This is to share the story of my journey and the difference it made to my professional success and personal happiness. These days I use the insights I’ve gained to help me write effective speeches and PowerPoints for others and/or to coach them – from CEOs and their teams to Fathers of the Bride – on achieving greater comfort, confidence and impact with an audience.
So how do you, yourself, feel about standing on a stage, looking out at a crowd and delivering your thoughts to everyone staring back? For the first decades of my life, that was impossible for me, without feeling sick to my stomach.
There is a name for the dread of public speaking: “glossophobia.” I’ve known for decades about surveys showing that many people fear an audience more than other phobias … like the fear of heights, darkness, death or, in my case, the dentist’s drill.
Having had extreme “stage fright” for years, I changed in a big way after some transformational experiences. Not only did I learn to hold the attention of an audience – even one as large as 5,000 people. Also, to my surprise, I actually learned to enjoy it!
The single most important lesson I’ve learned – and I’ll tell you how I learned it – is to harness the power of one’s own authenticity when delivering a speech or presentation. That lesson, in itself, has made a tremendous difference for me and for many others I’ve worked with.
I didn’t start out with that understanding, however. I grew up in Beaufort, SC – on a small, beautiful island by the Atlantic. But I had the challenge of being “different.”
Early on, I became aware that, in our mostly Baptist town, many people around me – children included – looked down on me for being Jewish, set apart from most others. What’s more, I had skipped a grade – leaving the second for the third grade only one month into the school year. So, I was younger than all my classmates.
I was also a major geek with zero athletic talent or training. During recess each day, with no friends to talk to or play with, I hid in embarrassment behind the oleander bushes against the Beaufort Elementary School walls.
Would you expect that such a boy would grow up and be able, someday, to hold an audience of 5,000 comfortably in his hands? Young Michael S. Greenly never would have guessed!
Years later, however – after Duke University and a move to New York City – I was achieving success in corporate life. I had become Assistant Publisher at Scholastic, Inc., the respected source of books, magazines and other educational materials for schools and homes worldwide
But publishing couldn’t earn me the income to which I aspired in order to afford my passion for Broadway theater. So, I started going to NYU – it took six years of night school! – to get my M.B.A. in Marketing & International Marketing. And I changed my career to consumer packaged goods. First, I became a promotional copywriter at Lever Brothers and eventually earned the unusual chance to transfer into brand management. (If you’re selling detergent or toothpaste, branding and Marketing is everything!)
With the help of the expert training I was fortunate to receive, I acquired a range of “techniques” for effective presentations. A few among them …
I learned never to be one of those speakers who “wander,” tracing a restless path as they talk.
If you don’t know this yet, I promise that you will be more effective and convincing if you plant yourself on-stage like a steadfast pillar of authority, the Tree of Knowledge … moving across stage only when there’s an important new point to be made, or a change in mood, and then re-planting yourself. You don’t have to stay “stuck” forever, but every move on-stage needs to feel motivated by content, not by restlessness.
It doesn’t matter if this feels artificial to you at first. After all, you’re “acting” — giving a “performance.” You’re not simply being real, but you’re making it feel that way. I’ll say more about this in a bit.
The best advice is the simplest: give yourself permission to be you. If you talk with your hands naturally, then do! If you don’t use your hands in “real life,” don’t try to fake it on-stage.
Audiences crave a connection with anyone addressing them. Otherwise, you become just part of a “show” — including your gestures – without having created real engagement with your listeners.
The most important guidance is to let your mind and voice be in sync with your words. If you feel – not just think but feel — the meaning of your words when you say them … your audience will feel it, too. They’ll sense and believe in your genuineness as you experience it, yourself.
So, in whatever way your hands move (or don’t) when you’re expressing your own message … that’s how your hands should be on-stage.
“How do I move on-stage?” and “What do I do with my hands?” are two of the most frequent questions I encounter when I’m coaching someone new.
Having learned “basics” like these, I began giving reasonably effective presentations to my colleagues and to the staffs of the departments I ran. Secretly, however, I never felt at home with the experience of giving a speech. I remained a victim of glossophobia.
Until … the major “aha” changed my life.
That occurred years later, after I followed a friend who had left Lever for Avon Products, Inc., a much more people-oriented company than Lever. (They taught me a lot about marketing but felt like a military bunker.) In a way, it was strange for someone like me – secretly shy and insecure – to join a company filled with so many apparent extroverts at Avon.
Avon’s business model was famous for an emphasis on motivation that inspired its vast network of independent sales reps to service their customers, even on the hottest, coldest or most difficult of days. I found myself thriving under leaders who were quick to acknowledge how hard and how intensely I strove to be excellent.
A few years later, I was put in charge of approving every aspect of 300 new products a year – each individual concept, trademarked name, product formulation, package design, promotional positioning and so on. Later I ran the merchandising department, responsible for the profit and loss of the entire U.S. product line and its biweekly sales campaigns.
The exposure was remarkable – from leading a class on direct selling communications in Tokyo, to giving a speech in French to sales managers in Marseilles. All the while, however, I suffered my private “stage fright” before every presentation. Until my “aha” moment.
That came only after I was promoted to Vice President of Field Support, with all communications for the U.S. sales force under my purview. Once again, I was “the youngest” – in this case, they said, the youngest VP in the history of this century-old company.
I was whisked up to the executive floor and given a lavish budget to redecorate the office to my taste – one of the perks of being an Avon VP. Every inch of my surroundings – carpeting, couch, desk, guest chairs – was designed to my specifications: an astonishing luxury for a kid from a tiny island down South.
But old insecurities haunted me still. They were amplified by the presence of an established VP down the hall who soon began to feel like a rival … a competitor in what was supposed to be a united team of Officers Together.
I’ll call him Big Guy, since if he wasn’t precisely 6’8”, he was nonetheless an unusually tall and towering man with a huge and overwhelming personality. He was the extrovert’s extrovert, fearless in displaying his (undeniable) creativity and charisma.
At that point, he was in charge of creating the Avon sales brochure – 22 million magazines published every two weeks, filled with money-making ads with “specials” on products, available only during that “campaign.” My role was to motivate the field to use his selling tools to produce the greatest possible revenue.
Part of my new assignment was to be in charge of the August Conference – the annual sales meeting for District Sales Managers from around the country. By the time they headed back home, they were to be pumped up with enthusiasm and “belief,” ready to ignite passion within the hundreds of reps they managed locally.
Not only was I responsible for producing the meeting to achieve that result. As the VP in charge, I also was required to give a speech of my own … from the same stage where I’d observed and been in awe of Big Guy, delivering his booming, Carnival Barker performances in full strut.
The familiar dread of public speaking came back to haunt me, as I started planning the Conference and my remarks. What a timid little mouse I would surely seem like, in contrast to Big Guy. The more I realized that I could never be like him – that I would fail if I tried – the more miserable I became.
Until … it clicked in my brain that, instead of trying to be a pale imitation of Big Guy, what I actually needed to be was the best version of myself.
Off-stage I am his opposite in many ways. It’s simply not within me to bully or badger someone to achieve my goals, nor to be strident or flamboyant. One friend named me years ago, “the most earnest person on the Eastern Seaboard” – intensely sincere, but much too polite and empathetic to overwhelm others, even as a negotiating technique.
Of course, my on-stage rival’s style worked beautifully for him. I had witnessed for years how brilliantly dynamic he was on-stage. But as with shoes that won’t fit, I suddenly understood that his way of presenting would be awkward and uncomfortable for me.
That fundamental idea – being true to myself instead of straining to be a pale imitation of someone else – is stupidly simple and obvious to me now. But what a difference it made when I applied it!
When the time came for my motivational message — my turn to inspire — I didn’t try to be flashy like my colleague. Instead, I addressed the audience in a simple and personal way. I recalled my first week with the company – when they sent me to Iowa to see what “direct selling” was really like.
Here is the story I told …
You know enough about me now, and my shy and lonely childhood, to imagine how mortifying it was for me, on my first day in the field – to knock on strangers’ doors for “cold call” selling. I did my best to simulate a cheerful “Avon Calling!” greeting … at least to those who were home. But it was an excruciating day. I got a first-hand sense of how difficult and intimidating life could be for a new Avon rep.
Only one customer actually bought from me – a single bottle of nail polish. I was grateful for the sale, as pitifully small as it was.
As I reminisced about that experience in my speech to the District Manager audience, I recalled how amazing it had been – on my subsequent day in Iowa – to travel around with the best sales rep in the region. Her selling effectiveness was completely different from mine. Her customers welcomed her as they would a delightful friend. They trusted her, depended on her and – it was clear – they truly liked her.
After our day together … after I’d seen how remarkably successful Avon’s distribution channel could be … this outstanding rep praised her Manager for the training and encouragement that had led to what I witnessed. Now that she brought home even more income than her factory-worker husband, she told me, he viewed her with new respect and appreciation. This enthusiastic “Avon Lady” had become his equal in the family.
Just as meaningful to her was the way her children looked up to her now. (Remember, this was decades ago with fewer business opportunities for women.) She took enormous pleasure in her kids’ awareness that Mom was a much more powerful and capable figure than they had imagined.
But the most pivotal change in her life, she said – as her comments moved and excited me about the company I had joined – was the self-esteem she had gained. She directly attributed her newfound pride and happiness to her supportive Manager.
While sharing this story on-stage with my sales management audience, I did not gallivant across the space trying to simulate the extroverted “showman” I’ll never be. Instead I consciously allowed myself to get back in touch with the real emotion I had felt in discovering how my new company had enhanced an Iowa housewife’s life … thanks to the training and guidance of her Manager.
As I recalled and re-experienced those feelings under the spotlight, while praising my sales management audience for the daily impact they had on the lives of those they led … I heard sniffles and occasional sobs from around the giant hotel ballroom. I knew beyond doubt that I was having a significant impact on my audience, simply by being “me” … sincere, earnest and in touch with my genuine feelings.
Afterward, countless attendees came up to grasp my hands or give me hugs. Over and over they said: “one of the best speeches ever!” That crucial lesson, about the power of being true to one’s essence, has been incredibly useful ever since, both on and off stage.
When I write speeches for executives these days, that insight helps me live up to the slogan I developed for my Internet ads: “Sound like yourself … only better.” And when I coach executives – many of whom are secretly as nervous as I used to be — I draw on my story to help them find new poise and security as they speak.
Yes, there are “techniques” and “tricks” for being effective on-stage: how to stand, when to move, what to do with your hands, how to modulate your voice, etc. These even involve details like how to turn from one page of your script to the next, if you’re standing at a podium and working from a paper copy. Or how to use a teleprompter, so that you – not the machine’s operator – remain confidently and smoothly in control.
One imperative I’ve learned, which many presenters underestimate, is the importance of the right kind of rehearsal … both quantity and quality.
You want to rehearse your text so often that you know the material well enough to be comfortable and un-strained, looking up from the page and finishing a sentence before looking down for the next cue.
This is not the same as “memorizing” a word-for-word script, even though many regulated industries require lawyer-vetted scripting. Having to rely solely on memory puts tremendous pressure on a speaker and requires a greater investment in time and technique for natural, relaxed delivery.
The way you rehearse can make a surprising difference during your ultimate presentation.
Of much greater consequence than the number of times you rehearse is how you do it. The more “real” you can make each run-through in your mind, the more confident and effective you’ll be in front of your audience.
Forget forever about reviewing the words of your speech in silence. NO! That misses the point. Making rehearsal real means actively envisioning everyone in front of you – every time you rehearse – and always addressing them aloud, with the same energy you expect to use on-stage.
Again: rehearse aloud, including imaginary eye contact with your pretend audience. (Good quality rehearsal is fatiguing – like a real presentation.)
The right kind of rehearsal also means being as conscious of your pacing and variety as you would want to be in front of in-person listeners … every single time you rehearse. Making each rehearsal as much like “the real thing” as you can, will pay off in your eventual delivery.
The paradox of being effective in delivering a speech is learning to be authentic on the one hand … while remembering that a speech is also a “performance.” It’s both real and artificial, at once.
It takes focus, energy and the right kind of rehearsal to effectively project yourself as you speak. Many speakers write notes to themselves in their texts: reminders during delivery to SMILE … show ENERGY …
be FRIENDLY, etc.
One needs to be a “bigger” version of one’s self in front of hundreds of people or more. It will not work to address an audience in the same way you might chat with a friend over coffee. The physical gap between you and your audience is psychological, too. Your audience will not be aware of it, but it affects their ability to maximally “connect” with you.
The literal gap is about height (you’re standing, they’re sitting) and distance (between the front row and where you stand.) To overcome the gap requires most presenters to be more energized, with more presence, than they ever would be off-stage. You want each member of the audience to feel as though you’re talking to and connecting directly and personally with them … and to feel as though you’re not as far away as, in fact, you are.
It can require a change of mindset to be one’s own authentic self – while, paradoxically, also being better and bigger on stage. But the core truth in everything I use in coaching my clients, is the one that changed me and my life: drawing on and making the most of the inherent power of who I am … never trying to be an imitation of someone else, no matter how effective that other person might appear to be.
So when you’re faced with the challenge of giving a speech … no matter how tense or fretful you feel … take stock of who are. For real. Connect to the truth at the heart of your personal brand. Be in touch with your genuine essence as you speak.
As I’ve mentioned, there are a number of “tips” that can help one be more effective – more than I have space for here. But the single most important technique is that simple but essential mindset – finding the courage to be your own real self, onstage (only “bigger.”)
I can tell you with certainty: it is totally possible to make that change. And it’s very satisfying when you do. It can make all the difference in enabling you to hear one of the sweetest sounds on earth: the applause that you have earned for who you actually are.
It gives ME satisfaction to share what I’ve learned as I coach my clients — whether a single exec or a team. But it’s even more satisfying when I hear from them AFTER they’ve experienced what I have: learning to use “The Power of Authenticity” for real succes on-stage.
NOTE: In addition to the text below, a podcast interview with me about how to be a speechwriter can be heard at this link, with my thanks to Jim Frawley of bellwetherhub.com:
And now, what follows are some proven tips based on experience ….
I’m about to make you a better speechwriter if you’d like to be one.
As far as I know, I’m the only former Fortune 500 Mktg./Comm. VP who helps today’s execs and their teams be more effective at sales meetings, product launches, etc. I do that when I create their speeches and/or PowerPoint presentations, write their video scripts, coach their on-stage delivery and use what I learned from decades of marketing success to inspire audiences as a motivational speaker.
But while I’d be happy to have your or your company hire me, it also feels right to “give back” in some way … which is why I’d like to share some of the techniques that cause many clients to say I’m the best at what I do. So, my goal here is clear: to help YOU become a better speechwriter, if you’d like to – for yourself or for someone else. Or at least to give you the knowledge that will help you recognize the attributes of a well-crafted speech.
Perspective: I happen to be a guy who can barely change a light bulb. I’m clueless about what’s under the hood of a car. I can injure myself if I try to hang a picture on the wall instead of on my thumb. Mercifully, however, I long ago discovered that WORDS are my friends.
I was meant to be a Writer and I’ve been doing it successfully for decades. So let me begin with the first and most important place to start in writing ANYTHING but, in this case, writing a speech
What is your concise take-away message?
Before you write your first word, consider the message you want to lodge into the brains of those receiving it. The most common communications mistake I observe across the board – in speeches, TV commercials, business memos, corporate videos, etc. – is trying to convey too many points at once. These days more than ever, a scattershot approach will not be effective.
Audiences won’t make an effort to connect the dots between your thoughts. It’s up to your writing to do that for them — especially with today’s shortened attentions spans.
The Statistic Brain Research Institute has shared a study1 which notes:
* Average attention span of a gold fish: 9 seconds
* Average human attention span in 2001: 12 seconds
* Average human attention span in 2015: 8.25 seconds
If you try to convey too much in a single communication, your message won’t stick. Organize your writing around a single, overall message – your communications “North Star” – and your big picture point will be better remembered. Every speech should have one major, overall point to be effective.
It’s also true – as the old saying goes – that we get only one chance to make a first impression. Start off strong and relevant to your audience. The first sentence of this chapter was intended to get your attention and offer you a “WIIFM” (“What’s In it For Me?” ) up front.
Take maximum advantage of the Internet
A few decades ago, I found myself traipsing over to the Barnes & Noble book store in Manhattan – buying books as “research” for whatever I needed to write.I’m no expert in sports, art history, automobiles or many other subjects, but some of my clients are. They appreciate analogies in subjects they care about and relate to. These days, I let my fingers do the walking straight to Google.
Type in “How to write a best man speech” … “maid of honor speech” … “award acceptance speech” … “sales speech” … “eulogy” and so on. Along with various agencies and freelancers like me wanting to sell you their services, you’ll also find writing “samples” online to read and consider.
And by the way – ever want to write a poem? Sites like www.rhymezone.com and others offer help that I couldn’t have imagined when I was pounding out words on a typewriter.
Finding relevant QUOTES to make a speech more vivid and impactful is yet another example of our amazing ability to access knowledge in mere seconds via the Internet.
It surprises me how many people don’t turn to the Internet as much as they could. Factual research. Helpful history. Statistics. Even sourcing a range of images for a PowerPoint presentation to visualize your message for an audience. (I use services like www.istockphoto.com to obtain visuals for my clients or my own communications workshops.
My ability to create an impactful speech or presentation – thanks to the Internet – has greatly enriched the writing I can offer to clients these days … while increasing the speed with which I provide it.
Bottom line for your writing: take MAXIMUM advantage of the Internet. You may not realize how abundant are the resources from which you can draw.
The writer’s paradox and other truths:
it takes longer to write shorter!
(a) It takes longer to write shorter.
(b) You MUST be willing to step back, edit and take time to critique yourself ruthlessly.
(c) When writing a speech you MUST hear it ALOUD (not just in your head!) in order to properly evaluate it.
(d) I use a specific technique I call Emphasis Words when I write a speech. It’s proven helpful to many of my clients. The space for this chapter isn’t long enough for me to include a sample speech. (Besides, many of the speeches I write for product launches, sales meetings, etc., are CONFIDENTIAL.) So I’ll illustrate by sharing another kind of writing where the same tips apply.
Real illustration of these tips in action – in a short poem!
Let me illustrate so you’ll see how versatile these tips can be …. for speechwriting and other purposes.
When I’m not writing speeches, I write songs — just the lyrics. (If I could compose, too, I’d be dangerous!) I’m going to tell you about an opportunity I was offered as a result of my actively networking. Networking’s another best practice that applies to other kinds of writing, too.
Thanks to today’s Internet (I told you!) I became aware of and joined the “Indie Collaborative” group on Facebook, founded by Eileen Sherman and Grant Maloy Smith. If you’re a music business professional of any kind, you might want to join this group. It holds valuable meetings in cities around the United States.
You’ll find them at: www.indiecollaborative.com
As a result of the new visibility my membership provided, I began to “meet” (often online) songwriters from around the world – not just in the USA. I eventually came in touch with the team of Dr. Deepak Chopra — the famous author, public speaker and alternative medicine advocate.
In the summer of 2017, I was invited to compose and deliver a poem for Dr. Chopra. The occasion was the launch of his new collection of poems and songs called “HOME — Where Everyone Is Welcome: Poems & Songs Inspired by American Immigrants.”
My assignment was to write about HOME – and immigrants – within a strict 200 word limit. As I’ve mentioned, it takes longer to write shorter! So just as I would in writing a speech, I spent considerable time thinking about my takeaway message – my North Star for the assignment. You’ll see the poem for yourself in just a bit. But first a perspective on Emphasis Words.
In real life – in natural conversation – we speak SOME phrases at throwaway speed … but we emphasize OTHER words and phrases when they especially matter … to inject added impact and drama … or to compel attention to a thought.
The pattern is natural and automatic for everyone: one’s INTENTION affects vocal DELIVERY. So when I’m writing a speech, I always HEAR myself deliver it aloud BEFORE I let my client see the text.
Taking the time to do that … for any piece of writing that’s meant to be listened to … helps me (and can help YOU) write text with more resonance for the audience who will hear it.
Let’s face it: almost any human being standing in front of an audience with the task of delivering a message will feel significantly more pressure than he or she might feel in simply sharing thoughts over a quiet cup of coffee. Capitalizing your Emphasis Words in writing that’s to be SPOKEN, offers practical and versatile value.
What’s more, many people experience “stage fright” which can make them eager to “get it over with” by delivering the text like a speeding freight train. I’ve found that typing KEY words in caps helps my clients, automatically, to slow down and concentrate on expressing the MEANING of what they’re saying. That better paced, nuanced delivery can make a spoken message more vivid and memorable for the listener.
Aside from protecting an executive delivering a speech from using too-speedy a pace, the same technique is useful for ANY text you write in which emphasis can alter meaning.
For example, search Wikipedia for: Stress (linguistics)
There you will find an illustration of the connection between stressing a word with emphasis and the MEANING that a sentence conveys. The term for this technique is “contrastive stress” – using the spoken word to create CONTRAST between a key word and its surroundings.
Try saying the following sentences aloud … each time “hitting” with EXTRA emphasis the word I’ve put in CAPITAL letters. (In the first sentence, “I” is the emphasized word.)
I didn’t drive our car yesterday. (Somebody else did.)
I DIDN’T drive our car yesterday. (I’m INSISTING that I didn’t)
I didn’t DRIVE our car yesterday. (I just SAT in it and read.)
I didn’t drive OUR car yesterday. (I drove someone else’s.)
I didn’t drive our CAR yesterday. (I drove our truck.)
I didn’t drive our car YESTERDAY (I drove it the day before that.)
I didn’t drive our CAR yesterday. (I drove our truck.)
I didn’t drive our car YESTERDAY (I drove it the day before that.)
See what I mean? Emphasis words – making them stand out in your writing of text for spoken delivery – can be very useful for a speaker … and can help an audience more easily get the point.
Now that you understand the Emphasis Words concept in writing a speech, you’ll see how I used it in writing (and then delivering) my poem for Dr. Chopra.
I’m convinced that my “built in” capitalization of my chosen ‘Emphasis Words’ was important to my receiving wonderful feedback from the event.
ONE HOME, MANY BUILDERS
Where did I COME from?
How did my ANCESTORS view the world?
Leading LIVES I’ll never live
In HOMES I’ll never know.
Latvia … Germany … Russia … Poland …
Mostly just NAMES to me – Places I’ll never SEE
But what’s been CLEAR across the YEARS
from the time I was a boy was how MUCH they cared
Seeking FREEDOM in the air
Ready to find it ANY-where
With a NEW home of their OWN.
They came HERE
Now it’s up to ME
To be the BEST that I can be
Memories of GRAND-parents
from my youth
Inspiring MY own quest for truth
I’ve HEARD how hard they worked
Of the duties they NEVER shirked
A HUMBLING context
for MY troubles
Whatever burdens I bear,
So much LESS than theirs
I will CONTINUE to do my best
To HONOR the path they set
Doing what I can to improve this earth
In memory of those who gave my life birth
Everyone’s an immigrant SOME place
But we all have ONE planet as OUR space
This earth is HOME to us ALL
Between us EACH,
let there be NO walls
We SHARE this home!
Let us THINK about that.
Dare to be “personal” and “human”
In the first jobs of my professional career in New York City – initially in educational publishing … later in consumer packaged goods when I was marketing and promoting laundry detergents, toothpastes and margarine – I wasn’t expected to give “stand up presentations.”
That changed when I went to Avon Products, Inc., a motivational culture founded around direct selling. At one point, I was responsible for every aspect of creating 300 new products a year. At another time, I published the Avon sales brochure – page after page of print ads, designed to achieve the company’s sales and profit goals for the new selling period every two weeks.
Part of my job in those capacities was “selling” of a different kind – presenting my ideas persuasively to management or my fellow employees. It’s a separate topic, how I gained the courage – and eventually the skill – to get on my feet and present my ideas with what needed to appear as (and BE) comfortable and confident. Eventually, I learned how to do that!
But success is not just about the skill of presenting. Let’s not under-estimate the importance of the WRITING, itself, to achieve a desired impact. So here are several observations I urge you to keep in mind if you’re writing a speech for yourself or for someone else: allow yourself be PERSONAL.
Don’t just share the business “content” you need to deliver … let the audience know that you CARE about the message you’re conveying. Address them like fellow human beings, not just placeholders on an organizational chart. This advice has implications for the content of your talk as well as the way in which it’s written.
When I’m writing a speech for an executive, I usually take the input via a telephone interview. (I write for people around the world – many of whom I’ll never meet in person.)
So that you understand my writing process – and I would suggest the same to you, if you plan to write a speech for someone else – I always RECORD my “input” interviews. Achieving excellent results for a client isn’t only about writing. It’s also about asking the right questions to elicit the best content.
I listen in stereo, so to speak. One “ear” listens from the audience’s point of view: is the message clear? Is it making sense?
The other listens from my client’s point of view. We’ve already established the take-away message, but is the content I’m hearing EFFECTIVE at delivering and supporting that one key thought? Is it leading the intended audience to the “North Star” of the takeaway message?
I always try to establish a “safe space” with the executive I’m writing for. First, anything that’s confidential STAYS confidential. Second, I like to make the sessions as intimate as possible – ideally, in just a one-to-one conversation. NOT with a full “committee” listening and chiming in.
My job as a writer – and my promise to any client – is summed up in my tagline: “Sound like yourself – only BETTER!” So the executive needs to sound like him- or herself … not like a group of different voices, personalities and talking points.
Often I “nudge” my clients to go a bit beyond their comfort zones … encouraging them to be more personal with their audiences. I have NEVER gone wrong by coaxing clients to be more personal. If they’re a bit skeptical at first but allow me to help them share authentic feelings and real anecdotes from their lives … they ALWAYS come back after the successful result and thank me for helping them make a stronger human “connection” with the audience.
I once got a pharmaceutical President to share her memories of a childhood fairy tale … which underscored her vision for the “magical” success she believed was possible for her sales force. I got the CEO of a giant chemical company to sit center stage in a wing chair at the end of an evening session, reading a custom-written “bedtime story” about the company’s future — as his executive leaders sipped milk and munched on freshly baked cookies.
But even in more expected and typical presentations, I’ve learned to write CONVERSATIONALLY … sounding like the actual “voice” of my client (only better!) … and being sure to write the way we speak to each other in natural conversation – instead of sounding like a sales brochure.
I’ll make you this promise:
If you’re writing for yourself or someone else to be HEARD instead of silently read …
If you keep my suggestions in mind – Emphasis Words, natural style, etc. – you WILL be more successful than if you try to write precisely as your 8th grade English teacher taught you to.
Bottom line, here are some of my speechwriter’s “secrets” that help me in writing speeches and other forms of writing, too —
– Start by determining your North Star,
your overall take-away message
– Think about the FLOW of your content BEFORE you write
– Get the audience’s attention with VALUE right away
– Take maximum advantage of the Internet
– Capture the natural “voice” of the person you’re writing for
– CAPITALIZE Emphasis Words for text that will be spoken
– Take time to critique your own writing
– Realize that it takes longer to write shorter
– Dare to be personal and human, sounding like yourself –
or help the person you’re writing for sound (for real) like themselves.
Use those techniques and I absolutely know: you WILL be more successful.
It’s taken me decades to learn and develop my craft as a professional writer. I’m grateful for the time YOU’VE spent, reading and considering my suggestions.
Hopefully you or someone you care about will experience praise and/or applause as a result if these Speechwriting “secrets.” (Or maybe you’ll have ME write it for you!)
1 Source: Harald Weinreich, Hartmut Obendorf, Eelco Herder, and Matthias Mayer: “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use,” in the ACM Transactions on the Web, vol. 2, no. 1 (February 2008), article #5.
As a former Fortune 500 VP, I know first-hand what corporate life is like … and how important it is to communicate clearly and with impact. I use my very good friends, The Words, to help today’s execs with speeches, PowerPoint presentations, video scripts and/or with personal speech coaching. (I can make a real difference even from afar.)
Meanwhile, since I last posted here, I’ve had another #1 BILLBOARD-charted Dance Club hits — thanks to Tony Moran, globally famous DJ and Producer, and my other co-writers, Jim Papoulis & Tony Smith.
My biceps aren’t as pumped as they used to be, but I’m actually the best WRITER I’ve ever been. (At least my brain muscles are kept sharp and active!)
If you’re an exec who’d like to give an outstanding presentation, or the Meeting & Events dept of a organization with an important meeting (I can handle “tonnage”) I’m ready to help YOU any time!
(It’s a beautiful thing to have found one’s purpose in life.)
Can you identify – let’s say — the three most difficult / painful challenges you’ve ever had to face? Times in your life when you might have wondered, “why ME?” … or even, as you were suffering, just “WHY?!”
We each have our own varieties of pain in life. Some pass. Some we live with forever. But the question — “WHY?” — is surely universal. Different religions, different cultures, offer different answers. Surely the question has been pondered throughout humanity’s existence on the planet.
Of course, the question can be asked about circumstances that don’t involve pain or suffering. It can be asked and (maybe answered, at least in our own minds) about events that seem minor at the time, yet turn out to have long-ranging consequences.
So why did composer, Paul Guzzone, and I meet when a production company hired us, separately, to create and pitch a product launch proposal to a large pharmaceutical company, with a song custom-written for their event? We had tremendous fun working together. And although our song, and the meeting content it was part of, was not selected by the pharma execs (their mistake!) over our competitors, Paul and I became friends. Eventually we asked ourselves, “Hey! Why are we creating songs only for companies to use in motivating their sales forces? Why don’t we write for the public, too?”
So we started writing for ourselves. One result was “Everything Happens for a Reason.”
And … why did Italian tenor, Michéal Castaldo, with his uniquely glorious voice and style happen to hear the song … love it … and tell us con brio that he wanted to record it?
Why did I become friends and musical partners with globally-known DJ, producer and remixer, Tony Moran? And why did I introduce Michéal and Tony to each other for a different project entirely? Could it be that my introduction led them discover that they wanted to collaborate on a Dance Club remix of “Everything Happens for a Reason”?
You’ll find a perceptive and enthusiastic review of Michéal’s original version (blue cover art) + and a later, also enthusiastic review of the Dance remix version by Tony Moran and his colleague, Warren Rigg, in music industry journal, SKOPE. http://skopemag.com/?s=castaldo
To quote from my own lyric, “IF everything happens for a reason” … then, perhaps a reason (“Una Ragione,” as Michéal expresses it in Italian) is the comfort and encouragement that the song has given to the many people with whom Michéal and others have shared it. I long ago lost count of how many people appreciatively thanked him for sending them the song as a birthday greeting, for example. People from all over the world have responded by telling him that the song and his performance have given them hope and a comforting perspective on their lives and worries.
Here’s a link to an interesting video – shot in “Little Italy” in NYC — if you’d like to see Michéal perform it. (You’ll have a choice of seeing the lyrics on-screen or not.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CITzTG4-MNY
Here’s a link for purchasing the Dance Remix version on amazon. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01CPJJP90?ie=UTF8&keywords=micheal castaldo&qid=1458060332&ref_=sr_1_3&s=dmusic&sr=1-3-mp3-albums-bar-strip-0
And here’s a link for purchasing it on iTunes. https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/everything-happens-for-reason/id1091184539
I’m proud of this song and of the talented team that has transformed it for the Dance Floor. I invite you to listen, own it and move along to the beat, as I do … even as you may choose to reflect on its message.
There’s a client at ExxonMobil – Anita Riddle — whom I respect and enjoy supporting. Even as an outsider, I can tell that she’s highly respected and for good reason.
For years I’ve helped her and her people improve their presentations – their words and the PowerPoint visuals that bring them to life. Last fall, she invited me to Houston where I addressed an executive team focused on Women in Leadership. I shared some proven tips I’ve learned through the years on how to enhance any speaker’s presentation skills.
More recently, Anita told me about another use of my words, beyond speeches and presentations: how a song I wrote with composer Jim Papoulis had special meaning to her family. I’m touched by the story and would like to share it here,
It’s about a choral song, To Those Who Came Before Us, which I wrote with composer, Jim Papoulis. Here is a project overview from the sheet music (to be published this spring.)
“To Those Who Came Before Us” honors those in everyone’s lives and personal histories whose hard work, achievements and sacrifices precede us and inspire daily efforts to attain our aspirations. For Jim, these include his parents – Athanasios and Caryl Papoulis. For Mike, it’s Sam and Lucille Greenly.
Written during a time of uncertainty and danger, when military men and women are challenged to represent their nation with loyalty, courage and potential sacrifice, the song was also conceived to honor such bravery.
The songwriters are humbled to partner with a remarkable organization, The Independence Fund, which works to move severely injured American military veterans toward greater independent mobility.
This valiant non-profit organization helps enable the complete physical and emotional healing of severely injured Veterans … from supplying the disabled with all-terrain wheel chairs and other rehabilitation equipment for mobility again, to hyperbaric oxygen therapy for faster healing. The Independence Fund also partners with the caregivers of our warriors, helping them with the challenges associated with the devastating injuries of war.
To donate: http://www.independencefund.org
I never served in the military. But it’s been an honor to write speeches for Dr. Richard Jadick, including a successful TED talk. Dr. Jadick is a bona fide war hero and one of the founders of The Independence Fund.
I had given Anita a copy of the song (now on iTunes, amazon, etc.) A few weeks ago, she told me how her 13-year-old daughter, Sierra Schmidt, used it in her 8th grade class at York Junior High School in Spring, Texas.
Sierra had chosen my song for a Veteran’s Day project. It honored her uncle, Sergio Riddle, now retired from the military. This young lady created a video around the work that Jim and I had poured our hearts into … and she earned an “A” which makes me feel proud.
Anita said that her sister cried when she saw the video, and that her aunt and cousin in Chile were also quite moved by it. Well it moves me too, so I offer it here if you’d like to see. My sincere congratulations to Sierra for the “A!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ih9p74ATe2E
This is to document a musical project I’m glad I was asked to be part of. I’m a lucky guy to love what I do – from speechwriting and presentation coaching of some smart, hard-working execs, to being a lyricist, with few other real skills.
Words have always been my friends. Whether I’m writing a speech, video script or song, it means a lot to me that I can use them to express a message with a positive impact on others – their careers or their lives.
So here is the story of “Always My Angel.” read more →
While writing this, I saw an interview with Jeb Bush acknowledging something to ABC’s Jonathan Karl. A media consultant had recommended that – to “fix” his campaign – Jeb should be … should own … himself.
He should be REAL.
I know first-hand how wise is that advice. I’ve lived my own transformation from a young man unable to walk – merely to walk – comfortably across a stage … to being able today to address an audience of 5,000 or more with confidence and ease … and to help others attain that skill, since I know so well what it’s like NOT to have it.
I gave a speech in Houston a few weeks ago — to ExxonMobil’s GSC’s Women in Leadership Team. I was impressed by their commitment to the development and career advancement of women … in a traditionally “man’s business” of oil rigs and drilling. It has meant a lot to me, since coming home, to get reports that the audience – mentees and mentors of both genders, and at different levels – got real value from what the story I shared … and the “how to” learnings that were part of it.
And now … I was asked to tell my story in the chapter of a book.
It’s the eighth in a series, in which different experts in their fields share the truths and insights they each have learned from life … in order to help others, readers, make positive, life-enhancing changes of their own.
The book in which my chapter will appear is The Change8 … the eighth book in the series. The title of my chapter is “From “Stage Fright” to the Power of Authenticity.” I’ve lived that story. And I’m happy now to share it.
As a corporate speech writer & speech coach, I’ve worked on many big corporate meetings and events … for IBM, Motorola, ExxonMobil, J&J, etc. I’ve also covered major events as a journalist – the Academy Awards, the Republican and Democratic political conventions, big computer trade fairs, etc.
No production I’ve worked on or written about involves more detail, complexity and emotional sensitivity than the “Miss America” Pageant. Thanks to my having written “Our Great Virginia” – now the official anthem of that state – I was invited to the Pageant by Kylene Barker McNeill, the first Miss Virginia to become Miss America (1979.)
Here she is, arriving on the Red Carpet.
And here’s the transformation of the Giant Hall. From this …
To this …
As I was reminded while viewing from prime seats on the sixth row at the front of the stadium Sunday night, there’s a tremendous difference in the feeling of watching something spectacular at home and being there live.
When Sam Haskell, the organization’s CEO, apologized to Vanessa, you could feel emotion throughout the hall. For many like myself, it was a symbol of our ability to rise up after a fall or, as Taylor Swift sings, to “shake it off” and move ahead to new triumphs. Here’s Kylene, with Vanessa Williams, her “Miss America Sister” (1983.). I don’t know it felt at home on TV, but it was quite affecting in the hall.
At the end of the show, I got to meet several of the “Celebrity Judges.” Brett Eldredge — American country music singer and last year’s CMA winner of New Artist of the Year.
And Kevin O’Leary – Canadian entrepreneur, venture capitalist and judge on TV’s “Shark Tank.” (Shown here with Ian McNeill, Kylene’s very accomplished businessman husband.)
Ultimately, as I packed my bags for the trip back home to my Day Job and to several speechwriting deadlines (I never miss ‘em!) — I couldn’t help but reflect on three things …
- the discipline, talent and drive it takes for every State Contestant to have gotten to Atlantic City in the first place.
- the support and love that each contestant showed to the others … more like sisters than competitors.
- the real good the organization does –
giving out $303,000 in scholarship money at the national Miss America level
but nearly $6 MILLION in scholarships when national, state and local awards are combined.
THAT is life-changing for many, many young women.
It was a privilege to be there in person, especially in the “invited guest” status I enjoyed. And it was an eye-opener to experience, first-hand, the human dynamo that is Kylene Barker McNeill.
Here we go! ABC TV 9pm Eastern
I’m experiencing aspects of the competition that I never knew existed and meeting remarkable people of accomplishment and talent. Among them are Kira Kazantsev. She is the third consecutive Miss New York to have become Miss America. During her reign, she has been working with and championing organizations like United States Military overseas and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.
I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know Kylene’s Canadian husband, Ian McNeill — President of Combat Batteries in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, specialists in industrial batteries and chargers. Given how impressed I’ve been with Kylene, I wasn’t surprised to discover that Ian is an extremely savvy and personable executive, who’s also a genial and down-to-earth guy.
One of the things I experienced on the wet Saturday afternoon of this weekend was the “Show Us Your Shoes” Parade down Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. I’d always been dimly aware that there was, indeed, “a parade” … but I hadn’t imagined the enormous scale of it all.
With over 4,000 participants, including 15 floats, 15 marching bands, nearly 50 dance troupes, 16 choirs and dozens of special units, the event was more than two hours long.
To share the background with you, I’ll quote a story by Robert Rosiello on casinoconnectionac.com.
Ed McMaster, who served as president of the Miss America Organization for several years before the pageant moved to Las Vegas, told us back in 2004 about its origins.
“Our contestants used to dress in gowns for the parade, but since they were riding in cars and their feet were hidden, they’d wear something comfortable—flip flops, sneakers and slippers,” McMaster said. “People got wind of this in the early 1970s and one year tried to sneak a peak at the shoes. They even got up on a balcony but still couldn’t see them. Finally they began shouting, ‘Show us your shoes!’ The contestants thought it was hilarious and decided to give them something to look at. It’s been a great tradition ever since ….
The 53 contestants this year had artistic freedom to design their own shoes in whatever manner they felt best represented themselves and their respective states.
As I observed yesterday from the Judges’ Balcony, Miss District of Columbia honored the U.S. Marine Corps, Miss Florida had the Gators logo on her shoes, Miss Idaho featured a potato, and Miss Kansas displayed wheat on hers.
New Jersey proceeded down the Atlantic City Boardwalk with a Monopoly Board.
(“Boardwalk” – get it?)
Miss Virginia honored the equestrian excellence of her state with horse-riding boots and horses on her umbrella, etc.
It’s all tremendous fun while boosting the diversity and richness of each contestant’s home.
What I’m realizing more and more, though, is the magnitude of the effort, talent and discipline that goes into all this. Even more important: how much good the Miss America Organization does by empowering its contestants with life-changing, career-advancing opportunities that help these young women become valuable contributors to our country and to the world after all the pomp and pageantry is done.
Last night, I was invited to the Forever Lounge … an amazing chance to meet and chat with former Miss Americas I had watched as a child and then steadily as an adult over the years. Even some Miss Americas who got their crowns before I was born. All of it giving me a much heightened respect for what the Miss America competition symbolizes … and achieves.