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9 steps to speechwriting & public speaking success


A couple weeks ago, when I spoke at the ASJA conference in NYC (American Society of Journalists and Authors), an attendee asked if I could provide a quick checklist to streamline both speechwriting and public speaking. I can, and here it is:

1. Focus the content. You can’t put everything in a single presentation.

2. Analyze the audience. Don’t write one word or prepare one PowerPoint slide until you understand your audience.

3. Research the topic with this specific audience in mind.

4. Organize your material so it’s easy to follow.

5. Write everything so it’s easy to understand. Rewrite. Cut. Then rewrite and cut again. Whether you’re word-smithing a full manuscript speech, or writing simple bullet notes, or crafting a PowerPoint presentation, make your language easy for the audience to understand.

6. Give your speech some style. Try anecdotes, examples, startling statistics, quotations, stories. Use rhetorical questions to engage the group.

7. Consider using a light touch of humor. [The key word is "light". Go for smiles, not guffaws.]

8. Allow enough time for rehearsals.

9. Consider the options for media attention. Include Tweet-worthy lines. Get photos for better social media interest.

If you follow this 9-step process, you’ll have a speech that interests the audience, serves your organization, and builds your own career.

Good luck!


Spanish cover Como escibir un discurso

Keynote at NAGC (National Association of Government Communicators)

Dr. Cassandra Butler of ONE FERGUSON to Keynote at NAGC Communications School in Memphis

The National Association of Government Communicators has confirmed that Dr. Cassandra Butler of the ONE FERGUSON Steering Committee, an organization formed to help resolve the problems uncovered after Michael Brown’s death at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, will deliver a keynote address to government communicators who attend the 2015 Communications School in Memphis, Tennessee.

Register now to ensure you’ll have a seat on the front row at:

Blues, BBQs, and Government News, 2015 NAGC Communications School

June 2-4, 2015| Memphis, Tenn. Sheraton Downtown, Memphis

The Authors Guild: discounted tickets to BEA (Book Expo America)

from The Authors Guild | 31 E 32nd St | Fl 7 | NY, NY 10016 | US …

For more information about all of this year’s happenings at BEA – the national booksellers’ convention - go to

We are pleased to again offer members discounted registration to BookExpo America (BEA). This year’s BEA is Wednesday, May 27th to Friday, May 29th at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. All-access passes for members are $125 (reduced from the standard price of $367) during early-bird registration through May 8th.

After May 8th and on-site, all-access passes will be $209 (reduced from the standard price of $419). One-day passes are $79 (reduced from the standard price of $199) during early-bird registration through May 8th.

After May 8th and on-site, one-day passes will be $104 (reduced from the standard price of $209). To register with the discount, click For your Registration Category, select “Licensing Rights & Literary Agents” or “Author.”

An easy way to improve your speechwriting and presentation skills

Last week I presented a speechwriting session at the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors conference in New York City. One of the attendees asked “How can I gradually improve my speechwriting/speaking skills without spending a lot of time?”

Well, here are two easy answers (which also happen to be no-cost):

#1: The first answer is as close as your computer/TV. Watch C-Span ten minutes at a time – at least once a week, a couple times if possible. Look at each speech asking “what works” and “what doesn’t work”. Keep a running log of the public speaking tips you learn.

#2: The second answer is as close as your local public library. Borrow a copy of How To Write & Give A Speech (St. Martin’s Press, 2014, 30th anniversary edition). Read it once straight through, then go back and read just one chapter at a time. As you read each chapter, think about recent speeches you’ve seen. Did they focus their content – or did they ramble? Did they custom-design the presentation for the audience – or did they just give a “generic” speech?

I promise: If you follow these two bits of advice, your speechwriting and presentation skills will steadily improve.

Be sure to update your LinkedIn profile to show your new skills.

Lecture at The Cornell Club of NY: “How to Get Your Book Published”

How to Get Your Book Published

Event Date: Monday, May 18, 2015
Event Time: 6:00 pm EST
Event End Date: Monday May 18, 2015

All of us have a story. Some of us burn to tell it – but how? The Cornell Club-NY has assembled a panel of three alumni to give you an inside look at the book publishing industry. Here’s your chance to learn: what publishers want; how important a literary agent is, how to find one, and create a relationship; and what an award-winning author’s life is really like. After the presentation, members and their guests can choose to continue the discussion at dinner – with the chance to hear readings from local Cornell authors.The evening will feature:

  • Hannah Bowman ’09: a literary agent at Liza Dawson Associates, where she represents authors in a variety of genres, primarily focusing on science fiction and fantasy and young adult novels. Her clients include New York Times bestselling author Pierce Brown and Hugo-Award winner Kameron Hurley. Hannah joined the agency in 2011; she graduated from Cornell University with a double major in English and mathematics.
  • Carol Fein Ross ’72: Executive Vice President, Business Affairs and General Counsel, for Hachette Book Group, including Little, Brown and Company, Grand Central Publishing, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Orbit, Hachette Books, Hyperion, FaithWords, Center Street, Yen Press, Back Bay Books, Forever, Mulholland Books, and Hachette Audio.  Carol is responsible for all legal work for the company, including intellectual property matters, digital relationships, and contractual arrangements with authors, creators, business and distribution partners.   Carol has been with the company for over 30 years, most of that time while it was part of Time Warner Inc.   She also serves as Chair of the Lawyer’s Committee of the Association of American Publishers, an adjunct professor at CCNY in its Publishing Certificate Program, and a member of the Board of the UJA-Federation Publishing Division. She graduated from Cornell University and Brooklyn Law School and worked for a Federal Judge in Manhattan and the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, before focusing on publishing.
  • Thaddeus Rutkowski ’76: author of the novels Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. All three books were finalists for an Asian American Literary Award, and Haywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. His writing has appeared in The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, Fiction, Fiction International and many other journals.  He teaches at Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He has been a resident writer at Yaddo, MacDowell and other colonies, and was selected to read in the former compound of East German leader Erich Honecker in Berlin.
  • Joseph H. Holland is a Harlem-based writer, attorney, entrepreneur, civic leader and minister with thirty years of experience building institutions that serve the community.  Mr. Holland’s spiritual memoir, From Harlem With Love: An Ivy Leaguer’s Inner-City Odyssey and devotional was published by Lantern Books in 2012. His screenwriting has also garnered attention: his biopic, Booker T, has been optioned by a Hollywood management company; his TV dramatic series, Harlem Law was optioned by a Hollywood production company; and his buddy dramedy, Undercover Grace, won the 2005 Christian Screenwriting Award co-sponsored by Fox Entertainment. In the past had written primarily for stage. His first play, Cast Me Down, garnered six AUDELCO nominations and enjoyed a nation-wide tour before running Off-Broadway. His second play, Homegrown, experienced two extended runs at Harlem’s landmark National Black Theatre. His new self-help book, Touchstones Tools: Building Your Way To An Inspired Life, will be published by Grand Harbor Press in 2015.  A graduate of Cornell University, where he earned a B.A. (1978) and M.A. (1979) and was an All-American football player, Holland has served as a member of the University’s Board of Trustees since 1988. He holds his J.D. degree from Harvard Law School (1982).

6:00pm cash bar reception; 6:30pm lecture, gratis.  Advance reservations required!  Members and guests are invited to dine at The Club table following the lecture. The cost is $40 per person, inclusive of tax, gratuity, and one glass of wine with dinner. Dinner reservations are required 48 hours prior to the program. Same day cancellations and no shows will be charged.


Register Now

NAGC welcomes communicators to Memphis for Blues, BBQs and Government News

The National Association of Government Communicators Communications School is coming soon.

The last day to receive NAGC’s discounted Early Bird registration fee for the Communications School is Thursday, April 30, 2015. Prices increase on May 1, so don’t wait to submit your forms.

Register now for Blues, BBQs, and Government News, 2015 NAGC Communications School June 2-4, 2015| Memphis, Tenn. Sheraton Downtown, Memphis

How much money will your organization lose this week on poor presentations, long meetings, boring speeches?

Do something different this week: Add up all the time your organization spends on presentations. Start with the preparation time.

Include the research hours. Count the emails, log the calls.  How long to get background on the audience, how long to verify venue details? Add up the hours (days, maybe?) preparing PowerPoint.

Factor in all the time required to get approvals. Did HR have to sign off on the material? Did you have to run the speech past the legal department? How long did all this take?

Include the time needed for rewrites.

What about the rehearsals? (I certainly hope you rehearse more than once!) Renting the practice space? Hiring a teleprompter operator?

Look at onsite meeting expenses. Coffee, anyone? Fresh fruit platters?

Look at offsite meeting expenses. What’s the hourly fee for renting a hotel conference room? Exhibit space? The [often stunning] cost of catering at convention centers?

Look very carefully at travel time and travel expenses. How many people had to spend their time and money to get to each meeting?

Go ahead: Take a deep breath and add up the combined work hours lost by all the attendees.

Then add in your opportunity costs. What else could (should?) the attendees have been doing with their time?

More to the point: What else could (should?) you – the speaker – have been doing with your time?

Fix your presentations drain … and fix it as soon as possible.

If your presentations aren’t planned well, they will eat up huge amounts of time and cost your organization a lot of money. Think. Even a one hour coaching/consulting session could produce a ten-fold ROI.

Do the math.


How important is your message?

If you are giving a presentation of significance, make sure the audience understands both your content and your intent.

Some presentations are simply more important than others: a scientist making a proposal for a critical grant … a medical professional trying to persuade others to take a new approach … an educator seeking funding for a state-wide program … a financial advisor wanting to clarify investment consequences.

Your content is critical. But your intent is equally critical. What do you want your listeners to hear? To remember? To do?

In speeches of substantial magnitude, it’s important for you to make your intentions very clear to the audience. Pay attention to your:

* tone

* sincerity

* urgency

* commitment

* passion

* dedication

Do not make the mistake of doing a serious presentation in a casual way. You are not chatting over a cup of coffee. You are putting yourself (and your organization) on the line. The stakes are big.

Do not use a “breezy” speaking style. You must come across as a speaker of substance, clout and confidence. Focus. Don’t wander. Don’t digress. Make every word count.

When you command attention, you get attention. Even better, you get results.

Now, get to work.

More speakers added to ASJA conference

New Speaker Additions to ASJA2015: Connect for SuccessASJA

Carolyn Waters is the Assistant Head Librarian at the New York Society Library, the oldest library in New York City. She’ll be sharing her expertise on the Beyond the Basics: Research to Help You Dig Deep panel on Friday, May 1, the first day of ASJA2015 open to the public.

Todd Pitock has won several ASJA Outstanding Article awards, including this year’s awards for both Lifestyle and Op-Ed articles. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Discover, Nautilus, National Geographic Traveler and others. Catch him on the From Pitch to Publish panel, also on Friday.

Kirby Kim is a literary agent representing commercial authors in fiction and nonfiction. He worked as an agent at Charlotte Sheedy Literary, Vigliano Associates and WME before joining Janklow & Nesbit. She’ll be speaking on the From Essay to Book Panel, Friday.

Steffen A. Kaplan is a social media and visual consultant with two decades of experience as a supervising photo editor at The New York Times. Today he leads his own brand “Spin It Social” and is a social media consultant/strategist for AARP’s Life Reimagined platform and its executive leadership and thought leaders. Don’t miss him on Saturday on the panel Going Viral: How to Get More Attention for Your Book or Story. Members have access to an additional full day of incredible speakers on Thursday, April 30.

I’ve volunteered a Members Day session on “How to Get Speechwriting Assignments … No Matter Where You Live”. One lucky attendee will win a copy of How To Write & Give A Speech, now celebrating 31 continuous years of publishing success – never out of print a single day.

Not a member? Find out how to join.

Can’t come for the whole event? One-day pricing is available, starting from $269. Catch sessions such as Breaking into Content Marketing Writing and Successfully Self-Publish on Friday, or Tech Markets: The Road to Success and Business Matters: Proposals, Contracts & More on Saturday.

How to prepare a room for public speaking success

So, you’ve prepared all your presentation materials and even rehearsed a few times. Ready to go? No, not so fast. Your speech is only as good as the venue allows it to be. Set the room like a good director sets the stage – put everything in place for a successful delivery.

You may have prepared a witty speech or an informative presentation, but if the audience can’t hear you well or see you comfortably, much of your hard work will go to waste.

And if the audience is suffering from an air-conditioning system that doesn’t work, you might as well let everyone head home early.

Check the room:

1. Does the room have windows? If glare poses a problem, shut the drapes.

2. Does the hotel ballroom have unwanted mirrors in back of your lectern? (This happens more often than you might realize.) You don’t want a full-view reflection of your backside to reveal any fidgeting. Insist that the hotel either block the mirrors with a decorative screen or move your lectern.

3. Does the lectern have a light? Is it plugged in and ready to go? Is a spare light bulb handy? Does the lectern have a shelf where you can stash a cough drop, a handkerchief, or a glass of water?

4. Does the seating work for you or against you? Arrive early and adjust the chairs if needed. If you expect your audience will be smaller than the number of seats in the auditorium, take ribbon to rope off the back rows.

5. Is the room soundproof? You don’t want to make your most important point, only to have the audience distracted by a noisy meeting next door.

Adapted from How To Write & Give A Speech (St. Martin’s Press, updated 4th edition, 2014). Published in Spanish, Japanese and Dutch.

stack of books

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