Speech Editing – From Good to Great

Every word counts. Less is more.

20180930_094407.jpgEditing your speech can be both a painful and rewarding exercise. Careful editing can make your copy cleaner and your prose sharper. To get the best out of writing and rewriting your speeches, you must take your own work seriously. Seldom do you write or say exactly what you wish, on your first or second rewrite. It is my hope that you will find these tips as helpful as I have while editing. I too believe good speeches are written – great speeches are rewritten.

Avoid clichés that are common and overused. Aside from being indicative of lazy writing or speaking, they are rarely used correctly and even when they are, they rarely make sense. Who throws out “the baby with the bathwater” today”? Would you “cry over spilled milk” – “at the end of the day” and yes are you still “going the extra mile”. You may get a chuckle or two for some of these clichés, however, you may want to be more current. Those expressions are outdated.

Repetition not used intentionally for effect should be avoided. Check your copy carefully for how many times you have used your favorite words or phrases.  Increase your vocabulary. Go to your thesaurus to look for synonyms – words or phrases that by word association would be more pleasing to the ear. Learning how to make the best use out of synonyms and antonyms will prove to be extremely important for all kinds of purposes when writing and rewriting your speeches.

Modifiers like “very big” get old quickly. How about “gigantic”. Use a noun that does the work of an adjective. The most common problem with the use of modifiers is where you place them. Specifically, modifiers can cause confusion or unintentional humor in a sentence when they are placed too far from the noun they are modifying. Reducing your work count by replacing entire sentences with a single word or two works great. Also, seek out those two for one-word opportunities. Every word counts. Less is more.

Examine the beginning of each sentence. Varying the lengths of sentences can be very effective. When writing personal stories, try to limit the use of “I” over and over. Count the number of times you used “I” in your copy. Try shifting the focus from “I” to “you” with a question or a “you statement” focusing on your audience. Be more inclusive.

Have fun rewriting some of your old speech.  Rewriting makes your speech writing clearer, more powerful and can make your good speeches great.

What Is A Tall Tale

A short story, true or fictitious!

Blue hills


A contest in which contestants present a three to five-minute speech on a topic that is highly-exaggerated and improbable in theme or plot. Once you are a member in good standing, you can compete. There are no other pre-requirements. however, contestants who speak for less than two minutes 30 seconds or more than five minutes 30 seconds will be disqualified

Webster describes a tall tale as a “Narrative of events that have happened or are imagined to have happened.” It is usually a short story, true or fictitious. It could be a piece of information, gossip, rumor, falsehood or a lie. Today we call that “fake news”.

My first competitive tall tale speech contest was in 1999. I entered my first contest after completing four CTM – Competent Toastmaster Manual Speeches – with my speech entitle Hell’s Paradise. That speech took me all the way to District. One of the lessons I learned very early was since your speech must impress your audience as well as the judges, a good place to start is the judging criteria. I also studied the score sheets as I prepared my speech.  I would highly recommend that you pay close attention to the following:

SPEECH DEVELOPMENT: The way the speaker puts ideas together so the audience can understand them. A good Tall Tale speech immediately engages the audience’s attention and builds to a conclusion. 30 Points

SPEECH TECHNIQUES:  Refers to the use of various tall tales skills, such as exaggeration, irony, pun, humor and surprise twists.  These techniques are the essence of making a tall tale successful. If you skillfully incorporate those techniques into your tall tale, you will be successful.   25 Points

APPROPRIATENESS OF LANGUAGE:  Refers to the choice of words that relate to the speech purpose and to the particular audience hearing the speech. Language should promote a clear understanding of thoughts.  Language should fit the occasion and be in good taste. 10 points

PHYSICAL:   Presentation of a speech carries part of the responsibility for effective communication. Body language should support points through gestures, expressions and body positions. 15 points

VOICE:  The sound that carries the message – Your voice should be flexible, moving from one pitch level to another for emphasis, and should have a variety of rate and volume. A good speaking voice can be heard and the words easily understood. 15 Points

LANGUAGE: Refers to the choice of words that relate to the story. Language should promote a clear understanding of thoughts and should fit the occasion precisely. Proper use of grammar and correct pronunciation will show that the speaker is the master of the words used. 5 points

IN DAYS OF OLD WHEN MEN WERE BOLD:  Tall tale narratives depicted the wild adventures of extravagantly exaggerated folk heroes. Those tall tales were essentially an oral form of entertainment that took audiences on an imaginative invention rather than the literal meaning of the tales.  Associated with the lore of the American frontier, tall tales often explain the origins of lakes, mountains, and canyons. They were spun around such legendary heroes as Paul Bunyan, the giant lumberjack of the Pacific Northwest; Mike Fink, the rowdy Mississippi River keel boatman; and Davy Crockett, the backwoods Tennessee sharpshooter. Other tall tales recount the superhuman exploits of western cowboy heroes such as William F. Cody and Annie Oakley.

MODERN DAY TALL TALES: Even if you never went fishing, we all have a fish story to tell. The one that got away or even the minion swimming in kid’s aquarium that was HUGE! Tall tales can be an event that took place on any given day in your life.  One of mine entitled “No U-Turn” tells the story of making an illegal U-turn one day on my way to work.   A cop stopped me and asked! I replied-BECAUSE THE SIGN SAID SO – officer  — (cop) Oh – Really – (me) Yes – I wanted to go straight and the sign said “ No .. U … Turn”.  When the cop decided to call for backup with a straight jacket, I had to confess that I was just a Toastmaster practicing my pauses and got a bit carried away – – which she was getting ready to do to me literally. Would you believe, she did not give me a ticket?  What a nice cop.  (Exaggerate!  Exaggerate!  Exaggerate! …That is the key)

Hell’s Paradise was another about companies that were dominating the software market in the eighties and nineties.  Now I do not want to name names but I am sure you too will get my drift even if you were not around back then. One of those companies was rotten to the core,  while the other’s view of the world was, in my opinion, a bit micro and soft.  On that premise, I built “Hells Paradise”.  Was I ever so wrong?  We all got googled by a company of ten, raised to the one-hundredth power. Go figure…  A play on words is also a good tall tale technique.

Look at your life and I am sure you will find many stories you can spin into a tall tale.  If you can get your audience to express that look that says – REALLY, NO. PERHAPS THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE; you are hitting your mark. Take your audience to the edge of the precipices and dare them to believe we are both going to jump but you must go first.  That is when you must give the moral of your story or leave them to figure out the “rest of the story” which is the life lesson we should take away from every Tall Tale.