SlideShare a Scribd company logo
1 of 5
Download to read offline
Copyright, 2005, James L. Horton 1
A Good Speech
Writing for CEOs
James L. Horton
What is a good speech? A good speech moves an audience where a speaker
wants it to go. Style is not important nor the length nor the parts of the speech,
but results are. There are many kinds of speeches and many speakers, some
articulate and some barely able to deliver coherent sentences. Both can deliver
a good speech, as long as they focus on its purpose and strive to achieve the
purpose in the minds and hearts of an audience.
One of the more effective speeches I can recall was delivered decades ago at a
high school graduation. In my fading memory, the speaker was one of the
wealthiest of cattlemen in South Sacramento County, California, a man who
owned square miles of land on which he ran beef. This fellow came to the
podium after speeches from a number of educators, politicians and the
valedictorian. His remarks were along this line: There have been plenty of
speeches already. It’s time to hand out diplomas. And, that’s what he did to the
relief of those of us who had heard too much rhetoric already about the potential
of the graduating class.
As Aristotle wrote in 350 BC,
Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the
available means of persuasion. (Book 1, Part 2).
The cattleman persuaded me that his point of view was correct as he started to
call names. He understood Aristotle’s idea.
How one persuades is at the core of good speeches. Aristotle was partial to a
logical approach – a dialectic. He scorned sophists who believed emotional
appeals were all that mattered. The arousing of prejudice, pity, anger, and
similar emotions has nothing to do with the essential facts, but is merely a
personal appeal to the man who is judging the case. (Book 1, Part 1) Aristotle
would be uncomfortable with much of what passes for speaking today, as would
Plato and Cicero who held the same views. To them, speaking had a moral
component, a search for truth, that offsets showmanship.
They would recognize and be uncomfortable with orators who are good
entertainers, but not necessarily effective speakers. The measure of a good
speech is its effect on individuals comprising an audience. That is certainly true
for CEOs who almost always speak for a purpose.
Copyright, 2005, James L. Horton 2
Harvard professor Edward T. Channing, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and
Oratory from 1819 to 1851, summed rhetoric in this way:
…a body of rules derived from experience and observation, extending to all
communication by language and designed to make it efficient.
Good speeches, in other words, are efficient communications. They achieve an
end with a minimum of wasted energy. Few speeches should be entertaining for
the sole purpose of amusing an audience. Some are long because an audience
needs to be brought step-by-step to the point of persuasion. Some are short
because an audience is persuaded but needs motivation. Some are emotional
like memorials, to raise the identification of an audience with a person or event.
Most are a mix of logic and emotion to carry an audience with the speaker. A
key skill of a speaker lies in knowing where the sentiment of individuals in an
audience is at any given moment.
Content is what a speechwriter is usually concerned with when writing. But
content does not exist by itself. Content exists in a relationship between
audience and speaker. A hostile audience and a poor speaker are a disastrous
pairing, no matter the value of content nor written expression of it. It follows then
that the two most important tasks of the speechwriter, even more than creating
content to be delivered, is to understand the audience and speaker.
A speechwriter should seek answers to a number of questions about the
audience. Who are these people? What do they think, if anything, about the
topic to be discussed? What are their backgrounds and cultures? Why are they
listening to this speech? How does one reach them effectively? Sadly, it is often
difficult, even in an internet age to get satisfactory answers, so one writes a
generic speech for a generic audience. And, it sounds like it. A disciplined
speechwriter interviews members of the future audience, observes earlier
speeches given to the audience, listens to individuals’ comments and more.
When a speechwriter knows an audience, the type of speech and preparation
suggest themselves.
CEO speakers run the gamut from excellent to awful. Some are comfortable in
front of a crowd and others shrink in fear at the thought of standing alone in front
of a sea of eyes staring at them. Some believe themselves to be good speakers
when they aren’t and poor speakers when they are effective. Some know what
they want to say and some don’t.
I recall one CEO who fancied himself a philosopher and speaker and who did not
have the gift of knowing when to sit down. He was notorious for delivering
lengthy speeches that were filled with references to various thinkers to prove
tedious points late at night after long dinners to tired executives. Then, he
wanted the speeches published somewhere. (We were never successful at this.)
Another CEO was terrified for much of his career to speak in front of audiences
Copyright, 2005, James L. Horton 3
but was, by all accounts, compelling in one-on-one encounters. He was best at
being himself and carrying on a conversation.
A CEO’s conviction is as important as words the CEO articulates. An audience
doesn’t just listen but looks at the whole person and what that person
communicates through expression, body movement and confidence – or lack of
it. That is why it is important to place words in a CEO’s mouth that a CEO is
likely to say in a way the CEO expresses ideas. There is no cognitive
dissonance for the CEO and none for the audience that observes the CEO. This,
however, can lead to a condition of saying the same things repeatedly. There
are CEOs who use phrases like Buddhist mantras. They say the same
statements so often that one gets bored writing them and wonders whether
audiences are bored hearing them. However, leaders, like parents, know
humans don’t hear things the first time or even the third or fourth or fifth time.
One has to say the same things over and over until individuals pattern behavior
after it. Variability is interesting, but it confuses audiences. CEOs know that
even small changes in the way they present concepts can lead to major and
unintended shifts on the part of confused employees. (Murphy’s Law applies to
speaking as it does to just about everything else.) While an audience dictates
how one delivers a speech, a speaker sets parameters of what one can and
should say to ensure an effective speech.
One can media train CEOs to help their delivery. It assists some in getting over
nerves. It improves the mechanics of others, but the make-up of some CEOs
resists anything related to effectiveness. With these CEOs, one wishes for
adequacy, not mastery. Still, it is better to work with CEOs who know they are
bad speakers when they are willing to work on delivery. They are open-minded
and less caught up in themselves and their work.
A speechwriter learns a CEO intimately and studies a CEO’s delivery and
mannerisms. Are there words and concepts the CEO dislikes? Are there sounds
the CEO cannot pronounce well? (The current President Bush is vocally
challenged by his West Texas accent and often ridiculed.) A speechwriter writes
for positive aspects of a person’s speaking style and around elements likely to
create problems.
Fantasies of developing ringing mnemonic phrases that crystallize a CEO’s
thoughts may be just that. Some CEOs have no gift for delivering mnemonic
phrases and their plodding delivery all but ruins intent and effect. If a CEO is
comfortable with a pedestrian style, that is what a speechwriter should provide –
as long as the CEO keeps the audience in tow. Such speeches might not look
good in a portfolio, but the key is whether they were effective.
In my own speechwriting, I follow one rule. Keep it short. Expose an idea,
defend it and motivate the audience quickly, then get off the stage. However,
this rule has limits. For CEOs who can indeed charm audiences, asking them to
Copyright, 2005, James L. Horton 4
leave the stage quickly is a disservice to the CEOs and their audiences. Winston
Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan had an orator’s gift, and they
often wrote their own speeches because they knew what worked for them. So
too did Cicero, one of the greatest orators of ancient times. (The idea that a
speaker has a writer to assist him would have horrified Cicero.)
Few CEOs are gifted writers and fewer still have time to pen speeches. Warren
Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is one of the most widely quoted of CEOs for
his blunt but humorous style. More, however, are like a CEO I once served. He
fancied himself a writer, but he couldn’t get past commas and semicolons to the
intent of the text. He would agonize over words and sentence parts to the
distraction of his staff and those trying to get a project done. The majority of
CEOs, however, are likely to take what is given to them, make a few tweaks and
deliver the speech without thinking much about it. To use a management term,
they satisfice. They have better things to do than discuss subtleties of
communications with a speechwriter. It is up to the speechwriter to take care of
fine points before a CEO ever sees a speech.
The importance of a speech dictates preparation. Not all speeches are equal. A
CEO might need to give a ceremonial talk to a group of employees who have just
reached five years service then deliver a justification for a business strategy to
directors and shareholders. While one speech can be impromptu, jocular and
homey, the other had better be buttressed with evidence. A speechwriter may
supply material for both speeches. In the former case, the speechwriter might list
a few bullet points on an index card for the CEO. In the latter case, the
speechwriter might work for days with the CFO, the strategic planner and others
to fine-tune a document. For a busy speechwriter, it is a question of time
management, especially if the writer is serving more executives than the CEO.
How does a CEO, or speechwriter, know if a speech has hit its mark?
Surprisingly, this is not easy. Most of the time one has to listen to the audience
surreptitiously to gauge how a speech has been received. Asking an audience to
fill out surveys is practical only in a few cases. More than likely, one won’t know
whether a speech has been well received until days later. Early opinions are
often kind but not truthful. Realistic assessments filter in. In ancient times, the
result of a speech was a vote for or against the speaker or his proposal.
Feedback was instantaneous. Today, a speech is one communication among
others: It rarely decides the fate of anything. It is part of a larger act of
persuasion. One looks for feedback that indicates a positive regard for what a
CEO had to say, if not a change in behavior. Positive regard is a first step in
changing behavior.
There are rules for how to structure a good speech, but rules bend to an
audience because an audience and the final state of mind of its individuals are
what one is attempting to influence. A CEO can speak daringly to some
audiences but not to others. A CEO can be informal with some individuals but
Copyright, 2005, James L. Horton 5
must be conservative with others. There is a time for ringing phrases, a time for
blunt language, a time for humor and a time for audience interaction.
There are guidelines one should consider when writing a speech. The first is to
talk to an audience’s level. For an audience that understands a topic well,
starting in media res is OK. For an audience that doesn’t understand an issue,
the old rule of “Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them
what you told them,” is effective. For all audiences, showing is better than telling
because eyes have primacy over ears, but numerous and tedious PowerPoint
slides are tiring and defeat the purpose of what one is trying to do.
Showing can be telling when one writes for the ear and paints a picture of what
one is trying to say. However, this can be deadly if a speaker does not have the
skill or energy to deliver such a speech well. Studying ancient rhetoric is useful
in learning options one has in presenting and illustrating ideas, but using
rhetorical principles without judgment is dangerous. As Aristotle said, one must
have the “faculty of observing in any given case the available means of
persuasion.” The speechwriter who is unable to do that is of little value to a
CEO.
Good speeches are never written in vacuums. They fit a place, time, a speaker
and audience. Few speeches or speakers ever rise above audiences they
persuade at a given moment in time. Speechwriting, therefore, is mostly a
practical craft and not one of poetry or expression. Only a few speakers are
remembered from any generation for their ability to rise above place and time
and to speak across them both. Rarely are CEOs ever called upon to do that.
# # #
James L. Horton, the founder of online-pr.com, has worked in PR for more than
25 years.

More Related Content

What's hot

Activities for context clues
Activities for context cluesActivities for context clues
Activities for context clues
Yuna Lesca
 
Introduction to linguistics: A Quick Review
Introduction to linguistics: A Quick ReviewIntroduction to linguistics: A Quick Review
Introduction to linguistics: A Quick Review
h4976
 

What's hot (20)

GRADE 10 UNIT TEST ENGLISH 3RD QUARTER
GRADE 10 UNIT TEST ENGLISH 3RD QUARTERGRADE 10 UNIT TEST ENGLISH 3RD QUARTER
GRADE 10 UNIT TEST ENGLISH 3RD QUARTER
 
Detailed lesson plan - Crossing the Bar - giocosovivace
Detailed lesson plan - Crossing the Bar - giocosovivaceDetailed lesson plan - Crossing the Bar - giocosovivace
Detailed lesson plan - Crossing the Bar - giocosovivace
 
Public speaking
Public speakingPublic speaking
Public speaking
 
Deal or No Deal Classroom Game on Subject-Verb Agreement
Deal or No Deal Classroom Game on Subject-Verb AgreementDeal or No Deal Classroom Game on Subject-Verb Agreement
Deal or No Deal Classroom Game on Subject-Verb Agreement
 
IELTS Speaking Cue Cards.pptx
IELTS Speaking Cue Cards.pptxIELTS Speaking Cue Cards.pptx
IELTS Speaking Cue Cards.pptx
 
Activities for context clues
Activities for context cluesActivities for context clues
Activities for context clues
 
Lesson plan idiomatic expression by Rosalie Capillo
Lesson plan idiomatic expression by Rosalie CapilloLesson plan idiomatic expression by Rosalie Capillo
Lesson plan idiomatic expression by Rosalie Capillo
 
Introduction to linguistics: A Quick Review
Introduction to linguistics: A Quick ReviewIntroduction to linguistics: A Quick Review
Introduction to linguistics: A Quick Review
 
Alibaba and the Forty Thieves (with animation; Office 365)
Alibaba and the Forty Thieves (with animation; Office 365)Alibaba and the Forty Thieves (with animation; Office 365)
Alibaba and the Forty Thieves (with animation; Office 365)
 
Discovering Literature as a Tool to Assert One’s.pptx
Discovering Literature as a Tool to Assert One’s.pptxDiscovering Literature as a Tool to Assert One’s.pptx
Discovering Literature as a Tool to Assert One’s.pptx
 
Spelling Bee
Spelling BeeSpelling Bee
Spelling Bee
 
TOS 3rd Quarter
TOS 3rd QuarterTOS 3rd Quarter
TOS 3rd Quarter
 
Overview of the IELTS Exam
Overview of the IELTS ExamOverview of the IELTS Exam
Overview of the IELTS Exam
 
Certificate of Appearance Sample.pptx
Certificate of Appearance Sample.pptxCertificate of Appearance Sample.pptx
Certificate of Appearance Sample.pptx
 
Daily Learning Log intended for Grade 8
Daily Learning Log intended for Grade 8Daily Learning Log intended for Grade 8
Daily Learning Log intended for Grade 8
 
Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns
Reflexive and Intensive PronounsReflexive and Intensive Pronouns
Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns
 
Mental Health letter and proposal.docx
Mental Health letter and proposal.docxMental Health letter and proposal.docx
Mental Health letter and proposal.docx
 
Use Appropriate Modifiers
Use Appropriate ModifiersUse Appropriate Modifiers
Use Appropriate Modifiers
 
Spelling bee
Spelling beeSpelling bee
Spelling bee
 
English 8 - Prosodic Features of Speech
English 8 - Prosodic Features of SpeechEnglish 8 - Prosodic Features of Speech
English 8 - Prosodic Features of Speech
 

Similar to A good speech

Canons of Rhetoric Speech AnalysisSo what are the characteristi.docx
Canons of Rhetoric Speech AnalysisSo what are the characteristi.docxCanons of Rhetoric Speech AnalysisSo what are the characteristi.docx
Canons of Rhetoric Speech AnalysisSo what are the characteristi.docx
hacksoni
 
Chapter 3 TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION
Chapter 3 TECHNICAL COMMUNICATIONChapter 3 TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION
Chapter 3 TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION
Takshil Gajjar
 
R by NS
R by NSR by NS
R by NS
ns9608
 
BSL 4040, Communication Skills for Leaders 1 Course L.docx
 BSL 4040, Communication Skills for Leaders 1 Course L.docx BSL 4040, Communication Skills for Leaders 1 Course L.docx
BSL 4040, Communication Skills for Leaders 1 Course L.docx
aryan532920
 
An-Introduction-To-Public-Speaking-Training-Session (1).pptx
An-Introduction-To-Public-Speaking-Training-Session (1).pptxAn-Introduction-To-Public-Speaking-Training-Session (1).pptx
An-Introduction-To-Public-Speaking-Training-Session (1).pptx
JessahMaeRPrincesa
 
The art of conversation
The art of conversationThe art of conversation
The art of conversation
eklauber
 
The art of conversation
The art of conversationThe art of conversation
The art of conversation
eklauber
 
Chp 7 prof_socl
Chp 7 prof_soclChp 7 prof_socl
Chp 7 prof_socl
sws4618
 

Similar to A good speech (20)

Canons of Rhetoric Speech AnalysisSo what are the characteristi.docx
Canons of Rhetoric Speech AnalysisSo what are the characteristi.docxCanons of Rhetoric Speech AnalysisSo what are the characteristi.docx
Canons of Rhetoric Speech AnalysisSo what are the characteristi.docx
 
Chapter 3 TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION
Chapter 3 TECHNICAL COMMUNICATIONChapter 3 TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION
Chapter 3 TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION
 
Intro to Public Speaking.pdf
Intro to Public Speaking.pdfIntro to Public Speaking.pdf
Intro to Public Speaking.pdf
 
Four types of public speaking and Useful Speech Writing Tips
Four types of public speaking and Useful Speech Writing Tips Four types of public speaking and Useful Speech Writing Tips
Four types of public speaking and Useful Speech Writing Tips
 
Language in a cultural context
Language in a cultural contextLanguage in a cultural context
Language in a cultural context
 
Corporate Communication Skills
Corporate Communication SkillsCorporate Communication Skills
Corporate Communication Skills
 
R by NS
R by NSR by NS
R by NS
 
1-introduction.ppt
1-introduction.ppt1-introduction.ppt
1-introduction.ppt
 
BSL 4040, Communication Skills for Leaders 1 Course L.docx
 BSL 4040, Communication Skills for Leaders 1 Course L.docx BSL 4040, Communication Skills for Leaders 1 Course L.docx
BSL 4040, Communication Skills for Leaders 1 Course L.docx
 
What’s My Communication Style: How to Get Along with (Almost) Anyone
What’s My Communication Style: How to Get Along with (Almost) AnyoneWhat’s My Communication Style: How to Get Along with (Almost) Anyone
What’s My Communication Style: How to Get Along with (Almost) Anyone
 
How to be a Public Speaking Superstar
How to be a Public Speaking SuperstarHow to be a Public Speaking Superstar
How to be a Public Speaking Superstar
 
An-Introduction-To-Public-Speaking-Training-Session (1).pptx
An-Introduction-To-Public-Speaking-Training-Session (1).pptxAn-Introduction-To-Public-Speaking-Training-Session (1).pptx
An-Introduction-To-Public-Speaking-Training-Session (1).pptx
 
Single Mother Essay.pdf
Single Mother Essay.pdfSingle Mother Essay.pdf
Single Mother Essay.pdf
 
How to speak your way into becoming a great leader.
How to speak your way into becoming a great leader�.How to speak your way into becoming a great leader�.
How to speak your way into becoming a great leader.
 
Types of speeches
Types of speechesTypes of speeches
Types of speeches
 
A Speech Essay
A Speech EssayA Speech Essay
A Speech Essay
 
The art of conversation
The art of conversationThe art of conversation
The art of conversation
 
The art of conversation
The art of conversationThe art of conversation
The art of conversation
 
Chp 7 prof_socl
Chp 7 prof_soclChp 7 prof_socl
Chp 7 prof_socl
 
Public Speaking Essay
Public Speaking EssayPublic Speaking Essay
Public Speaking Essay
 

Recently uploaded

Recently uploaded (20)

Improved Approval Flow in Odoo 17 Studio App
Improved Approval Flow in Odoo 17 Studio AppImproved Approval Flow in Odoo 17 Studio App
Improved Approval Flow in Odoo 17 Studio App
 
BỘ LUYỆN NGHE TIẾNG ANH 8 GLOBAL SUCCESS CẢ NĂM (GỒM 12 UNITS, MỖI UNIT GỒM 3...
BỘ LUYỆN NGHE TIẾNG ANH 8 GLOBAL SUCCESS CẢ NĂM (GỒM 12 UNITS, MỖI UNIT GỒM 3...BỘ LUYỆN NGHE TIẾNG ANH 8 GLOBAL SUCCESS CẢ NĂM (GỒM 12 UNITS, MỖI UNIT GỒM 3...
BỘ LUYỆN NGHE TIẾNG ANH 8 GLOBAL SUCCESS CẢ NĂM (GỒM 12 UNITS, MỖI UNIT GỒM 3...
 
ANTI PARKISON DRUGS.pptx
ANTI         PARKISON          DRUGS.pptxANTI         PARKISON          DRUGS.pptx
ANTI PARKISON DRUGS.pptx
 
Đề tieng anh thpt 2024 danh cho cac ban hoc sinh
Đề tieng anh thpt 2024 danh cho cac ban hoc sinhĐề tieng anh thpt 2024 danh cho cac ban hoc sinh
Đề tieng anh thpt 2024 danh cho cac ban hoc sinh
 
TỔNG HỢP HƠN 100 ĐỀ THI THỬ TỐT NGHIỆP THPT TOÁN 2024 - TỪ CÁC TRƯỜNG, TRƯỜNG...
TỔNG HỢP HƠN 100 ĐỀ THI THỬ TỐT NGHIỆP THPT TOÁN 2024 - TỪ CÁC TRƯỜNG, TRƯỜNG...TỔNG HỢP HƠN 100 ĐỀ THI THỬ TỐT NGHIỆP THPT TOÁN 2024 - TỪ CÁC TRƯỜNG, TRƯỜNG...
TỔNG HỢP HƠN 100 ĐỀ THI THỬ TỐT NGHIỆP THPT TOÁN 2024 - TỪ CÁC TRƯỜNG, TRƯỜNG...
 
OSCM Unit 2_Operations Processes & Systems
OSCM Unit 2_Operations Processes & SystemsOSCM Unit 2_Operations Processes & Systems
OSCM Unit 2_Operations Processes & Systems
 
Spring gala 2024 photo slideshow - Celebrating School-Community Partnerships
Spring gala 2024 photo slideshow - Celebrating School-Community PartnershipsSpring gala 2024 photo slideshow - Celebrating School-Community Partnerships
Spring gala 2024 photo slideshow - Celebrating School-Community Partnerships
 
How to Manage Website in Odoo 17 Studio App.pptx
How to Manage Website in Odoo 17 Studio App.pptxHow to Manage Website in Odoo 17 Studio App.pptx
How to Manage Website in Odoo 17 Studio App.pptx
 
An Overview of the Odoo 17 Knowledge App
An Overview of the Odoo 17 Knowledge AppAn Overview of the Odoo 17 Knowledge App
An Overview of the Odoo 17 Knowledge App
 
Analyzing and resolving a communication crisis in Dhaka textiles LTD.pptx
Analyzing and resolving a communication crisis in Dhaka textiles LTD.pptxAnalyzing and resolving a communication crisis in Dhaka textiles LTD.pptx
Analyzing and resolving a communication crisis in Dhaka textiles LTD.pptx
 
The Liver & Gallbladder (Anatomy & Physiology).pptx
The Liver &  Gallbladder (Anatomy & Physiology).pptxThe Liver &  Gallbladder (Anatomy & Physiology).pptx
The Liver & Gallbladder (Anatomy & Physiology).pptx
 
Book Review of Run For Your Life Powerpoint
Book Review of Run For Your Life PowerpointBook Review of Run For Your Life Powerpoint
Book Review of Run For Your Life Powerpoint
 
e-Sealing at EADTU by Kamakshi Rajagopal
e-Sealing at EADTU by Kamakshi Rajagopale-Sealing at EADTU by Kamakshi Rajagopal
e-Sealing at EADTU by Kamakshi Rajagopal
 
How to Send Pro Forma Invoice to Your Customers in Odoo 17
How to Send Pro Forma Invoice to Your Customers in Odoo 17How to Send Pro Forma Invoice to Your Customers in Odoo 17
How to Send Pro Forma Invoice to Your Customers in Odoo 17
 
TỔNG HỢP HƠN 100 ĐỀ THI THỬ TỐT NGHIỆP THPT TOÁN 2024 - TỪ CÁC TRƯỜNG, TRƯỜNG...
TỔNG HỢP HƠN 100 ĐỀ THI THỬ TỐT NGHIỆP THPT TOÁN 2024 - TỪ CÁC TRƯỜNG, TRƯỜNG...TỔNG HỢP HƠN 100 ĐỀ THI THỬ TỐT NGHIỆP THPT TOÁN 2024 - TỪ CÁC TRƯỜNG, TRƯỜNG...
TỔNG HỢP HƠN 100 ĐỀ THI THỬ TỐT NGHIỆP THPT TOÁN 2024 - TỪ CÁC TRƯỜNG, TRƯỜNG...
 
OS-operating systems- ch05 (CPU Scheduling) ...
OS-operating systems- ch05 (CPU Scheduling) ...OS-operating systems- ch05 (CPU Scheduling) ...
OS-operating systems- ch05 (CPU Scheduling) ...
 
Stl Algorithms in C++ jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj
Stl Algorithms in C++ jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjStl Algorithms in C++ jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj
Stl Algorithms in C++ jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj
 
VAMOS CUIDAR DO NOSSO PLANETA! .
VAMOS CUIDAR DO NOSSO PLANETA!                    .VAMOS CUIDAR DO NOSSO PLANETA!                    .
VAMOS CUIDAR DO NOSSO PLANETA! .
 
UChicago CMSC 23320 - The Best Commit Messages of 2024
UChicago CMSC 23320 - The Best Commit Messages of 2024UChicago CMSC 23320 - The Best Commit Messages of 2024
UChicago CMSC 23320 - The Best Commit Messages of 2024
 
8 Tips for Effective Working Capital Management
8 Tips for Effective Working Capital Management8 Tips for Effective Working Capital Management
8 Tips for Effective Working Capital Management
 

A good speech

  • 1. Copyright, 2005, James L. Horton 1 A Good Speech Writing for CEOs James L. Horton What is a good speech? A good speech moves an audience where a speaker wants it to go. Style is not important nor the length nor the parts of the speech, but results are. There are many kinds of speeches and many speakers, some articulate and some barely able to deliver coherent sentences. Both can deliver a good speech, as long as they focus on its purpose and strive to achieve the purpose in the minds and hearts of an audience. One of the more effective speeches I can recall was delivered decades ago at a high school graduation. In my fading memory, the speaker was one of the wealthiest of cattlemen in South Sacramento County, California, a man who owned square miles of land on which he ran beef. This fellow came to the podium after speeches from a number of educators, politicians and the valedictorian. His remarks were along this line: There have been plenty of speeches already. It’s time to hand out diplomas. And, that’s what he did to the relief of those of us who had heard too much rhetoric already about the potential of the graduating class. As Aristotle wrote in 350 BC, Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion. (Book 1, Part 2). The cattleman persuaded me that his point of view was correct as he started to call names. He understood Aristotle’s idea. How one persuades is at the core of good speeches. Aristotle was partial to a logical approach – a dialectic. He scorned sophists who believed emotional appeals were all that mattered. The arousing of prejudice, pity, anger, and similar emotions has nothing to do with the essential facts, but is merely a personal appeal to the man who is judging the case. (Book 1, Part 1) Aristotle would be uncomfortable with much of what passes for speaking today, as would Plato and Cicero who held the same views. To them, speaking had a moral component, a search for truth, that offsets showmanship. They would recognize and be uncomfortable with orators who are good entertainers, but not necessarily effective speakers. The measure of a good speech is its effect on individuals comprising an audience. That is certainly true for CEOs who almost always speak for a purpose.
  • 2. Copyright, 2005, James L. Horton 2 Harvard professor Edward T. Channing, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory from 1819 to 1851, summed rhetoric in this way: …a body of rules derived from experience and observation, extending to all communication by language and designed to make it efficient. Good speeches, in other words, are efficient communications. They achieve an end with a minimum of wasted energy. Few speeches should be entertaining for the sole purpose of amusing an audience. Some are long because an audience needs to be brought step-by-step to the point of persuasion. Some are short because an audience is persuaded but needs motivation. Some are emotional like memorials, to raise the identification of an audience with a person or event. Most are a mix of logic and emotion to carry an audience with the speaker. A key skill of a speaker lies in knowing where the sentiment of individuals in an audience is at any given moment. Content is what a speechwriter is usually concerned with when writing. But content does not exist by itself. Content exists in a relationship between audience and speaker. A hostile audience and a poor speaker are a disastrous pairing, no matter the value of content nor written expression of it. It follows then that the two most important tasks of the speechwriter, even more than creating content to be delivered, is to understand the audience and speaker. A speechwriter should seek answers to a number of questions about the audience. Who are these people? What do they think, if anything, about the topic to be discussed? What are their backgrounds and cultures? Why are they listening to this speech? How does one reach them effectively? Sadly, it is often difficult, even in an internet age to get satisfactory answers, so one writes a generic speech for a generic audience. And, it sounds like it. A disciplined speechwriter interviews members of the future audience, observes earlier speeches given to the audience, listens to individuals’ comments and more. When a speechwriter knows an audience, the type of speech and preparation suggest themselves. CEO speakers run the gamut from excellent to awful. Some are comfortable in front of a crowd and others shrink in fear at the thought of standing alone in front of a sea of eyes staring at them. Some believe themselves to be good speakers when they aren’t and poor speakers when they are effective. Some know what they want to say and some don’t. I recall one CEO who fancied himself a philosopher and speaker and who did not have the gift of knowing when to sit down. He was notorious for delivering lengthy speeches that were filled with references to various thinkers to prove tedious points late at night after long dinners to tired executives. Then, he wanted the speeches published somewhere. (We were never successful at this.) Another CEO was terrified for much of his career to speak in front of audiences
  • 3. Copyright, 2005, James L. Horton 3 but was, by all accounts, compelling in one-on-one encounters. He was best at being himself and carrying on a conversation. A CEO’s conviction is as important as words the CEO articulates. An audience doesn’t just listen but looks at the whole person and what that person communicates through expression, body movement and confidence – or lack of it. That is why it is important to place words in a CEO’s mouth that a CEO is likely to say in a way the CEO expresses ideas. There is no cognitive dissonance for the CEO and none for the audience that observes the CEO. This, however, can lead to a condition of saying the same things repeatedly. There are CEOs who use phrases like Buddhist mantras. They say the same statements so often that one gets bored writing them and wonders whether audiences are bored hearing them. However, leaders, like parents, know humans don’t hear things the first time or even the third or fourth or fifth time. One has to say the same things over and over until individuals pattern behavior after it. Variability is interesting, but it confuses audiences. CEOs know that even small changes in the way they present concepts can lead to major and unintended shifts on the part of confused employees. (Murphy’s Law applies to speaking as it does to just about everything else.) While an audience dictates how one delivers a speech, a speaker sets parameters of what one can and should say to ensure an effective speech. One can media train CEOs to help their delivery. It assists some in getting over nerves. It improves the mechanics of others, but the make-up of some CEOs resists anything related to effectiveness. With these CEOs, one wishes for adequacy, not mastery. Still, it is better to work with CEOs who know they are bad speakers when they are willing to work on delivery. They are open-minded and less caught up in themselves and their work. A speechwriter learns a CEO intimately and studies a CEO’s delivery and mannerisms. Are there words and concepts the CEO dislikes? Are there sounds the CEO cannot pronounce well? (The current President Bush is vocally challenged by his West Texas accent and often ridiculed.) A speechwriter writes for positive aspects of a person’s speaking style and around elements likely to create problems. Fantasies of developing ringing mnemonic phrases that crystallize a CEO’s thoughts may be just that. Some CEOs have no gift for delivering mnemonic phrases and their plodding delivery all but ruins intent and effect. If a CEO is comfortable with a pedestrian style, that is what a speechwriter should provide – as long as the CEO keeps the audience in tow. Such speeches might not look good in a portfolio, but the key is whether they were effective. In my own speechwriting, I follow one rule. Keep it short. Expose an idea, defend it and motivate the audience quickly, then get off the stage. However, this rule has limits. For CEOs who can indeed charm audiences, asking them to
  • 4. Copyright, 2005, James L. Horton 4 leave the stage quickly is a disservice to the CEOs and their audiences. Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan had an orator’s gift, and they often wrote their own speeches because they knew what worked for them. So too did Cicero, one of the greatest orators of ancient times. (The idea that a speaker has a writer to assist him would have horrified Cicero.) Few CEOs are gifted writers and fewer still have time to pen speeches. Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is one of the most widely quoted of CEOs for his blunt but humorous style. More, however, are like a CEO I once served. He fancied himself a writer, but he couldn’t get past commas and semicolons to the intent of the text. He would agonize over words and sentence parts to the distraction of his staff and those trying to get a project done. The majority of CEOs, however, are likely to take what is given to them, make a few tweaks and deliver the speech without thinking much about it. To use a management term, they satisfice. They have better things to do than discuss subtleties of communications with a speechwriter. It is up to the speechwriter to take care of fine points before a CEO ever sees a speech. The importance of a speech dictates preparation. Not all speeches are equal. A CEO might need to give a ceremonial talk to a group of employees who have just reached five years service then deliver a justification for a business strategy to directors and shareholders. While one speech can be impromptu, jocular and homey, the other had better be buttressed with evidence. A speechwriter may supply material for both speeches. In the former case, the speechwriter might list a few bullet points on an index card for the CEO. In the latter case, the speechwriter might work for days with the CFO, the strategic planner and others to fine-tune a document. For a busy speechwriter, it is a question of time management, especially if the writer is serving more executives than the CEO. How does a CEO, or speechwriter, know if a speech has hit its mark? Surprisingly, this is not easy. Most of the time one has to listen to the audience surreptitiously to gauge how a speech has been received. Asking an audience to fill out surveys is practical only in a few cases. More than likely, one won’t know whether a speech has been well received until days later. Early opinions are often kind but not truthful. Realistic assessments filter in. In ancient times, the result of a speech was a vote for or against the speaker or his proposal. Feedback was instantaneous. Today, a speech is one communication among others: It rarely decides the fate of anything. It is part of a larger act of persuasion. One looks for feedback that indicates a positive regard for what a CEO had to say, if not a change in behavior. Positive regard is a first step in changing behavior. There are rules for how to structure a good speech, but rules bend to an audience because an audience and the final state of mind of its individuals are what one is attempting to influence. A CEO can speak daringly to some audiences but not to others. A CEO can be informal with some individuals but
  • 5. Copyright, 2005, James L. Horton 5 must be conservative with others. There is a time for ringing phrases, a time for blunt language, a time for humor and a time for audience interaction. There are guidelines one should consider when writing a speech. The first is to talk to an audience’s level. For an audience that understands a topic well, starting in media res is OK. For an audience that doesn’t understand an issue, the old rule of “Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them,” is effective. For all audiences, showing is better than telling because eyes have primacy over ears, but numerous and tedious PowerPoint slides are tiring and defeat the purpose of what one is trying to do. Showing can be telling when one writes for the ear and paints a picture of what one is trying to say. However, this can be deadly if a speaker does not have the skill or energy to deliver such a speech well. Studying ancient rhetoric is useful in learning options one has in presenting and illustrating ideas, but using rhetorical principles without judgment is dangerous. As Aristotle said, one must have the “faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” The speechwriter who is unable to do that is of little value to a CEO. Good speeches are never written in vacuums. They fit a place, time, a speaker and audience. Few speeches or speakers ever rise above audiences they persuade at a given moment in time. Speechwriting, therefore, is mostly a practical craft and not one of poetry or expression. Only a few speakers are remembered from any generation for their ability to rise above place and time and to speak across them both. Rarely are CEOs ever called upon to do that. # # # James L. Horton, the founder of online-pr.com, has worked in PR for more than 25 years.