Part 5: Preparing Your Message
“Canned” speeches, tape/slide presentations, and other prepackaged programs have become commonplace in speakers’ bureaus in many large companies. “Canned” speeches can offer you valuable assistance. Unfortunately, their use is fraught with potential problems that the unsuspecting, lazy spokesperson will invariably get caught up in.
Prepackaged programs offer several advantages. You can save preparation time by eliminating the research stage; the information has already been gathered for you. When numerous speakers are using the same speech (the case with most corporate speakers’ bureaus), the “canned” pitch can insure consistency in facts and in the message being delivered. You can also save time by not having to create and organize your script from raw data. Most canned speeches are prepared by experienced speechwriters and, as such, are properly organized.
The use of prepackaged programs also has disadvantages. If an audience perceives that they are receiving a canned pitch, the speaker’s credibility (and the audience’s interest) is diminished. The major problem with canned speeches is lazy speakers. Many speakers can’t resist the temptation to use the canned pitch completely intact, regardless of the audience or the occasion. This may indeed seem to save you time, but the drastic reduction you’ll experience in effectiveness will more than offset any imagined gains. Speeches must be tailored to fit specific audiences. A little time spent customizing a canned speech will improve the end result substantially. And if you deliver a canned speech vigorously, the audience will never realize you are largely parroting someone else’s words.
The objectives and methods of introductions discussed in Chapter 23 are appropriate for all speeches. Your introduction must be audience-specific; in it you must strive to build rapport with the individual audience. As discussed earlier, this will not only increase the likelihood that they will accept your ideas, but it may make your question-and-answer session more productive. And after all, you personally are the one to whom questions will be directed, not the person who wrote the speech.
During the discussion on message design (Chapter 23) we determined that it is imperative that we give the audience a reason to listen. In the case of the informative speech, you want the audience to realize that they need the information you have. This “need” step must also be audience-specific. Surely a businessperson’s group will listen to a subject differently than a class of junior high school students. Although each audience you address may need the information you present, they will probably need it for different reasons. The more your audience understands their own need for your information, the more successful your canned speech to inform will be.
In the speech to persuade you give your audience a reason to listen by describing a problem they need to have solved. The problem may very well be universal in nature, but the way it impacts a specific audience is unique, and that impact will vary from audience to audience. The better your audience understands how the problem relates to them, the more receptive they will be to your discussion of solutions.
My experience has been that canned persuasive speeches require more customizing time for a specific audience than the canned speech to inform. This is partially due to the fact that you are actually seeking different actions from different audiences.
Using prepackaged programs does not eliminate your need to complete a thorough audience analysis for each speaking engagement (Chapter 22). The important speech modifications you make from speech to speech will be based largely on the result of your analysis of the background information you gather on each of your audiences. The analysis will also help prepare you for a question-and-answer session, as you will be better able to anticipate specific questions, and to provide answers within your audience’s frame of reference.
Most canned speeches come to you in the form of a complete manuscript – not an outline. This can be a mistake. When you speak from an outline, you have to add your own words to make the speech complete. On the other hand, a manuscript can be presented verbatim.
Earlier I encouraged you to write in a way that comes naturally. If you do, you will speak in a manner that sounds natural to you. It is a difficult task to conceal the fact that you are presenting someone else’s words. Most people who use canned speeches word-for-word sound a little phony.
There are two things you can do to reduce your chances of sounding artificial. First, edit the manuscript to suit your own style; eliminate words you don’t normally use, or phrases you find difficult to say. If you are more comfortable speaking from an outline, then by all means reduce the full manuscript to an extempore outline. Don’t assume that just because an “expert” speechwriter wrote the speech, his/her words are automatically superior to your own. Whatever your own personal style is, use it. Transmute the canned speech into your own words and style; make it your own speech.
The second way to avoid sounding phony with a prepackaged manuscript is to rehearse it extensively. You must be intimately familiar with a manuscript before delivering it verbatim. Through repeated rehearsals, the material will begin to mold itself to you. With a minimum of editing and a maximum of rehearsal, it will be difficult to tell where you stop and the manuscript begins.
Just as the introduction is tailored to the specific audience and occasion, the conclusion should be as well. In the case of the speech to information you should modify at least the audience impact step, and the conclusion. In fact, the canned presentation will probably only be appropriate for the main body of the speech: the “satisfy” step. The five steps of the speech to inform will typically require substantial modification in at least the first and last two steps:
Tailoring the conclusion of the speech to persuade is usually a necessity – the action you want the audience to take varies from audience to audience. One important consideration is the audience’s ability to act. For example, persuading a group to vote in favor of a proposition won’t do any good if they are not registered to vote. You may decide to concentrate instead on getting them to register. Your audience analysis will guide you as you identify which actions are within your audience’s reach. The better you tailor the need to act to your specific audience, the more persuasive you will be.