The first speech I ever did was about the Wacko Watch. The Wacko Watch had all the features the Apple Watch has now but it also had air conditioning. Take that Apple.
I stole the idea from someone I saw at another talk and then remixed it with my own flavour. The speech won me speaker of the night.
My hands were shaking and my palm cards were everywhere. Being 12 was great. I loved being the centre of attention but being in front of a crowd was different.
For the next 6-years high school was a drag. I loved going to see friends and learning but the work was dull.
I got A’s for English from year 8 to 11. Then a C in my final year.
Writing assignments was a grind. There were these grid things you had to pay attention to.
‘Do I tick this criteria?’
‘Does this paragraph have all the right structure?’
In your head you’d nail it. But the teacher thought otherwise.
Speeches on the other hand, speeches I loved writing. I was captain of debating.
There was a time limit on debates so you had to get to the point. There was no time for fluffing it up with lawyer speak — not that I knew what that was at the time.
It made you think.
‘What am I trying to say?’
‘No really, what am I trying to say?’
You had to think about how what you were writing would sound when you said it out loud.
I’d write out a whole speech then practice it in front of the mirror. Let’s take a simple example.
‘I think that spearmint gum is the best tasting flavour.’
Too many words. Tasting is implied, it can be removed.
‘I think that spearmint gum is the best flavour.’
The word ‘that’ is almost never needed.
‘I think spearmint gum is the best flavour.’
It’s still my opinion, let’s make it stronger.
‘Spearmint gum is the best flavour.’
There we go. Maybe you could take out flavour next.
I never did a speech about chewing gum but you get the point.
So what can you do?
A) Words reflect feeling
How you feel will come out in your writing.
If you’re feeling boring and larthargic, grind the words out and come back to them later (see point F). Unless that’s how you want your readers to feel too.
B) ‘that’ & ‘just’
‘It’s just that I can’t believe what she said.’
‘I can’t believe what she said.’
‘I just think that you should be taking care of your health.’
‘I think you should be taking care of your health.’
Bonus — Want stronger sentences? Remove the opinion.
‘You should be taking care of your health.’
C) Less but better
The internet is impatient.
If your writing is going online. And you want people to read it, get to the point.
Unless you’re an incredible storyteller, people don’t need to know about what angle the tree in the distance was standing at.
Have you ever read one of those books that would’ve been great as a 4-minute long blog post, except it’s 368 pages?
Get to the meat.
D) Write like you speak
Read your writing out loud after you’ve finished (see point F again).
How does it sound?
It’ll sound the same in someone else’s head.
We start speaking before we start reading. And speech is still king.
If you’ve got writers block, say what you’re trying to write as if you’re telling it to someone out loud. Now write it down.
People want to learn and they want to be entertained.
Aim for your words to be the love child of the two.
F) The art is in the edit
If you want your writing to be good, you have to let it be bad first.
Not feeling it? Let the words flow anyway.
The muse might not show up but you still can.
Come back to it later. And carve the statue of the mud.
Remember point D? Reading it out loud will help smooth out the edges.
G) Your own style
Write two letters to your mum.
One says how much you love her and how thankful you are for her being your mother.
The other says how you wish you were never born and how much you hate being related to her.
How do think you mum would react to each of these?
The only difference between the letters was the words on the page.
That’s the power you have.
But you know this because you’re here. You’re a reader.
Take these tips or leave them. The beautiful thing about words on the page is that there are infinite styles — sidenote: did you catch my use of ‘that’?
Read the best. Learn from the best. Copy the best. And then remix it all with your own style.
You might even win speaker of the night for your stolen speech.