So you’ve written this story for your speech. It fits your theme nicely. It looks fine. So, it’s ready to go, right?
Not so fast. Professional speakers and professional writers know that what you have written is a first draft and it needs editing or polishing. The refinement of the story is the secret of its success.
Editing is not the most fun I ever had, but I do a lot of it. Here are my best tips for a speech story:
- Write or word process your story so you can see it as well as hear it in your head.
- Remove the passive verbs and replace them with active verbs. A passive verb says ‘This happened to me’; an active verb says ‘I did this’. For example: ‘I was hit by the bus’ should be ‘I couldn’t jump out of the way fast enough. The bus hit me.’
- Try to remove every instance of ‘There is’, ‘There was’. ‘There was a dog sitting in the middle of the street’ becomes ‘A dog sat in the middle of the street’.
- Have you used the word ‘looked’ as in ‘She looked surprised.’? You need to be more specific. In what way did she look surprised? Did her mouth drop open? Did her eyes widen? Did she cuss or jump backwards? don’t short-change us in the actual movement and feeling of the moment.
- Note the points where you will pause to allow listeners a moment to absorb the emotion of the moment. Look at the words following the pause and make sure they gently pull the listener back into the story.
- Find ways to present information in dialog rather than simply telling it.
- Look for ways to increase the emotional connection, especially with the main character. The listener should feel sadness for him, fear for him – whatever emotion fits. Use vocabulary or manipulate the scene to increase this connection. The main character might make mistakes. Bring home the feeling, the frustration. We’ve all made mistakes; we all connect.
- Use telling detail in your description. If the scene is in a coffee shop, we all know what a coffee shop looks like. Decide what detail will bring this one into focus – the bulletin board of community events, the napkin folded under a table leg, the barista’s nose ring.
- Read your story to a friend and ask questions. What was the point of the story? Which part grabbed you? Why do you think my mistake led to that result? Are you left with any questions? A good friend will reveal the weaknesses and help you come up with a stronger story.
- As the structure and detail of your story improves practice it – not as a story you are telling – but as an experience listeners are hearing for the first time. How can you make their experience richer and more meaningful?