May 4, 2011

Is your speech too "speechy?"

Why is it so easy to write in clichés? Why are so many speeches and presentations full of trite platitudes like "humble thanks," "heartfelt wishes" and "I'm so honored to be here?"

Because we've heard it all before. It's easy to write a speech in clichés, because after so many weddings, graduations, award banquets and retirement dinners, it's the first thing that comes to mind; we've come to believe that that's what makes a speech a speech. That is, formal, flowery, wordy, grandiose and as far away from a natural conversation as you can get. Speechy.

Speechy is boring, it's unoriginal, and it causes your audience's eyes to glaze over. But how do you get away from it? How do you even recognize it?

A client told me that she didn't even realize the writing she was doing for her speech was so clichéd, and it makes sense, because clichés are almost invisible. They're quick little shortcuts we use to make a point without having to reinvent the wheel or, for that matter, think for ourselves.

If you want to know if your speech is speechy, ask yourself these questions:

1. Have I heard it before? And if the answer is yes, have I heard it a LOT?

Obviously, it's pretty hard to come up with completely original content for every presentation you give. Even professional writers are guilty of using the easy cliché. Every culture has expressions, idioms, and humor that will fold naturally into a speech, and you don't have to go crazy trying to avoid every possible common expression.

But if you hear it frequently, especially at formal occasions where people give speeches, try to think of some different words to express your thought.

2. Is this my voice?

You may want to give "heartfelt thanks" to all your guests, but is that really the way you would say it if you were hanging out having a beer together on the deck?

A speech can certainly be an opportunity for heartfelt thanks, but if those aren't words that would ever come out of your mouth on other occasions, then don't say them. A speech, like any other presentation, should still be conversational, natural and authentic. You still want to come across as YOU.

3. Am I trying too hard?

A speaker sometimes sees a speech as an opportunity to use big words, too many words, too many adjectives, and too much pomp and circumstance. In an effort to impress the audience, the speaker spends days with the thesaurus, thinking up variations on "fabulous," "amazing," "wonderful," "tremendous" and "dynamic."

And oftentimes, the speaker puts untold pressure on himself to be pithy, profound, and poignant (oh yeah, you bet I used the thesaurus on that sentence). I still remember the high school valedictorian a few years back using the word "jocularity" in his speech. Really? How many of the students in his class even knew what that word meant?

Keep it simple. Express your deep and sincere feelings in a way that's meaningful to you and your audience. Make jokes, name names and kiss butts if you must. But do it in your own language, your own words, your own voice.

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