How to Write & Give a Speech

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Author: Joan Detz

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Reviewer: Goke Ilesanmi


To succeed in your career or business, you need to master the skills of writing and giving a speech. That is why we are reviewing the book “How to Write & Give a Speech” this week. It is written by Joan Detz, a New York-based corporate speechwriter. Detz earned her Master of Arts degree in English Language from the College of William and Mary. Her speechwriting has earned her Award of Excellence from International Association of Business Communicators.

According to this author, if you have been asked to give an important speech, never panic but just pick up this text, and you will find that every page is filled with professional advice, podium-tested examples and practical tips that are useful for your need. She says you will learn in this book how to focus your topic, assess the audience, organise your material, simplify and sharpen your language and make humour function.

Structurally, this text is segmented into 12 chapters. Chapter one is interrogatively entitled “So you’ve been asked to give a speech…Now what?” According to Detz, if you are asked to come and give a speech, you don’t just race to the library to do some research nor hunt for some introductory jokes if you are smart. “Begin, instead, by asking yourself, ‘What do I really want to say?’ And then be ruthless in your answer. You have to focus your subject. You can’t include everything in one speech…. In fact, if you try to include everything, your audience will probably come away with nothing,” she educates.

Detz says for instance if you are speaking to a community group about your corporate ethics, do not think you have to give them a complete history of your company. Also, if you are speaking to an alumni group to raise funds for your university, do not throw in a section on the problems of high schools. Detz submits that if you are speaking to the chamber of commerce about the need for a new shopping centre, do not digress to the tax problems of small business.

Chapter two is christened “Assessing your audience”. According to this author, “Before you spend one minute researching your topic, before you write one word of your speech, first analyse your audience.” Detz says that you must try to determine how much the audience members already know about the subject; where they got their information from; how much more they need to or want to know, etc. This author adds that you must also try to determine the attitude of the audience, especially why they are coming to hear you speak. Try to know their level of interest in the subject, whether voluntary or imposed on them by a boss to attend, asserts Detz. She says you should also try to find out if they will be hostile, friendly or apathetic.

According to Detz, “A word of caution about ‘hostile audiences’: Don’t be too quick to assume an audience will be hostile, and never give a speech with a chip on your shoulder. Even if the audience doesn’t agree with your viewpoint, they might appreciate your open-mindedness, your careful reasoning, and your balanced approach. A word of advice about apathetic audiences: Some people won’t be the least bit interested in your subject. Maybe they’re in the audience just because they were obligated to attend, or because it was a chance to get out of the office for a while…. Wake them up. Use anecdotes and examples and humour to keep their attention.”

In chapters three to six, this she examines concepts such as where and when you will speak; how to research a speech; writing the speech and how to simplify your speech.

Chapter seven is about style in speechwriting and delivery. According to Detz, “Business executives, politicians, and civic leaders give thousands of speeches every day. Most of these are forgotten as soon as the audience leaves the room –if not sooner. But, some speeches do linger in the minds and hearts of audiences. What makes these speeches special? Style.”

She says speeches with style have a certain “ring” that makes them easy to remember as they have a psychological appeal that makes them seem important to remember. She adds that speeches with style create an impact that makes them quotable. Detz offers different techniques that professional speechwriters can use as tripartite division; parallelism; imagery, etc.

In chapters eight to eleven, this professional speechwriter discusses concepts such as how to make humour functional; special-occasion speeches; the nitty-gritty details; and delivery.

Chapter 12, the last chapter is tagged “Media coverage”. According to Detz, “Your speech probably won’t merit coverage on network television news, but there are lots of other ways to get good publicity for your speech. Start small and work your way up the publicity scale. Begin with the basics and do as much as your budget and your time will allow – and, yes, as much as your material will allow. Face it. Not all speeches are newsworthy. If you expect the media to pay attention to a routine speech, you will be disappointed.”

She identifies ways by which you can get good publicity for your speech as giving it a catchy title; distribution of copies to the audience; giving a copy to your employee information staff; sending an advance copy of the speech to the trade publication that serves your business; sending an advance copy to nearby colleges and universities; preparing news releases for newspapers and local radio/TV; appearing on a radio or TV interview programme; reprinting the speech and taking a direct-mail approach; and submitting a copy to vital speeches.

Conceptually, the book is good. As regards style, the language of this book is simple and the presentation very sequential and logical. This is expected given that Detz is a professional communicator and linguist. To ensure concrete conviction on readers’ part, Detz generously employs classical/literary allusions. She injects a good dose of conceptual creativity and detailed analyses to arouse interest and achieve notional clarity respectively.

However, the coordinating conjunction of adding “And” should have been used in place of the symbol “&” in the book title to inject linguistic formality. Also, errors of notional concord (notional inconsistency) and contracted form are noticed on page six, “Even the audience doesn’t agree with your viewpoint, they might appreciate….” In this sentence, “does not” is compressed as “doesn’t”. Also, a third person singular verb “does” and third person plural personal pronoun “they” are used with the word “audience”, showing notional discord or conceptual disagreement. Even though English is gradually adopting this type of notional discord, purists still believe there is no grammatical justification for it.

Finally, this book is good. It is recommended to those who want to master the art of speechwriting and delivery.

GOKE ILESANMI (FIIM, FIMC, CMC), CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Professional Public Speaker, Career Mgt Coach and Certified Mgt Consultant. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.

Tel: 08055068773; 08187499425

Email: gokeiles2010@gmail.com

Website: www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng


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