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Michael Long is a speechwriter, author, educator, and award-winning screenwriter and playwright.

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How It Looks on the Page Makes a Difference
Help your speaker understand the speech better by making it appealing in print. 



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Here’s the thing: You can write a great speech, a smart speech, a persuasive speech, a speech filled with facts the audience wants and needs to know. But unless it looks inviting on the page – clear, easy to follow, organized, ordered – the speaker is going to have a hard time believing your work is all that good.

It’s like the fairy tale, "The Frog Prince." It was impossible for the princess to believe that a green, scaly frog was royalty. It didn’t matter what he said or promised – or even that he really was royalty. To begin to accept any of that, his appearance had to be inviting. 
 

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Most speechwriters I meet don’t think enough about The Frog Prince Problem. They labor over the text, line by line, then turn to whatever’s next, whether it’s coaching for the speech at hand or writing the next project. Yet how the speech looks on the page is vital to securing a positive reaction from the principal and, from that, a strong delivery. 

The visual qualities on the page must and can guide the reader/speaker through the content. In particular, we must lay out the speech so the principal:

Encounters the right amount of text on each page. A reader should be able to get through a page quickly and immediately. I suggest a common font in 12 points with 1.5-line spacing, not double, and one-inch margins all around. This delivers enough text to be substantial in meaning, not so many words as to be intimidating, and not so few words that the number of pages to read becomes disheartening.

Can see the structure of the text. Break up the speech into sections with descriptive subheads, or at least section breaks. That way, the layout guides the reader through key elements of the narrative or argument. Also: limit each paragraph to one idea or fact. The resulting white space emphasizes that each passage is a self-contained entity, which is what it ought to be anyway.

Never encounters overlong paragraphs. The written speech should be an analog for how it is to be heard. If a long paragraph is a concatenated series of ideas, break them into separate paragraphs. If a long paragraph it is an intertwined set of ideas, consider how the elements and their relationships might be introduced so that each is presented by itself.

The quality of the work ought to be enough but it rarely is.


There’s a reason groups exist to provide “interview suits” to people in need who are trying to get a job: right or wrong, people in charge expect a certain level of decorum and are unwilling or unable to imagine that someone dressed unprofessionally is capable of professional work – even if they are. Your speech needs to be “dressed up,” too.

Audiences need to feel compelled, not burdened, to listen. This quality begins on the page by making the reader/speaker feel compelled, not burdened to read.

The quality of the work ought to be enough, but it rarely is. This was a difficult lesson for me to accept, early on, but it’s important: presentation matters.
 


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