MCE Blog Post The Art of Speech 19 12 22

The Art of Speech

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19th December 2022

The Art of Speech

One of the quirks of human nature is the disproportionate amount of effort we often make to look effortless.

For the anthropologically minded among you, ‘effortless effort’ can often be best observed by watching the political animal in its public speaking habitat. Whilst they may all like to give the impression that the eloquence streaming forth from their lips is merely the by-product of a lifetime immersed in their brief, the likely truth is that they and their staff have probably agonised over the text for longer than they’d care to admit (the corollary is that those who do not exemplify eloquence - and there are a few - have invariably made no preparation at all and care little for their audience).

Of course, some people are natural orators. They have the ‘gift of the gab’ and can, rather irritatingly, stand up and persuade all within earshot to hang on their every word. This, however, is very much the exception. For the rest of us mere mortals, writing and delivering a speech to an audience of our peers is a daunting challenge.

Mark Twain had the right idea. He knew that “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.

If you asked the general public to name an impressive speechmaker, it wouldn’t take long for Churchill’s name to be volunteered. Even he admitted though that “If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation” (the rest of the quote is “If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now” which is an excellent reminder of the golden rule of after dinner speaking that less is more).

Churchill would go to great lengths to learn speeches word for word and revised his copy time and time again. When he did use notes, he ensured that it still looked as if he was speaking extemporaneously and his script would include detailed instructions on when to pause, what to accentuate and even when he should appear ‘lost’ for a word.

Clearly, we don’t all possess an ‘inner Churchill or Obama’ which can be coaxed to perform (we’re good at MCE but even we have our limits). The vast majority of us, however, with a bit of help and preparation, do have it within us to hold the interest of a room for five to ten minutes. Usually, we just don’t have the time to make it happen.

For most businesspeople, the ability to do their job well does not rest on being able to carve out the time required to write and prepare a speech. In the same way that MCE writes platform pieces and blogs for clients, we also pen speeches and help provide practical advice on delivery. If you can give us a brief, we can write it and have done so for CEOs, Chairs and even the occasional peer of the realm!

As general guides, apart from being concise, a speech should always be written with the audience in mind. What you find interesting may bare no relation to what your audience wants to hear, so always write with the listener in mind. Adding humour can help, but there are few things worse than a flat joke delivered to an unresponsive room, so depending on your personality it’s probably better to aim for something understated rather than full on Michael McIntyre.

Speeches, however, are also something of a performance. Depending on the context, it’s usually best to aim high - go for vision and strategic over operational detail. In similar vein, the difference between a good speech and a great speech can be relating what you’re saying to personal experience. Give a bit of yourself to the audience, if you can engage emotionally at some level, that will be remembered long after any facts and figures you may have regaled them with.

From launching reports to Christmas parties, retirement functions to keynote speeches at industry conferences or even the acceptance of an honorary doctorate, we’ve crafted speeches for many different occasions.

MCE can’t promise you a career on the after-dinner speaking circuit, nor can we take your place behind the lectern, but we can help take the effort out of the need to look effortless and make sure that your words leave your audience impressed by your impromptu elegance!

If you need help with speech writing and presentation training, get in touch with the MCE team today!

By Jonathan King