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Writing for the ear.

Writing For The Ear

What we write may look really good on paper but sound dull and boring when spoken. The reason may be that writing something to be read is different from writing material for a speech.

As William Norwood Brigance once said, "A speech is not an essay on its hind legs." We must prepare a speech for the ear, not the eye. Here are some good tips on how to make a speech more comfortable to hear, not just to read.

First, keep sentences short. It becomes hard to follow with the ear if you have long, complicated sentences. This was one of the criteria for those who helped write John Kennedy's speeches which helped produce quotes like, "Ich bin ein Berliner" in his visit to what was at that time a divided city. The quotations best remembered from speeches are usually those that are characterized by uncomplicated sentences.

Second, keep the word choice simple. If there is a choice between a two-syllable word and a three-syllable word, use the two-syllable: the shorter the better. The Sermon on the Mount, one of the great speeches of all time. has words like "salt," "light", "rock," and "sand" as key terms in developing ideas. Winston Churchill's tribute to the Royal Air Force after the Battle of Britain was simply, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

Third, answer the "W" questions in developing content for a speech. This motivates you as the speaker to be specific and concrete. This is a crucial point because what you say must be instantly clear to the audience. Unlike a book or essay, where you can go back and reread the material or look up words in the dictionary, a speech must make sense immediately. One of the best ways to do that is to include material that answers the questions "Who?" "What?" "When?" "Where?" "Why?" For example, in talking about overcoming handicaps, you might refer to Jim Abbott. One of the top rookies in the American League in 1989 for baseball's California Angels, he had a 12-12 win-loss record, and yet has no right hand. Someone asked Jim how he overcame such a handicap. His reply? "A handicap is a limitation. I haven't been limited in any way."

Fourth, use description in developing ideas for a speech. We think in pictures. If I mention "river," you think of a specific river. If I say, "road," you think of a particular road. To develop complete pictures, and to help the listener understand your meaning of an idea, use description. Paint the picture for the listener by using the specific rather than the general. Your goal should be for the listener to have the same picture in his or her mind as you do in yours. If something is not specific enough, audience members may begin thinking so much about your vague reference that they are distracted from the next point of your speech. For example, if you were to refer to a "truck," the audience would begin wondering what kind of truck you were talking about. Was it a tractor trailer, a pickup truck, or a utility vehicle? Was it a red truck, a silver truck, or a green truck? What make is the truck? If you mention a blue Ford pickup truck, however, the audience knows exactly what you are referring to, accepts it, and continues to listen.

Finally, develop some segment of your presentation that relates directly to your audience. Include the name of the group to which you are speaking, and mention someone in the group to illustrate one of your points. If a previous speaker at the program has discussed a point related to yours, refer to it as you develop your own unique application. Use job-related examples from the professions represented by the audience. Make a reference to a part of the physical surroundings of the room in which you are speaking, or draw a comparison like, "The pool was about as long as this room." Any of these inclusions can trigger the spontaneity of the moment and make it easy on the ear.

These are ways to avoid a dry, boring speech. Before you are ready to speak, look at your speech and check to see if you have short sentences, simple vocabulary, content that answers "W" questions, vivid description, and content directly related to your audience. There will be other factors in the success of your speech, but at least these aspects will keep the audience more interested and help ensure that your speech is easy on the ear.

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D is a professional speaker who last year delivered over 100 communication-related speeches and seminars to business, industry, and associations across North America. He can be reached at (800) 397-8880.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Canadian Institute of Management
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Title Annotation:speechwriting
Author:Boyd, Stephen D.
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Sep 22, 1990
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