will have little impact on them if any at all.

While the introduction aims to grab their attention and inspire them to listen, the body of the speech aims to keep them engaged all the way through to the conclusion. The conclusion reinforces the main point and inspires them with a call to action.

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