On Writing a Speech – Earl Nightingale
The person who does a lot of speaking will usually have a fine library and be a good reader and have a good working knowledge of his language. If you’re writing a speech and you’re not sure of your grammar, especially syntax, have a person who’s more knowledgeable on the language edit it for you. You might brush up a little bit too.
If you’re at all unsure of a word’s pronunciation, by all means, look it up and check it carefully. Mispronounced words drop like bombs into an audience.
Sloppy speech habits must go if we’re to stand up and speak to an audience.
We owe it to them. It’s offensive otherwise.
It’s very difficult to write and speak flawless English, of course, but we can do the best we are capable of and pursue the subject on a regular basis. I think I own about a hundred and fifty books on the English language, on writing and so on. I think a speaker has a responsibility to set a good example when he speaks. If he can’t do that, he should remain in the audience. The exception would be the entertainer who depends on homespun colloquialisms for a part of his humor. When I was with CBS many years ago, I once interviewed a well-known newspaper columnist. I was amazed to hear him mispronouncing words I’d read in his columns. Then it dawned on me that he was print-oriented. He knew the words well and their meanings and used them regularly in his writing, but they weren’t in his speech vocabulary. I remember that he mispronounced the word “indisputable.” He said “indisputeable” and there were a sprinkling of other mispronunciations.
It’s a good idea not to use words in your speech that you’re not accustomed to in your ordinary speech, unless you’re sure of their pronunciation.
Now we come to the critical part. No more critical than the writing, of course, but certainly of equal import. Read what you’ve written. Unless you’re an expert at it, and few are, I suggest you read it over numerous times. Now this, of course, is for the speech that must be letter perfect. As you do, you’ll always find ways of smoothing it out, adding a bit here, deleting something there. When the time comes to present your speech, you’ll be intimately acquainted with its every word and nuance. Remember to keep your sentences very short. When you look at a sentence or even a short paragraph, you’ll quickly grasp its meaning and intent.
Don’t be too concerned about how great you look. The ideas are the important thing. If you’re successful in getting the ideas across from your mind to the minds of your audience, you’re as successful as a speaker is supposed to be. Audiences have a way of knowing when you’re more interested in what you’re saying than in how you appear. No phony gestures or posturing. When the gestures come, they’re genuine and everybody knows it. The good speaker is like the good salesman who’s more interested in how great his product is and in helping the customer than in his commission check.
Or the fine actor who so loses himself in his part that the character he’s playing takes the stage and the actor actually disappears. You’ve heard it said of some actors that no matter what part they’re playing, they’re still themselves. Well, it’s the same with speakers. Few of them have the interest in what they’re saying and in the audience enough to forget themselves.
For practice in writing your own speeches, I recommend that you simply start writing them. Write two or three speeches and see how they come out.
Remember to keep your sentences very short so you can breathe in the right places. And keep your copy lean and muscular. Cut out superfluous words and clichés. Get to the point. Stay with the point. And do a wrap up. Find something interesting for the close and sit down. We learn to write well by writing, by sitting down and making little black marks on paper. The more we do it, the better we get at it, as it is with anything else.
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Also published on Medium.