Creative commentary plus crafty composition

Making Words Come Alive

Stories have a better chance to come to life when we construct and deliver descriptions which the listener’s mind’s eye can see.

Stories may be the essence of the message being presented.  Stories might also be part of the construction, such as in support of the theme of a speech.  The latter example is part of the formula discussed in an article in the October issue of Toastmaster magazine.

The article makes use of comments from three current or previous members of Toastmasters International, who have graduated into the hierarchy of professional speakers and communications coaching.  Their insights provide a cumulative blueprint for putting together a well-designed speech; by extension, these guidelines can apply to other variations of communications, such as writing dialogue or presentations targeted for certain audiences.

Here is a synopsis of guiding insights discussed under the heading of speech-writing:

  • With how much detail a speech should be written depends on one’s comfort with using a script, although an underlying goal should be to whittle it down to an outline, ultimately delivering without dependency on notes
  • Developing content is often like sorting out a jigsaw puzzle, in that ideas to be included may not occur chronologically; indeed, often one has an ending in mind (such as with jokes) and one works backward to some extent to the opening; with longer projects, focusing on the main body is generally first priority, before the opening or the closing
  • Especially in a speech or with dialogue, establishing and maintaining a conversational tone helps connect with the audience; however, this is not a conversation per se, and the use of more formal terminology or thoughtful word choices may be appropriate for a given audience
  • When it comes to choosing words, simpler may be better, but not at the expense of clarity, or specificity if needed; however, be wary of using jargon
  • Clever and suitable inclusion of humour is typically welcomed by an audience; incorporating wit or funny stories is more advantageous than jokes, as the latter depend more on ‘high stakes’ conclusions or punch lines
  • As noted above, speeches benefit from including stories, which ‘pull listeners in and keep them engaged’; making ‘flesh-and-blood’ characters the focus is easier for people to relate to
  • Making an opening effective means an audience becomes engaged, the more important if the main topic is one some don’t initially find absorbing; using a more natural and conversational approach may be less of an attention-grabber, but comes across as less of a ‘stunt’; asking a question which triggers the imagination can be effective; in any event, the audience needs to become intrigued within the first two minutes
  • The time frame will help dictate how many main points one tries to make; the plan is to make them stick, which may be easier with fewer main points and more supporting ones
  • Transitioning from one idea to another is important to maintain flow, and can be as simple as using effective pauses
  • Repeating or returning to key themes or concepts is of value for reinforcing and re-emphasizing messages; although conclusions should be ‘forward looking’, this can include rhetorical questions or even ‘circling back’ to the opening “to highlight the journey you’ve been on as a group”

Now, what words should I use to get this going…

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