Every month I get at least 3-4 queries for speech writing. They rarely turn into paid assignments but ever since I published a web page offering my speech writing services, by now I must have written 50+ speeches, both in English and Hindi, for clients from multiple countries.
Interestingly, I have written more speeches in Hindi than in English. It could be because English-speaking clients may be less confident about my speech writing abilities compared to my Hindi-speaking clients.
Another interesting thing about speech writing clients, whether Hindi or English, is that they don’t haggle much about the rates. Either they agree, or they don’t agree. They don’t negotiate like my usual content writing clients.
Working on speech writing is slightly different from working on other content writing assignments. Of course, it is writing, but it is a dialogue. A speech is supposed to be spoken. In front of an audience. It has a strong underlying message. It must make an impact in real-time. It must be able to grab people’s attention and then lead them to a climax.
Another challenge in writing a speech is that I’m writing on behalf of another person. The speech must carry the personality of the person. The success or failure of a speech depends on how the person delivers the speech. I have never met the person. I have never seen him or her in three dimensions. I have never heard his or her voice. I don’t know what is his or her history with the audience. I don’t know whether in life the person is serious, casual, stern or has a wicked sense of humor that he or she may like to use in the speech.
Nonetheless, I need to use all the information that I have, as much as I have, and then give it my best shot.
What is my speech writing process?
There is no process as such. Just like any other content writing or copywriting assignment, I try to get as much information as possible from the client.
What type of information do I try to get? I explain below:
What is the occasion?
A client normally tells me what’s the occasion for which he or she requires a speech in the first query email itself. Nonetheless, I like to know the backdrop and what has led to the occasion and whether that particular occasion is a part of a bigger occasion.
One of my first speeches was for an uncle/mentor (father’s old friend). The speech was to be delivered on the marriage of the young girl he had mentored for many years. In a 10-minute speech, he needed to reminisce, he needed to tell the story of how she came to him for guidance and support and then how the relationship blossomed and eventually he was able to mentor her. The speech was emotional as well as peppered with funny anecdotes.
Recently I wrote a speech for a retired college professor who is spending his days doing social work for the city he lives in. The speech was to be delivered on the Independence Day in front of local politicians and bureaucrats.
What value does the speech deliver?
Many speakers get confused that the speech is about themselves. It is not. The speech is about the audience. When you are speaking up there on the podium or the stage, you are an entertainer, you are a teacher, you are a performer, you are the harbinger of some great insight and wisdom.
Through the speech, you need to deliver value. If the speech is all about yourself, your audience is going to get bored. Therefore, I make it a point to ask the client what is there in the speech for the audience? What is the audience going to take back after the speech? How is the speech going to change people’s lives?
This is not an easy question to answer for most of the people who are too excited at the prospect of delivering a speech. The normal reply is, “How do I know this? You are the speech writer. Make it as interesting as possible.”
If I get this type of reply, I politely refused to take the assignment or make an excuse that I’m very busy right now. I cannot write a speech for a person who isn’t invested in the core message of the speech.
What is the general nature of the speaker?
The nature of the speaker has an indelible bearing on the speech. Is the speaker funny? Is the speaker serious? Does the speaker love story telling? Does he or she uses lots of data to make points? Is he or she an influential person? Is he or she soft-spoken or does he or she speak loudly? All these attributes are to be considered when writing a speech script.
What is the outline?
A speech, after all, is a message from the speaker. I can give it a shape. I can make it presentable. I can make it convincing. I can also arrange it in an effective manner. I can also fill in with vital information. But the central message must come from the speaker.
If the speaker is unable to give me the central message, then he or she is not really interested in making an impact.
An outline gives me a structure. It helps me recognize the deliverables and then write the most appropriate speech using the right language and the right structure.
Recently I wrote a speech on women empowerment, especially through education. An influential person who has made a name for herself in the banking sector, was invited to deliver a keynote in a girls’ college.
She gave me a very nice outline. She wanted to begin with her own story. She came from an underprivileged background. It was difficult for her to get even basic education. Looking at her resolve, her parents almost turned their world upside down to make sure she received the education she deserved and craved for.
She wasn’t seeking adulation for herself. Through her story, she wanted to tell the girls what a difference education can make. Education holds immense power, she wanted to convey.
Then, from her story, she wanted to move on to the stories of a few successful women who have achieved a lot through education.
Then she wanted to bring the focus to the girls in the audience. She also wanted to talk about the distractions the contemporary world has these days, may they be mobile phones or social media or the continued dismantling of the core human values in movies and TV series, and how many girls fall prey to misinformation and lose focus.
Ultimately, she wanted to share her views on how the girls can get rid of those distractions and remain focused on their core pursuit – going through education.
The speech, as per the feedback I received from the client, was a raving success. It was also covered in the local newspaper.
My speech writing process mostly involves information gathering. This is my standard process that I also follow in other forms of writing such as blogging, website content writing and email writing. Other than this, I follow the usual process of first organizing my thoughts under various headings, subheadings and bulleted points and then expanding individual points.