The Problem with Speech Writing | Public Speaking Training

I’m often asked, “TJ, do you write speeches?”

My answer is, “sort of…”

Here is a typical scenario I face with many clients:

I fly into a town to rehearse a client who is about to give a major speech in three days. The “speech” has been written and re-written, often with a professional speech writer, for weeks or even months. Every sentence has been edited, revised, and changed.

I’m sent the speech a day in advance to read. Only, I don’t read it.

We start the day of rehearsal with the client asking me what I thought of the “speech.” I say, “I want to watch you give it.”

We start the training with the executive delivering the speech while I record it on video.

Next, we watch the speech together. Then, the executive asks, “TJ what did you think of my speech?”

I respond, “I’ll tell you, but first I want to know what you thought, watching your own speech being delivered.”

Then the executive says, “Good God TJ! I didn’t realize how boring I was. I wouldn’t want to watch me give a speech like that. It was a boring data dump!”

Then I respond, “Sir (or Madam), you seem like a very smart person. If you think you are incredibly boring, guess what? You must be right.”

With that, we take the carefully written speech on the table, rip it up into tiny little pieces, and throw it away. Then I ask the client to pull out a fresh sheet of paper and we start from scratch.

The first step is we brainstorm on every idea that the client wants the audience to understand and remember. Next, we narrow down these ideas (each one no more than 10 words long) to a total of five. It’s essential to narrow the number down to five ideas because audiences don’t have the ability to remember more than five ideas from a speaker. If you doubt me, try naming more than five ideas you remember from any speaker you’ve seen in the last year (outside of a classroom arena where you were taking notes).

Next, I ask the client to think of a story involving a conversation with a real client, colleague or customer about a real problem that demonstrates and brings to life each of the five message points.

Now, a simple outline is constructed. On a single sheet of paper there are five main message points. Under each message point is a word or two to remind the speaker of the story he/she will tell to make the message come alive. Underneath that, any additional numbers or facts that are essential to the point are added.

When it’s all done, you have a single sheet of paper with very large font that can serve as the map for the whole speech.

Next, I have the client stand up and give the speech again; this time using only the one-page outline. The speech is recorded and we review it. Again, I ask “what did you think of the speech?”

The typical response is “That was 1000 times better than the first speech. That was a speech I actually found interesting and would listen to myself if someone else were giving it.”

And that’s how I “write” speeches.


This approach doesn’t work if you are the President of the United States about to give a State of the Union address or Chair of the Federal Reserve. There are some people where every word is scrutinized, translated and studied–so every word has to be just right. But for 99.999% of executives in the world, the real danger in any speech is not that they got a few words off. The biggest danger for most is that they were so boring, nobody remembered anything they said. This speech “writing” technique solves that problem, the most common public speaking problem of all.

If you need help “writing” your next speech, call Media Training Worldwide at 212.764.4955



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