For business leaders, delivering a speech can be a make-or-break moment. A good speech can ensure you silence the sceptics and win over the room. Delivering the right pitch can seal the deal.
That is why so much can ride on speechwriting. Once it is written, all you have to worry about is delivering it with the energy and charm that got you here today. But that does not mean any speech will do.
Rest assured, we at Speechy have heard more than our fair share of speeches, so know only too well how to ensure your draft hits home, and what rhetorical clunkers and clangers to avoid.
Here are the hackneyed speechwriting techniques you and fellow business leaders should avoid in these five key points:
1. Going too far with formality
As the speaker, you are likely to face some formal expectations in your appearance, such as thanking the person who just introduced you or ending with a vote of thanks. Such formalities may be necessary, but they do not have to define everything else you say.
Too often, speakers forget this. As a result, they get bogged down in opening pleasantries, making the audience wait longer for them to get to the meat of their speech.
These speakers can also be tempted to shy away from more personal language for fear of it being overly lively in favour of a more technocratic register, thinking that is necessary in order to be taken seriously.
Yet that risks producing cumbersome verbiage, whether it is fiddlier passive phrases coming in when active phrases would be more engaging, or reams of sub-clauses making it harder to follow.
However formal the event may be, those listening want to hear you speak in a way they can engage with and understand. The best speeches can seem like a conversation with the audience, not a lecture. So drop the formalities as soon as you can.
2. Bombard with buzzwords
Buzzwords, jargon, clichés: these all make up the morass of verbiage which risks sinking a business leader’s speech.
We know what these words look like and it can prove hard to resist uttering them. For example, hailing something in business as “disruptive”, “innovative” or “ground-breaking” just for being new. Praising your colleagues for “thinking outside the box”, or promising not merely to do something but to “drive” it forward.
Such phrases have a clear purpose and appeal. But they are victims of their own success now as their overuse risks making any further usage come across as naff.
In the same spirit, jargon should be used with caution. This sort of insidery language will be known to the industry but less so to those outside it. Of course, if you only care about those in the same industry as you, then fire away with all the technical jargon you fancy – but even then it is unlikely to be the speech of the year.
3. Telling them what they already know
The audience may not know what you know, but they will have a fair few thoughts already about the subject you’re talking about. So they won’t have limitless patience for whatever you say, which means it is best to be ruthless in culling any statements of the obvious.
So don’t feel forced to find a quote, whether from your memory or ripped from the internet, to enliven your pitch.
And don’t waste time on generalities. For example, while everyone can agree times are tough, do you need to go on about why? Only if that is the purpose of your talk, and especially if you are about to explain why your business has a key role in making things better.
This can be especially relevant for certain occasions where lots of people could be talking about similar things. Say you’re at a business conference when everyone is there to talk about how to ensure future prosperity. Rather than wade through the present problems, cut that down and get to your key points faster.
4. Trying to say too much
You will know what you want to say as speaker and so much more. But don’t get carried away as your audience will realistically only remember a point or two of what you tell them.
A good speech should bear that in mind by having a tight structure which shows the audience clearly in effect what you want to say, says it, then reminds them what you’ve just said by way of a conclusion.
The temptation to add more thoughts risks stringing up your speech like a Christmas tree. Self-indulgent tangents risk distracting from your core messages. Keep it simple.
5. Testing your audience’s patience.
No matter how passionate you are about the subject, an audience will rarely go away wishing the speech had gone on longer. In fact, it will tend to be more effective if you stick to a clear message, flesh it out in a way that people can easily follow and with it beyond doubt what you want them to remember.
It can be tricky to decide what points are the most important, and what can be left on the cutting room floor. This can require brutal discipline, but you can save yourself the grief by getting a professional speechwriter – such as from Team Speechy – to serve up a polished draft
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