This is Week 5 in my series on how to write any speech. Last week I shared some techniques for writing a well-argued body of the speech. This week I’ll tell you how to write a clean, clear opening (and a tight close, too).
Step 5: Write the open and the end.
At the beginning of a speech, audiences expect to hear certain things. This is not because we’ve been taught to listen for A, B, C, and D, but because we are hard-wired to have certain matters set up or settled when someone demands our attention for an extended period of time.
Most speakers flub the beginning because they have thought more about the subject and their own interest in it than they have about the capacity of the audience to absorb it. As a colleague of mine once put it, Listening is hard.
Think about it: In a formal speech setting, you can’t browse Facebook, fiddle with your phone, or talk to your friend. You have to sit up straight, look at the speaker, and at least act like you're paying attention. Listening is hard. As a speaker, your obligation is to make the job easier.
Listening is hard.
By opening a speech with ARTS, you get the job done. ARTS is so easy, you can extemporize it, yet it sounds focused and professional without all the sweat and tears we imagine usually go into clear prose. What is ARTS?
A = Acknowledgements
First, acknowledge any VIPs.
R = Rapport
T = Topic
S = Subtopics
Get this out of the way so you can jump into your talk without having to stop the flow and go back to pick this up.
Next, establish rapport.
Say something – briefly, very briefly – that shows the audience you know something about them and that you’re interested in them beyond the topic. Mention something about your last time in the city, or do some homework to find out something fun or interesting that they know but that they wouldn’t expect you to know. For instance, don’t just congratulate a college audience on a football win over the weekend. Find out something about the parties or the parades or the campus gossip and mention that as well.
Then identify the topic explicitly.
This frames your talk in the mind of the audience. So what if the topic is written on the marquee and the program? When people sit down, they are thinking about a lot of things besides what you’re going to say. Remind them of your topic, and thus focus them.
Finally, list your subtopics. In other words, give 'em a map.
Speakers and speechwriters don’t often think of this because it’s not very flattering to them, but a prime question for any audience member is when will this be over?
By listing up front the subtopics of your talk, the audience gains a map that tells them how far along you are and how much is left. This unburdens them from having to wonder, and that in turn frees them to think more about what it is you’re saying.
As for a closing, it's even easier: List your subtopics again, then issue a call to action and siddown
. If the speaker has any personal or ad hoc remarks to make at the end, be sure they get said before the call to action, so the last thing out of the speaker’s mouth will always be what he wants the audience to do.
Not every speech structure is “friendly” to these patterns. A long story-speech, for instance, probably doesn’t have subtopics. There are lots of other kinds of openings and closings -- I teach them, myself. But the basics behind these patterns always apply: Provide focus and a “map” of some kind at the beginning, and reinforce audience memory and the call to action at the end.
Next week I’ll wrap up with some end-of-the-process tips to make the writing of a speech easier and the product more effective.