Article Category: Speechwriting

Speech Preparation #5: Six Power Principles for Speech Editing


Speech Editing

Conventional wisdom says the best speeches are not written; they are rewritten. Yet, most speakers present content that falls between a first draft and no preparation at all.

Don’t be like most speakers.

Allow yourself the time to edit for focus, clarity, concision, continuity, variety, and impact. If you do, you will give your audience a performance that will dazzle them.

The previous article in the Speech Preparation Series showed you how to write the first draft of your speech.

In this article and the next one, you will develop the skills required to improve your speech through iterative speech editing.

Speech Preparation Series

Editing a Speech — An Iterative Process

Once you have a first draft, you begin to see how the different elements from your outline work together to form your speech.

The next step is a highly iterative one. Just as you cannot expect the first draft to be the final draft, do not pressure yourself to get it perfect after one session of editing. Expect to make many passes through your speech, with each pass leaving the speech a little better than the previous version.

As you proceed, avoid falling in love with any particular component of the speech. Maybe you have the perfect story or a great slide, but be prepared to cut it out if your core message can be conveyed in a better way.

Use Binoculars and a Magnifying Glass

Edit mercilessly. All elements of your speech — every point, every statistic, every anecdote, every story, every joke, every visual aid — must support your core message.

When you edit your speech, you are doing two things in parallel:

  • Macro-editing
    • Ensure that your paragraphs, sections, stories, and transitions combine to produce a well-organized speech that succeeds in delivering your core message.
    • You only have one chance to deliver your message to your audience. It needs to be easy to follow to guarantee their attention throughout.
    • For this, you need binoculars.
  • Micro-editing
    • Edit your words, phrases, and sentences to find the precise combination of words that invoke emotions and create images in a memorable way.
    • To make your audience remember your core message, you need to make them remember your words and the images you created in their minds.
    • For this, you need a magnifying glass.

Accomplishing both tasks simultaneously is not easy. One approach is to focus primarily on macro-editing in your initial editing passes. Then, when you are happy with how the overall speech is coming together, change your focus and begin micro-editing. This is the basic approach that I apply.

Six Power Principles for Speech Editing

1. Edit for Focus

Audience response you want to avoid:

“The presenter was all over the map. It was confusing.”

Edit mercilessly if you have written something in an earlier draft that strays from your core message. All elements of your speech — every point, every statistic, every anecdote, every story, every joke, every visual aid — must support your core message.

2. Edit for Clarity

Audience response you want to avoid:

“The talk was interesting, but I just didn’t get it.”

On a macro-level, an earlier article of this series showed you that points in your outline should be sequenced in a way which mirrors the meaningful relationship. (e.g. chronological, spatial, cause-effect) Ordering your speech logically is one of the best ways to ensure clarity. Start with one point, and build out from there, as if you were adding one lego block to another over time.

On a micro-level, clarity is also important.

  • Can the sentences be clearer?
  • Have you avoided any tongue-twisters?
  • Is technical jargon eliminated? (Your audience analysis will guide you.)

3. Edit for Concision

Avoid falling in love with any particular component of the speech. Be prepared to cut if your core message can be conveyed in a better way.

Audience response you want to avoid:

“He just went on and on and on…”

Inspiration is provided by Antoine de Saint-Exupery who wrote:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

For each element of your presentation, ask yourself “Is this essential?” If the answer is no, cut it.

  • Eliminate entire points or stories if the core message is conveyed without them.
  • Eliminate sentences if the paragraph reads fine without them.
  • Eliminate words which do not add meaning to the sentences.
  • Replace long words with short words that convey the same meaning.
    e.g. use rather than utilize

4. Edit for Continuity

Audience response you want to avoid:

“She lost me after the fourth slide.”

Transition words, phrases, and sentences — bridging — are necessary to make your speech flow. Your aim is to avoid abrupt transitions where you can lose audience members. One point should feed naturally into the next. Sidebars and other diversions are the enemy.

5. Edit for Variety

For each element of your presentation, ask if it is essential. If the answer is no, cut it.

Audience response you want to avoid:

“It was boring.”

Audiences like variety. It makes the speech more enjoyable, and it also helps you appeal to different types of thinkers.

Here are just a few ways to inject variety into a presentation:

  • Move around the stage.
  • Use a prop, slides, or other visual aids
  • Break up long, serious stretches of a speech with humor.
  • Engage the audience with a rhetorical question or an activity.
  • Balance theory with practical statistics. Balance stories with logical arguments.

Note: Some of these are delivery techniques rather than writing techniques.

6. Edit for Impact and Beauty

Audience response you want to avoid:

“Nothing really stood out.”

There are many closely related techniques to make a speech memorable, including:

  • Surprise the audience.
  • Create vivid images.
  • Appeal to the senses.
  • Craft truly memorable lines.
  • Use analogies, similes, and metaphors.
  • Employ rhetorical devices throughout.

Several of these techniques are addressed in the next article of the Speech Preparation Series.

Tree - Face the Wind

Speech Editing Example: Face the Wind

Here is an example of one editing iteration for my 2007 contest speech Face the Wind.

  • The original version of the speech is in the left column.
  • The revised version of the speech after editing is in the middle column.
  • Comments or explanations are in the right column.

Key to Color-Coding

In addition to comments, I have provided color-coding to demonstrate the impact of the editing process.

  • Old text removed
  • New text added
  • Text moved within a section
  • Words, phrases, or sentences changed

Original Speech

Edited Speech

Comments

Mister Contest Chair, Fellow Toastmasters and guests…

A year and a half ago, my wife and I traded our condo keys for house keys. Our floor space doubled, but there were two much larger changes. First, our mortgage jumped from something quite manageable to something which scares me considerably. Second, the few hours that I once affectionately called “free time” became known as “yard work.” Yard work is a bit like being a Toastmaster club officer for me. I don’t have any clue what I should be doing most of the time, but I always end up being awfully busy.

It was the riskiest thing I’ve ever done. Eighteen months ago, my wife and I traded our condo keys for house keys. Our floor space doubled, our mortgage tripled! Our salary did not change. When the first payment transferred from our bank account, I heard a loud vacuous whooooosh! It would have been easy to let it knock us over. If we had, we’d never have realized a much larger change was coming.Those few hours once affectionately called “free time” became “yard work.” For me, yard work is a lot like being a Toastmasters club officer. I don’t have any clue what I should be doing most of the time, but I always end up being awfully busy.

Mister Contest Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen, and anyone who has ever chased the dream of home ownership and been suckered into yard work …

I really needed a more impactful opening.

I moved the salutation (“Mister Contest Chair”) from the opening sentence to later on.

This allowed me to build conflict immediately with the opening line (“riskiest thing”).

I added a triplet (“Our floor space doubled, our mortgage tripled, our salary did not change.”)

Concision: “a year and a half” changed to “eighteen months”.

Concision: “our mortgage jumped from… considerably” to “our mortgage tripled”

The first big project I tackled was to take care of numerous bushes and trees that were either dead or located in places where my wife didn’t want them. Most of this involved pulling dried sticks out of the earth. The Japanese maple tree was a bit different…it had leaves! So, rather than chop it out, we decided to move it to a prominent spot in the front yard.

The first project was to address numerous bushes and trees that were either dead or located in places where my wife didn’t want them. This involved pulling many dry sticks out of the earth, but the Japanese maple tree was different… it had leaves! Rather than chop it out, we decided to move it to a prominent spot in the front yard.

Concision: Minor edits.

The tree was only seven feet tall. I quickly estimated that I would be done in time to enjoy a mid-morning lemonade. I started digging a hole around the tree about two feet in diameter. Unfortunately, the roots seemed to extend beyond that. I extended the hole to three feet… no luck. Four feet. No luck! After a few hours of digging, I had a moat around the tree, several feet wide and deep.

I’m six feet tall. The tree was about the size of a Sumo wrestler. I estimated that I would be done in time to enjoy a mid-morning lemonade. I started digging a hole two feet wide. Unfortunately, the roots extended beyond that. Each time I widened the hole, I discovered another root. Several hours later, I had a moat.

Clarity: I added a metaphor to give the audience a clearer picture of the size of the tree, and to foreshadow the struggle about to occur.

I exposed all the roots that I could see, and pulled on the trunk.When the tree didn’t pop out of the hole, I tugged harder. Tugs turned to yanks… yanks turned into full-fledged wrestling. Yes, when nobody is looking, this is what I do in my back yard… wrestle trees! Eventually, the tree took pity on me and fell over. I then discovered the source of the tree’s strength… roots as expansive as its branches! Strong roots… strong tree.

I exposed all the roots that I could see, and tugged on the trunk. To my surprise, the tree didn’t pop out of the hole. Tugs turned to yanks… yanks turned into full-fledged wrestling. Eventually, I triumphed. Truthfully, the tree took pity on me and fell over. I then discovered the source of the tree’s strength… roots as expansive as its branches! Strong roots… strong tree.

Again, tightening the language to condense this section.

Continuity: I eliminated the joke (“this is what I do in my back yard”) because I felt it was awkward in between the “action” and the “lesson”.

Planting it in the front yard was quite a bit easier. As I gazed up, exhausted, my eye was drawn to my neighbour’s yard. Specifically, the fifty-foot monster tree in my neighbour’s yard looming over my garage. I put on my engineering cap, and walked a few houses down the street so I could get a good perspective. No doubt about it… that tree would easily crush my garage if it ever toppled over. Good thing trees have such strong roots.

Planting it in the front yard was relatively simple. As I gazed up, looking into the sunset, my eye was drawn to the monster tree in my neighbour’s yard looming over my puny house. I looked again at the monster tree, and then at my puny house. There was no doubt that the tree would easily crush my house if it ever toppled over. I was thankful that trees have strong roots.

Clarity: I shortened this section a bit to improve clarity.

I changed “my garage” to “my house” to heighten the danger.

Continuity: “Looking into the sunset” was an attempt to point out that I spent all day on this project. This was, I think, too subtle, and I addressed this in future editing.

Many months later, the yard work mercifully ended with the rainy season. Or, perhaps I should call it the wind, storm, and snow season. During the first big wind storm, I was in Quebec on a business trip. I flipped on the news, and was amazed to see footage from BC on the national newsgigantic trees falling to the ground and on buildings.

Many months later, yard work mercifully ended with the rainy season. Or, perhaps I should call it the wind, storm, and snow season. During the first big wind storm, I was in Quebec on a business trip. I turned on the national news, and was amazed to see footage from BC! Not just any footage… footage of storm winds blowing gigantic trees onto houses.

Terror gripped me… could my neighbour’s monster tree be toppled by the wind? I called my wife. She reported that the gas BBQ had been lifted off the deck and slammed into the house. However, the monster tree stood tall, and only a few of its branches littered my yard.

Terror gripped me as I envisioned my house becoming an expensive pile of matchsticks. I called my wife. She said “I have good news and I have bad news?” The bad news is the gas BBQ was lifted off the deck and slammed into the house. The good news is that the monster tree stood tall.

The “pile of matchsticks” phrase is inserted to provide a better visual for the audience.

Clarity: I introduced the “good news, bad news” pattern to make the contrast more obvious.

Yet, the television footage was real. This hit home when my wife and I were driving through Stanley Park some weeks later. It was impossible to imagine how so many trees could be knocked over.

Yet, the television footage was real. This hit home when my wife and I were driving through Stanley Park some weeks later. It was impossible to imagine how so many trees with strong roots could be knocked over.

Focus: Just one change. I inserted “with strong roots” to increase the focus on my key speech point.

A theory was put forth by several arborists in Greater Vancouver. Perhaps it was not the force of the wind alone. Rather, it was the force combined with the direction. Apparently, the wind storms of 2006 came from an unusual direction. Each time the wind blows, trees become stronger as they resist it. But, since these trees had never had to face a strong wind from this particular direction, they were “side-swiped” and unable to cope.

A theory was put forth by several arborists in Greater Vancouver. Perhaps it was not the force of the wind alone. Rather, it was the force combined with the direction. Ladies and gentlemen, each time the wind blows, trees brace for it, and become stronger as they resist it. Over time, they become very strong in this direction. But the winds of 2006 came from a different direction. The trees were simply unable to cope, and knocked over.

Clarity: The latter part was completely reworked. I wanted this to be an “a-ha!” moment for the audience.

I inserted the “Ladies and gentleman” phrase to draw attention to the following words. This is a technique which James Humes describes at length (the Power Button) in Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln.

In case you were wondering… my Japanese maple tree was hardly touched by the wind.

Continuity: I eliminated this line because it did not seem to flow. Ironically, I am often asked about the fate of the tree. Perhaps I was wrong?

The events of this past week reminded me of the importance of facing the wind head-on.

The events of this past month reminded me of the importance of facing the wind head-on.

Over the past few years, my sister-in-law Michelle and her husband Lance have had a pair of pregnancies cut short by miscarriage. This was obviously heartbreaking, but Michelle and Lance have strong roots. When the wind came, not once, but twice, they faced the wind head on, and did not let it topple them or their dream.

Over the past few years, my sister-in-law Michelle and her husband Lance have had a pair of pregnancies… both cut short by miscarriage. This was obviously heartbreaking, but Michelle and Lance have strong roots. More importantly, when the wind came, not once, but twice, they faced the wind head on, and did not let it topple them or their dream.

Clarity: added “both”

Added “More importantly” for emphasis.

On Sunday night, a phone call a few minutes shy of midnight announced the birth of their son, Maximus. The name is Latin for “greatest”, and he certainly is a great joy. However, Maximus was born a full month premature, and so he is confined to an incubator. It seems he still needs to face the wind a little longer… but his roots are strong, so I’m confident he won’t be toppled.

The call came on a Sunday night, a few minutes shy of midnight, announcing the birth of their son, Maximus. My first thought was Maximus: Russell Crowe from Gladiator?The name is Latin for “greatest”, and he certainly is a great joy. However, Maximus was born a full month premature. Confined to an incubator, he still needs to face the wind a little longer… but I’m confident he won’t be toppled.

Variety: The primary change was the insertion of the Russell Crowe joke. I felt that the audience needed some emotional relief at this point in the speech.

Fellow Toastmasters, we can’t control when the wind comes, how powerful it is, or its direction. However, we can control our response to it. We can try to evade it, and risk being side-swiped… or we can face the wind head-on.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we cannot control when the wind blows, we cannot control how powerful it blows, and we cannot control its direction. Yesterday, it was a mortgage payment, today it’s a wind storm, tomorrow you may be fighting for your life. Remember that we are not trees! We can control our response to the wind. We can try to evade it, and risk being side-swiped… or we can face the wind head-on.

The original conclusion was weak. I strengthened it in two ways.

First, I use repetition (“we cannot control”) to add impact.

I refer back to earlier points of the speech (mortgage payment, wind storm, fighting for life), applying the rule of three for good measure.

Mister Contest Chair…

Mister Contest Chair…

Speech Preparation Series

Next in the Speech Preparation Series

The next article in this series shows you how to edit your speech to bring your speech alive with rhetorical devices. You will also see a much later draft of Face the Wind that will demonstrate this in practice.

This is one of many public speaking articles featured on Six Minutes.
Subscribe to Six Minutes for free to receive future articles.

Comments icon3 Comments

  1. The six principles you highlight are all excellent points. Principle #3 is one I struggle with in my business presentations the most. I try to remember what Einstein said -”Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
    I really appreciate the before and after example – Great post.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Barry:

      Yes, knowing what can and cannot be cut is not an easy task. You really need to put yourself in the shoes of the audience and “see” the presentation through their eyes to accurately determine this. Another reason that audience analysis is so critical.

  2. What a fun way to illustrate your editing process, Andrew. Very interesting.

    As for the tree, I can totally understand why people would ask about it. You’ve almost anthropomorphized the tree by comparing it to a sumo wrestler and then describing your wrestling match. You seal the deal at the end where it takes pity on you and falls over. I would definitely want to know that the tree survived the ordeal after all it went through to get to its new home!

    I dig the Russell Crowe joke.

Tweets icon2 Tweets

Showing the most recent...

andrew_spence

The Spence Practice @andrew_spence — Sep 26th, 2011

Speech Preparation: Six Power Principles for Speech Editing http://t.co/OUrfuHH8 #Fear of #PublicSpeacking in #Brighton

Image n/a

@michael_messina @michael_messina — Apr 17th, 2014

Conventional wisdom says the best speeches are not written, they are rewritten – Andrew Dlugan http://t.co/Ureif53Klj via @6minutes

Links icon1 Blog Link

 

Great Presentations — May 25th, 2008