February 11, 2015

How to Write a Great Speech

Early on in my speaking career, I was getting booked fairly consistently with a keynote speech called, The Positive Power of Change. That keynote was filled with a number of stories, including my signature story, the Streaking Story. It was exciting to know that I had a speech that worked every time.

During that time, I was a member of the Colorado chapter of the National Speakers Association where I was learning more about the business of speaking. Many of the professional speakers in that group had books and tapes (yes tapes) that they would sell at the back of the room.

I knew that I needed to have products to sell, but I didn’t know where to start. One of my speaking buddies suggested that I simply record one of my keynotes and use that as my first audio product.

So the next time I spoke, I audio-recorded the speech. I couldn’t wait to get home and listen to the recording. Much to my dismay, I was disappointed in the recording. It wasn’t the quality of the recording that was disappointing, it was my speech.

As I listened to the recording, I couldn’t believe how undisciplined I was. I said things that I didn’t intend to say and didn’t say things that I had intended to say. Some of my stories were precise, but others were “all over the place”. I knew that I couldn’t use that recording as a product, because it didn’t represented the best I had to offer.

I needed to get another recording and I had to be more disciplined for it, so I would end up with a better product. But the next audio was pretty much the same. While the keynote lived up to the expectations of the meeting planner and the audience, I was disappointed in my lack of precision and discipline.

After many failed attempts to get the keynote that I wanted on tape, I decided that I had to go back to my roots in theater and script my material. While my stories were close to being memorized and replicable, there were too many places where I’d ad-lib something or forget something or go out of sequence. To be quite honest, it made me mad.

When I was an actor in a play, the story was already written. All I had to do was memorize my lines and then make them come alive when the curtain went up. And if the play was a good one, the same lines worked every night. We just had to stick to the script!

While it was the same story with the same staging and lines of dialogue, each performance was different because every actor was striving to make the script come alive and give their best performance.

I thought to myself, “What if I apply that same process from acting, to my speeches and stories?” Because I had recorded my speech a few times, I figured it would be easy to simply transcribe one of the recordings.

After fifteen minutes of transcribing what was on the audio cassette, I gave up and decided to start from scratch. Why transcribe a sloppy keynote?

The Script Will Set You Free

I decided to start scripting with my most familiar material, my Streaking Story. It didn’t take long to realize that there were a number of places in the story where I had to make a decision about what version of the story I wanted to write down.

I finished the script, and when I went out to give another keynote, to my surprise, I was able to deliver the story as scripted with 95% accuracy. The process of writing and polishing the script had become a memorization exercise as well.

From there I went on to script my entire keynote, word-for-word. While I never intended to memorize every word of my keynote, the process of writing it out forced me to make strategic decisions about the best way to say things. Let me be clear, I never intended to memorize every word of my keynote. That would make me stiff and increase my anxiety.

Have you ever watched a You Tube or Ted X video of someone giving a speech or telling a story? If you were a meeting planner and you liked what you saw and wanted to hire that speaker, would you expect that speaker to deliver the same thing, or very near to it, at your meeting?

The answer is simple: meeting planners expect you to replicate what they saw on your video. That means you need to be able to replicate your material, especially your stories, with at least 95% accuracy, every time.

That lesson has been brought home to me numerous times when someone hires me to do a storytelling keynote or training course after watching one of my videos on You Tube.

Professional speakers who have memorized their best material, especially their stories, will tell you that memorization does not inhibit spontaneity. To the contrary, it frees them to know they can deliver a keynote that works every time regardless of the venue, audience, or how they happen to be feeling at the time.

This same lesson applies to anyone who gives a presentation. If you want to deliver the presentation that you intended to give, rather than the one you gave because you didn’t take the time to prepare properly, take time to script your speech.

It’s time to stop winging it in front of your audiences. Write out your best material and memorize it. Start by memorizing your opening, your closing and your stories. Then go on to memorize other key points and pieces of content and comedy. You don’t need to memorize your whole speech, word for word, but you do want to be sure you can replicate your main pieces of content and your stories.   Trust me, you’ll love the results, and so will your clients. The script shall set you free!

If you’d like to take your presentation and storytelling skills to the next level, invest in my Next Level Storytelling Online Video eLearning Series.


Doug Stevenson, CSP, works with individuals and organizations to help them identify and tell inspiring stories that make a point, teach a lesson or sell a product or service. He is the president of Story Theater International, a Tucson, Arizona based consultancy. He is the creator of The Story Theater Method and the author of the book, Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method and the Next Level Video eLearning Series.

His has delivered keynote speeches, workshops and training courses on storytelling and story selling for clients in 16 countries including Aetna, Abbott Labs, Amgen, Caterpillar, Con Agra Foods, Deloitte, Google, Genentech, Hewlett Packard, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Oracle, Volkswagen, Verizon, The Nickelodeon Channel, The Department of Defense, The National Education Association and many more.

To inquire about Doug’s availability email: deborah@dougstevenson.com

Doug can be reached at 1-719-310-8586. Learn more about how Doug can help you tell your story, attend a Story Theater Retreat, purchase the book, eBook or Story Theater audio six pack, and sign-up for the free Story Theater newsletter at: www.storytelling-in-business.com.

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