Writing for the Ear: Tips from a Public Speaking Coach

By Morgan McCullough

It is a given that to be successful in the industry, PR professionals must be skilled writers. What we often fail to realize, though, is that we also need to be competent public speakers. Common public speaking scenarios that PR professionals experience are pitches to clients, oral briefings to account executives, and presentations on behalf of clients to their customers. Of course, good writing makes good speeches.

According to professional public speaking coach Craig Engstrom, owner of Communcation@Work LLC, “the first thing you have to keep in mind when outlining a speech is that you are writing for the ear. You should deliver for the ear as well.” Key takeaways from my conversation with Engstrom follow; foremost, he emphasized that what flows on paper may not sound so well to a live audience; therefore, a speaker must be clear, concise, and consistent.

Constructing Your Outline for the Ear

One of the most important devices to use when outlining your speech is repetition. If a reader misses something when reading an essay, they can always go back and reread it. Speakers, however, must anticipate that their audience does not have this luxury. Therefore, the constant repetition of the main points will help listeners follow the logic of a presentation. Listeners will know the central message of a speech merely by what is repeated most often.

Keep the speech concise. When beginning an outline, always start with the question: “How much time do I have?”

Then, divide up the word count into chunks based on balanced time increments. For example, if you are given ten minutes to speak, you have four minutes per main point for a two-point speech or 2.5 minutes for a three-point speech, assuming a one-minute introduction and a one-minute conclusion. If speaking at a cadence of one slide per minute and accounting for slack, the slide deck will be eight slides.

Whereas one might use four or five levels to make a point in writing, a speech that goes deeper than three levels will sound convoluted.

Something Engstrom always emphasizes to his clients is the use of organizational patterns. “Choose a pattern that matches your topic—such as topical, sequential, spatial, problem-solution– and then organize main points around that structure,” he says.

“If a speaker begins with these points in mind—repetition, balanced points, timing, and org patterns,” Engstrom emphasizes, “writing a speech is super easy.”

Delivering Your Speech for the Ear

Delivery begins when you start writing because you want to read your lines aloud as you write them. Delivery-while-writing helps speakers achieve cadence, avoid tongue-twisters, and use words that make sense to the audience. It also helps commit content to memory.

Start by writing your speech word for word, then work down to a paraphrased outline with keywords to trigger your memory during the presentation.

Always use mnemonic devices, such as implementing parallelism by using three words that all end in “-ing.” This way, even if you forget your notes, you can still sound organized and prepared because you know your three main points.

Speeches are an oral art form. After completing the outline, consider vocal techniques to enhance the presentation. A public speech is delivered more effectively when a speaker exercises their vocal toolbox, such as timbre, tone, volume, pitch, and pace.

Also, use a variety of nonverbal gestures.

To ensure you do not forget critical movements, insert brackets in your script where you should pause, count with your fingers, move stage left, pick up the pace, volume up, and so on.

Do not deliver everything to others’ ears! Engstrom notes, “Focus on one topic and avoid metacommentary that undermines your presentation.” Nothing hurts your credibility more than announcing your lack of confidence to the crowd with phrases like “I’m so nervous,” “That’s going to be a hard act to follow,” and “I hope I can get through this all.” That last comment does not exist if you practice.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

The more you practice, the more confident you will be and the more natural you will sound when conversing with the audience. You are an expert on the topic, so be bold and show what you know! Use your voice, tell stories, and stay organized.

When delivering a speech, our nerves tend to make our voices monotonous. So why not pretend that you’re having a conversation with your friends?

If you do all things listed above, the audience will remain engaged from beginning to end.

Final Thought: You Can Do This!

Remember, nobody is a perfect public speaker. Even the best of the best will have some form of public speaking anxiety. At some point in your PR career, you will fail. And that’s okay. It would be unheard of if you did not seriously bomb at least one presentation throughout your career. So take risks knowing that everybody makes mistakes. When you make mistakes, know that the audience is on your side. Listeners want you to succeed.

I am planning at least two more articles from my conversation with Engstrom. However, let me know if you would like me to cover with him by leaving a comment or connecting with me on LinkedIn.

Morgan McCullough is a Junior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. She is majoring in Public Relations and Journalism and is currently interning for Communication@Work LLC.

One thought on “Writing for the Ear: Tips from a Public Speaking Coach

  1. I enjoyed reading these tips on crafting effective speeches. We often don’t emphasize the impact that effective public speaking can have in the public relations world, and presenting to a client or boss can be daunting, to say the least. However, implementing these suggestions can ease the pressure and ensure that a speech is well-planned, well-crafted and well-delivered. -Maggie Palmer, writer/editor for Platform Magazine

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