Some years ago, I was editing someone else’s speech — a dreadful bit of work that put me to sleep within the first two paragraphs.
The problem was easy to identify.
I was looking at a text meant to be read silently – not spoken aloud.
It was written for the eye, not the ear.
It was filled with overblown words and phrases that we would never use in conversation. There was no rhythm. No pattern. Nothing to engage me as listener.
All of which made me wonder if there existed any written document that mimics the effect of a good speech. It struck me that there was such an animal. In fact there are several.
Both poetry and song might apply, but in the end they are words that start on paper but don’t come to life until they are spoken or sung aloud.
But once spoken, they provide a visceral form of human connection. The resurgence of readings in the form of poetry and story slams and spoken word festivals – particularly at such venues as The Moth – speaks volumes about our craving to listen to stories – in whatever form they might take – rather than just read them on the page.
There is very little non-fiction writing that mimics, if not the specific language of a speech, at least the emotional impact.
The one that immediately leaps to mind is the personal letter.
When we receive a letter from a loved one, the words may not be read aloud, but they are certainly heard aloud in our mind’s ear. Think about every letter you have received from a life partner, a son, a daughter, a grandchild or a best friend.
Or put yourself in the mind’s ear of a parent receiving a letter from a child at camp–or a child at war. You know that they are filling in the blanks between the words as they can hear their child’s voice and laughter and tears. In a subliminal sense, they conjure up a vivid picture of the absent child.
When you read a personal letter — or even a personal email for that matter — it tends to trigger the synapses of your imaginative right brain rather than your logical left brain.
Is there a perfect correlation between the language of the personal letter and a speech? Perhaps not.
Do I expect your speech for a CEO to be like a love letter or a missive home from camp — full of endearments or the minutiae of canoe trips and silly pranks? Of course not. You would be rightly fired.
However, we can be inspired by personal letters in our own work, writing speeches that cater to imagination and allow the audience to conjure up images for themselves in their own mind’s ear.
Incidentally, don’t over look letters of praise – or even better – letters of complaint–from your clients’ corporate mailbag as a way to speak to the audience’s ears. Letters, to use that dreadfully overused but still relevant word – are authentic.
So take a chapter out of the letter-writing handbook and consider how it might have application in your own speech writing services to your clients.