Speeches are concrete pieces of writing, crafted by design with attention to detail. They are often a key component in a public relations arsenal. Few orations are perfect; effective speechwriting is a reasonable goal. Where beneficial, we’ll assume that you, the speechwriter, are the speaker as well.
Effective speechwriting means being aware of all human factors. Remember that the “public” in “public relations” refers to an audience of real people. Nowhere is that more immediately apparent than when speaking before a crowd.
To determine your audience you should include intended and potential listeners. Martin Luther King had a dream, one intended for the audience of his day. Yet there are few that haven’t heard of his famous speech. Your potential audience is infinite. However, you should write first for your intended audience and second for your potential audience. Ask also whom your audience relates to? Try to write in safeguards against possible negative reactions. Your audience may go away certain how they feel about the speech. By the time they share it with others and they regurgitate it back, who knows what they’ll believe they heard?
Be your audience before, during, and after the writing and presentation. Empathizing with them before and during will help you to be heard, understood, and accepted. Being your audience during and after will help prevent backlash whether due to misstep, mishearing, or misunderstanding. Consider also what has been invested in you, your presence, and your presentation; this investment took many people. Focus on the contributions that will be helpful. As always, feedback is critical in any public relations effort.
Armed with a feel for the participants, you’re on your way to effective speechwriting. The first layer is purpose. The purpose of your speech has either been given to you or you have had to develop it. Write out this purpose, analyze it, and distill it until it’s clear and precise.
Your purpose may dictate a means. Here is an example: If your purpose is to lighten the mood after a difficult defeat for a group of executives and then to spur them on, you might begin with humor and follow with encouragement. You might use humor specifically targeted toward the executives, followed by an extemporaneous list of the group’s own inspiring victories. Speaking extemporaneously exudes the energy and confidence you’ll need in such an instance.
Choosing your language–slang, terminology, or formal verbiage–is a key in effective speechwriting; it is a one part of identifying your audience. Be sure you haven’t welcomed your audience with what you say and yet alienated them by how you say it. If in doubt, edit out.
One way to determine what not to say is to preview your speech for allies from the intended audience. Re-write to address any issues they bring up. Once you’ve edited out the shortcomings, you should have clarity of focus with which to see what else should be said. Effective speechwriting means checking your facts; remember it’s better to have a 5-minute speech with no fear of error and retribution than to have an hour-long rhetoric full of guesswork.
Be realistic about what you can accomplish. Stand on solid ground while still achieving the goal. The greatest public speakers and speechwriters were great people first. Write the speech so it has a little less presence than the speaker does, be confident, and hope that it turns out just that way. Effective speechwriting is one way to assure you’re covering all the bases in a public relations campaign.
This article, written by David Geer, originally appeared in PR Fuel (https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (https://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.
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