Part 1. Invention | A talk for speechwriters

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A little while ago, I joined the European Speechwriters Network to talk about speeches.

Naturally, speechwriters have a greater interest in the writing of a speech than the delivery – but I’m copying the whole session here because it’s still valuable to someone who isn’t a speechwriter.

I recommend you watch it as a specimen of a man delivering a talk. The man just happens to be me. Watch particularly for the way the man engages with his audience, at the beginning, to build a sense of connection.

Ordinarily, this would be the part you want to skip past – for understandable reasons. But watch closely. See if there are things you could borrow yourself – and things you could do that this man (me) didn’t manage.

The session was led by Lucinda Worlock1.

The text below gives a rough overview, with timecodes.

Watch Now

0:22 Intro by Brian Jenner of the European Speechwriters Network2
I ask the online audience to put cameras on and say hello (unless naked and can’t bear it). This, as becomes clear, is an important part of building a sense of connection.

4:15 Lucinda asks where everyone is.
Locations include: Ottowa, Altrincham, near Frankfurt, in the woods somewhere in Holland, Marylebone Road, Cambridge, Cardiff, Norwich, Ripon, outside Boston, Cheltenham, north London (x 2), New York, and Bournemouth.
Don’t overlook this bit! Audience members like to be seen, and heard.

10:15 Lucinda mentions A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech, and asks what prompted me to write it.
I explain that my 2018 breakdown felt like I was starting everything again. But that I found public speaking surprisingly easy.

15:30 Question: What is it about writing that helps you open up and connect with other people?
In which I describe, among other things, overcoming shyness and the value of “cliffhangers”.

18:00 Question: How do you decide which stories to share?
I start by explaining what I learned in improvisational theatre about status, and how to adjust it in the moment.
I add that I’ve learned to trust my own intuition. Good stories should feel exciting / fear (the two things are indivisible).

23:00 Question: How do you approach writing a book v writing a speech?
I find it almost impossible to write either without a sense of my audience.
Also: be heartfelt. Don’t be entirely in your head.
And consider what you want to be the effect on your audience. Start a revolution? Have a laugh…?

27:00 Lucinda describes the dangers for speakers of wanting to be liked – or even understood.
I ask if I’ve shot myself in the foot, marketing-wise, by publishing a book about speaking merely adequately.

29:40 Question: What have you had to unlearn, in public speaking?
Don’t try to be good. It’s drummed into us at school. But forget it. Take the focus off yourself. Focus on being of service to the audience.
And I describe the revelation I experienced, years ago, while teaching a class on “How To Be Confident”.

35:00 I’m glad the language of vulnerability is starting to evolve in the world of leadership… But how to be authentic?
I screenshare and explain A Supposedly Scientific Graph about what makes a great speech, then The Spectrum of Communication.

39:20 Question: I love the drawings and mind maps in the book… How does art help for you in communication?
Drawing, because it’s non-verbal, is a great way to get out of my head.

42:30 Question: Is it a double-edged sword to be always reading the audience?
I try to notice, but not draw any conclusions. One way to do that is to step back and watch myself, too. And to draw attention to what’s happening in the moment. Naming The Thing can have a huge impact.

44:30 Question: Is that something you learned from impro?
For my answer to this and the following questions, watch the video!

46:45 Question: You dedicate your book to your daughter, with the words, “May you always speak well”. What do you mean by that?

48:30 Question: In one of your videos you talk about reading Tintin with your daughter in other languages. Do you still do that?

49:30 Question: Did you start improvisation before or after playing creative games with your daughter?

50:30 Question: What do you want people to do, having read the book?

52:40 Question: Do you think of writing, including speechwriting, as a kind of performance?

57:50 Lucinda wraps up.


1 Lucinda Worlock is a performer and coaches speakers. Find out more on her website

2 Brian Jenner teaches writes speeches professionally, and founded the European School of Speechwriting And Performance