Every speaker’s dream is to produce someday a speech that withstands the test of time. Having made it to the Regional Levels of the World Championships on three different occasions, I must admit that I have enjoyed the coaching I received over my twenty years of competing more than anything that contest has to offer.
Having been an original Edge Member and worked with various champion speakers who not only achieved their goal of producing great speeches but have also walked away with the title of World Champion, it’s difficult not to recognize that it takes a process to be a champion speaker. If you were to ask any of those champs, what does it take to produce a world championship speech? They will quickly admit that their process contributed to yielding their winning speech. That heralded speech, in some cases, has even had its roots in a long-forgotten icebreaker revived and put through the rigors of the process. So what is this process?
That process begins with a speaker’s passion, thoughts, ideas, and real-life experiences with universal appeal. Sounds familiar? We all have many from which we can choose. The heavy lifting to formulate that material to move it from your head to your heart and into every muscle of your body and the bodies of their audience is the challenge. Only with a process you can get the job done. However, there can be no shortcuts in your approach. As one Great Native American Chief warned many moons ago – “Short cut – draws long blood!”
The process is simple. First, you must commit your speech to paper. What is written has to be carefully culled and edited. Your first draft then has to be polished. What was polished has to be roughed up a little. Even then, you still have an unfinished product. The speaker must now test that draft in front of live or virtual audiences. And finally, that speech has to be owned by the speaker. Only when the speaker confidently says I own this speech, it is ready to be sold to an audience. And speakers should never forget that you can’t sell what you don’t own.
The first phase is always the hardest. It is natural to be constantly asking yourself how much is too much. One approach is to let your thoughts flow. Write them all down; the keepers and the weepers, but therein lies yet another process. There is a vast difference between writing and typing your first draft. Ed Tate, the 2000 World Champion, in one of his coaching sessions I attended many years ago, spoke about the different feeling when you transcribe your thoughts manually versus typing.
The process of writing your thoughts is a lot more intimate. Also, you can write down those thoughts anytime, anywhere as they come to you. When writing out your initial ideas, there should be no error correcting or editing. Let your joys, sorrows, and pain all flow like a river to the sea. Admittedly, many of us skip this critical step and begin typing. However, only after you have put pen to paper a few times will you appreciate the value of completing that first crucial step.
One of my all-time favorite TV shows still is – “Name that Tune.” I love it simply because it’s a game I play while going through my culling process. I often challenge myself to express my ideas or thoughts in fewer words than I had initially written. What is most important in this phase of the process is to decide what stays in and what stays out. Craig Valentine’s rule of thumb? When in doubt, leave it out.
For best results, do your culling and editing on a computer using Word or any software application. However, it is vital to write it as you usually speak. Using the fewest words to make your point often produces the best results. It also helps if you listen to the sound of what you wrote. Listening to yourself can be painful. Many of us don’t know or like how we sound. Record and listen as you do your editing until you no longer cringe and can smile as you listen to that recording.
Your nicely formatted – culled, and edited first draft is a good starting point. That draft must now be polished and prepared to be taken to market. This is where you want to shift your focus from yourself and the results you seek – to what you would like your audience to think, feel or do during and after they have experienced your presentation. You are now going through the process of transferring energy from yourself to your audience. Remember, your audience is now your customer, and we know the customer is always right, even when they are not.
You must figure out how you can reach into their heads, hearts, and every muscle of their body, just like you did and felt when you started your production. Find your nuggets to polish them, so they stand out when it’s time to deliver. As you continue to polish, you must find that gem that will make your presentation most memorable. David Brooks, the 1990 World Champion, calls it your Magic Moment – The moment should make your audience say, “Wow, or even repeat it backward woW!!!” And every speech should have a magic moment.
Before you can sell anything, you must own it. Customers can always tell if your product is one of a kind or one of a million. Your well-polished presentation may always leave a bit of doubt in the minds of your audience, as my mamma used to say when she was still with us, pretty face, dirty tricks. Son, all that glitters is not gold. The owning process is where the rubber meets the road. You should be able to start your speech or presentation from any word in your final script without hesitation.
Next, you must remove some of your polish to make your presentation appear as natural as possible. Authenticity always makes a better connection with audiences. As you practice internalizing what you have prepared, permit yourself to be the genuine you. But resist the temptation to stray from your finished product. Remember, sell only what you own. It is always safer to be in the moment with your body language, gestures, or even facial expression than unrehearsed phrases. Time is of the essence.
Evaluations – solicited and or unsolicited- are yet another process on its own. Speakers should take note of all feedback received – the good, bad, and even the ugly. In that feedback, they should observe patterns and repeated comments. Don’t be afraid to explore and test the merits of all feedback received with your coach. Any critical feedback should be tested in front of different live audiences on at least three separate occasions.
Word of caution, if you find yourself having to do a lot of explaining to your audience after presenting, that’s a red flag. You may want to revisit your culling and editing for clarity. It is a good idea to keep all of your rough drafts and the feedback received after your testing. Writing and delivering a speech that will live on forever takes hard work; however, if you follow a process that has been tried, tested, and proven by champions, you too will be recognized someday as a champion in your own rights, regardless of who walks away with the title of World Champion of Public Speaking.