Demonstration Session 1

Thursday, August 3, 2017

2:00pm –2:45pm

Steve Silver, Nissan Motor Corporation

Back by popular demand, our professional speechwriter will explain the steps to successfully write and deliver a compelling speech.

Have feedback on this session? We’d love to hear it! Submit it here.


The Role of a Speechwriter

  • It is not Sam Seaborn from the West Wing! It is a tough industry.
  • You are a storyteller for your organization. You help find the stories in your organization, bring them out through research, and tell them in the clearest, most compelling way you can.
  • Why is story telling important? Humans are hardwired to create stories. We think in narrative forms.
  • A scientific study proves this fact. Researchers showed a video of moving shapes to college students, and at the end, they sat down with the participants and asked them what they saw.
  • Only one person in the study said they just saw shapes moving around. Everyone else in the study created a story.

Good Speeches Should…

  • Tell good stories! (and speak to a higher purpose)
  • Examples of speeches range from financial earning calls to eulogies.
  • Be appropriate for and proportional to the audience.
  • If you get stuck, ask yourself 1.) Who is your audience? and 2.) What do you want to accomplish?
  • You don’t always need to tell the audience what they want to hear.
  • Use simple language, not SAT words—make speeches as simple as possible. It is OK to dumb down your language. People will appreciate it.
  • Be consistent and authentic.
  • This is easier said than done. Your audience can tell when your message is not authentic.
  • Say more with less (words).
  • You don’t get paid per word. Edit, edit, edit—cut, cut cut!
  • Features a rhythm.
  • Takes a while to learn, but you can learn to spot them.
  • Use humor.
  • As long as it is authentic and not inappropriate.
  • Contain a repeatable message.
  • Litmus test: Can one person in the room tell a friend who was not in the room a good summary of the speech in one sentence?
  • Feature a call to action.
  • Critical for advocacy
  • Connect back to your larger organizational story, brand, and/or mission.
  • Every time you give a speech, use it as an opportunity to reinforce your brand. You can do this in all communications, but even more so in a speech.

Speech Structure

  • Basic Structure: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.”
  • Narrative Structure: “Get your character stuck up in a tree, throw rocks at them, get them down.”
  • Inverted Pyramid (Journalism): Newsworthy
  • Storytelling: Structure the speech around different stories and embed your message within them.

Sound Bites and Tweets

  • Summarize your central message
  • Use sharp language
  • Challenge your opponents
  • Capture the mood of the moment
  • Be funny!
  • Add a call to action
  • Use alliteration
  • Create “word equations” (Example: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”)
  • Observe the “rule of three” (Example: “We came, we saw, we conquered.”)
  • Be provocative

Additional Examples

  • “Every American has a right to marry whomever they love regardless of where they live.” <–Live and love play off each other.
  • “You simply cannot build a 21st century economy on a 20th century infrastructure.” <–21st and 20th play off each other.

Presidential Sound Bite Examples

  • “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” -President Bill Clinton
  • “Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” -George W. Bush

Speeches Worth Studying

  • Steve Jobs: Commencement Speech to Stanford (He told three separate stories that were personal, and he tied them all together at the end)
  • Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (Fewer than 700 words)
  • Martin Luther King: Beyond Vietnam (He told an audience what they did NOT want to hear)
  • Barack Obama: Tucson Memorial (Powerful speech)
  • George W. Bush: Address to a Joint Session of Congress (Outlined the path forward after 9-11)
  • Sheryl Sandberg: Keep your Foot on the Gas Pedal (TedTalk example)

How do you deal with people changing your speech through the editing process?

  • You have to limit the number of eyes that are on the speech. It will dilute the message if you have too many people editing it.

How do you feel about social media? Has this lessened the value of speech writing?

  • It has changed speech writing—it forces you to create “moments” in your speech, which are Tweetable. This is not bad though, as it forces you to tighten your speech. It has changed it, but not diluted the value.

Can you share tips on how to add humor into your speech?

  • Self-deprecating humor is the easiest. People will always laugh at someone who can make a joke at their own expense. You have to be careful to not take it too far though.

Thoughts on visual aids during a speech?

  • Every speech is given for a purpose—there is a spectrum. Some speeches are informational, like a speech about a policy change—your goal is just that, to give information. On the other side, the hardest speeches are those that you are seeking to motivate people with a call to action. The easier, factual speeches lend themselves to visual aids.

Do you always need to tell a story if you are introducing someone in a speech?

  • It depends—if you are introducing someone, who will then give a speech, work together on the speeches so they have a unified feel. They need to be consistent so the audience is not confused. If you are speaking for a while before you introduce someone, there should be an opportunity for you to tell a different story—maybe tell a shorter story, then the next person up will tell a bigger story.

How do you get people to feel confident communicating, for example, when speaking to a Member of Congress?

  • This has actually become part of the speechwriters’ job. Your job is to help draft the speech—but also to prep your speaker and then conduct post-speech interviews.
  • Speech prep is incredibly important for confidence building. You could try to create the speech atmosphere and conduct a dry run. A cold reading for a large crowd is difficult.
  • Another tip is to get their passion up—it will empower them while giving the speech, because the authenticity will come through.

How do you build in authenticity to a speech?

  • It helps to know the person. If you don’t know them that well, you can start with the brand, then bridge out once you get to know the person. It gets easier faster than you may think.

Have you written for a woman?

  • Yes, many women. The humor component is a bit different.

What are some times for writing speeches on the fly?

  • Zero in on your message.

How do you identify the mood and rhythm for a speech?

  • Find the human element—how does this policy/issue impact your audience? Why does it matter to them?