Confession: I love writing speeches. It’s one of my favorite job tasks. I’ve been asked to write nearly a dozen speeches in my two years at my library, including several for our director and some for the president of our board of trustees.
Speech writing is powerful. Words can work wonders. A tiny, seemingly inconsequential speech at an event can capture the audience’s imagination and inspire action.
If you are asked to write a speech for a library event, approach it as a marketing opportunity. You have a rapt audience of people who have chosen to be at your event. They’ve willingly given their attention to you, even if it’s just for five minutes. It’s a rare opportunity in a world full of distractions. Seize it by forming a strategy for your speech and then write the best speech of your life.
Get to know your presenter. If you don’t have personal contact with the person who is actually going to give the speech (assuming it isn’t you), then make a lunch or coffee date and get to know them. Small talk will give you an understanding of the natural cadence and delivery of their voice. You may learn a few personal stories which you can work into the speech to give it authenticity (ask permission to do so!). And you can ask the person about their goals for the speech. How would they like the audience to feel while they are speaking? What information are they hoping to impart to the audience?
Decide on a main point for the speech and then stick to it. What is the one thought you’d like to get across to your listeners? That’s your speech strategy. Write it on a piece of paper and then stick it on your computer or desk. Make sure you stay on point. Cut any paragraph that veers from your strategy. It’s unbelievably easy to veer off on a tangent when writing a speech, and that’s the moment when you’ll lose your audience. Your strategy, however simple, will help keep you from making this mistake.
Start the speech by painting a picture. This spring, I was writing a speech for the opening of a new library branch. I started by describing a scene I remembered from a year earlier, at the groundbreaking for the same branch. I happened to glance over at the director as she scanned the crowd of community leaders and residents. I could imagine what the director was thinking in that moment. And that’s where I started-I wrote what I imagined she had thought. It humanized the director and it centered the audience, driving home the point that the building of this branch was a long process full of dreams and visions-their dreams and the dreams of the library administration-which finally came together on opening day. “13 months ago, I stood on this site for the groundbreaking ceremony at this historic location—and I imagined this moment. I thought about all the work that went into the planning and preparation to renovate this new branch and I thought about all the construction work that lay ahead of us. I had a vision of what the building would look like when it was complete. I imagined the look on your faces—the faces of customers, staff, and community members, when the doors finally opened and you could walk inside for the first time. Today is the realization of that long-term vision for this branch.”
Use Tweetable points in the speech. Some attendees are going to live-tweet your message. Be prepared by inserting memorable and quotable points into your speech that are 140 characters or less. Instruct the person giving the speech to add extra emphasis to those points. We take this a step further at our library by actually live tweeting our memorable points from the Library account while the speech is being given. My social media strategist pastes our Tweetable points into the notebook of his mobile device, and then copy and pastes them live into the Twitter feed during the event. Make it easy for your fans to share your message through social media.
Pre-promote your speech or event with a hashtag. When we opened a new branch in the community of St. Bernard, we used #STBopen and we did preview tweets several hours in advance. This builds excitement for the event and cues fans to use the same hashtag. It also gives the media a hashtag to follow as well if they can’t make it to your event.
Statistics are like salt-they should be applied sparingly and for flavor. I’ve been in the audience when the speaker starts by listing every statistic known to man. They do it because they feel it imparts the importance of the project or event. But it’s BORING! Numbers bounce off the brains of the audience. Instead, choose one or two statistics to highlight, and put them into context. Here’s an easy example: before telling people how many books were checked out by a branch in a particular year, calculate how many miles those books would cover if they were placed end to end.
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