CARE, then Share


Here is a dynamic truth from Michael Port, a bestselling author, former actor, and speech trainer…

“In a speech, one of the most important things that an audience needs to know is that you know the way the world looks for them,” says Michael. “And you know how it could look — and it could look a lot better. So we are trying to take them on a journey to what is better. When you meet somebody, let’s say you’re networking together, it really makes a difference if they believe you understand the way the world looks to them. And in the development of that relationship, if you are helping them see the way the world could look, well then that relationship can develop very powerfully and positively over time.”

Can you believe this? A good speech is not a “data dump.” It does not just transfer information. Effective speakers consider how they want their audience to FEEL when they are done speaking. You cannot be satisfied with merely approaching your audiences in terms of what they need to KNOW.

Here the age-old proverb, typically attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, applies…,

The audience never cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

This is how Michael Port’s insight applies. Can the audience truly believe that you know how their world looks? Do they subconsciously trust that you genuinely care? If not, modify your message.

To build trust we must adjust. We cannot afford to tell audiences all that we think they need to know. They must feel that we understand their world, and that our message is applicable to it. Then we can gently move them from seeing their world as it is to what it could be.

So ask yourself two questions as you prepare your platform, as you refine your message, as you craft your delivery…

What does my audience currently feel about this topic?

What will they feel after hearing my message?

For example, rather than decry that “Problem X resulted in more than 3 million deaths over the past 20 years,” put a “face” on your facts. Tell us about “Ziggy” and how his/her family was specifically impacted by Problem X. Present your information in a way that your audience FEELS the injustice that hurt Ziggy and trusts that you care too. Numbers, statistics and figures never speak for themselves. Make sure that all data is directly applicable to your audience and pertinent to similar conditions in their lives.

The message we share must show that we care. This dynamic is essential – a non-negotiable in effective communication.

Much More than Author and Title – Proper INTRODUCTIONS


When we introduce people to one another, we announce their names, their particulars and then offer pleasantries with the purpose of making a connection for the first time.

In the same way, competitive speakers are permitted to write introductions when presenting interpretive selections from literature. This should be done as we would with any other kind of introduction. It is slightly nuanced in the sense that your judging panel is not permitted to respond, but the speaker must remember that this introduction should include enough information to show the merits of the selection and at the same time intrigue the audience about what is to come.

Here’s what we know…

Most forensics leagues require that the title and author be stated for all interpretive work. It may help to disclose the date of original publication or a copyright too, if that provides additional context for the judges. No more than 150 words may be added to the script in single-source interpretations like Dramatic and Humorous Interp. Use those words well! The introduction may open the presentation from the onset or be nestled after an opening scene (what is sometimes referred to as a “teaser”) Either way, the speaker is attempting to make a connection between the piece and the audience. They are being “introduced” to one another.

Here are additional helpful recommendations from Forensics The Winner’s Guide to Speech Contests by Brent C.Oberg, Meriwether Publishing, Ltd., Colorado Springs, © 1995. Oberg says,

“First, you must introduce your audience to the characters, setting, and mood of the literature.  If you are performing a short section of a larger work, you must give the audience a feel for the literature as a whole and tell them what happened before the scene you plan to perform.  Pretend your friends have entered a movie ten minutes late and you must tell them the basic conflict, who the story is about, and what important events and plot twists they have missed.  Finally, give a short preview of the scene you will perform so that your listeners will be able to follow your performance easily, focusing on your performance and interpretation rather than the plot of your selection.  Be careful not to reveal the resolution of your story or piece, though—you want there to be some element of suspense for the audience.” (101)

Finally, give your audience a reason to listen to your selection. What value does it hold for them? Why should they care about the storyline and the characters who take part? How will they be able to identify with them? Again, the introduction provides an opportunity for the universal appeal of the story to be highlighted so that a good connection can be made from the start. Oberg goes on to say,

“For your performance to have impact, there must be a larger reason you have selected your literature than simply thinking it will help you win.  What do you feel the audience can learn from your piece of literature?  What new insights to the literature will your interpretation provide?  Why does this piece have literary merit?  If you answer these questions in the introduction of your interpretation, you will be surprised to find that your piece will be regarded by judges as more substantive and how few judges will believe it to be lacking in literary merit.” (101)

Now you have it. Give careful thought to the way in which you will introduce your selection. Offer enough information for the audience to understand the backdrop of your story as well as its overall significance.

With a good introduction, we are all much more likely to say,

“Pleased to have met you, and we’ll not soon forget you!”


Message not Manner – Be the WINDOW

light_through_a_window Here’s a favorite insight from Dale Carnegie:

“A good window does not call attention to itself. It merely lets in the light. Good speakers are like that. They are so natural that their hearers never notice their manner of speaking; they are conscious only of the message.” ~ from Public Speaking for Success, p.153.

So be a “window” this year and stay intentional about not “blocking the view.”  Let’s not get in the way of our own message.

Here’s what we know…

The speaker’s delivery should never draw attention to itself. Nothing the speaker does vocally or physically should interrupt the communication process. The following specifics will help us minimize our manner and instead magnify our message:

  1. Never refer to parts of a speech in the speech. For example, referencing parts of an outline (i.e., “my thesis,” “for my first point,” “in conclusion.”) interrupts good communication. Instead, use creative language and rhetoric to help your audience track your thinking rather than cloud your message by identifying components of the speech itself. Then you will be more window-like.
  2. Do not merely think of your speech in terms of its needed components as a forensics event (i.e., “I don’t have enough blocking,” “I need more accents,” “I have to have three points”). Of course, I ultimately always encourage students to address and include these elements, but we must not put the cart before the horse. Your story or message must define these fundamentals, not the other way around. For example, find a story worth telling and discover the characters and blocking imbedded in the tale. Simply adding superfluous machinations will be a distraction and get in the way of your message or moral.
  3. Ask people you trust to evaluate your speech either as a “blind judge” or a “deaf judge.” This will help you refine your actual delivery so that nothing about your voice or body will deter your listeners.

So, get out of the way and be a window this year. Your message and audience can then connect more easily and we will see what you want to tell us.

Here’s to looking right through you…

Choose a Message, Not a Topic – the Need for Human CONNECTION!

Human Connection - Depositphotos_48247015_s-620x330

Don’t just write a speech on a topic that interests you this year.

Don’t just construct a 1AC.

That’s the wrong approach. It’s a slippery slope and you will be sliding in the wrong direction. Beware!

Here’s what I mean…

Human beings desire genuine community –  with God, with one another, and even with themselves. Language is the vehicle by which human connection takes place. Therefore, a speech has the potential to be so much more than a mere composition of words. A good speech will promote better connection and extend the great conversation of mankind. A purely technical attempt at speech writing will backfire. A meaningful speech has heart and soul.

Furthermore, because we are born to communicate, our instincts serve us well as listeners too. Good speech writers understand that their audiences will quickly discern when they are being conned or manipulated. Audiences, and judging panels, can sense when a speech is simply a contrived composition that merely meets event rules or fills the skeletal structure of an outline.

Just putting words together and delivering those words aloud does not a connection make!  In fact, we must take care that we do not create a dis-connection.

Here’s what Dananjaya Hettiarachchi, this year’s newly crowned World Champion of Public Speaking by Toastmaster’s International knows after years of competitive speech writing,

“Hettiarachchi says that a common mistake beginners make when crafting their speeches is by starting with a topic. Instead, he says you should begin with a message, and it should be as concise as possible. This message is whatever you want your audience to be thinking about when your presentation concludes.”

This champion speaker gives other helpful tips this month in a Business Insider Australia article by Richard Feloni. You can read it here:


So speech coaches, rather than ask our young speech writers, “What’s your speech topic this year?” we must help them discover what message they want or need to share. Debate coaches, we will be careful to do much more than help our debaters add definitions, clarify criteria, or re-tag “harms” in their constructives and merely argue point-for-point in their rebuttals.

All year long, we will remind one another to…

  • make a connection
  • put a face on the facts
  • tell a moving story
  • extend a conversation

Of course, each speech will contain structure and organization, and comply with all of your forensic league’s rules. But take time to reach down deep. Don’t forget the importance of your message just because you’ve chosen a topic.

We can’t wait to connect with you this year!


MORE & MORE Questions – Approaching a Platform


Writing a platform, or self-written rehearsed speech, seems like a great option. Of course it does. Of course it should. It is!

Platform speeches give us the opportunity to talk about what is important to us. But lo! As we approach a platform, more questions must be asked and this is the perfect time to ask them before the competitive season launches. Where does a speech writer start? How does someone choose a topic?  How can young speakers truly connect with an older audience and deliver a meaningful message?

Here are some guidelines as you begin to ask these questions and many more. We will start by asking questions that lie at the very core of any speech. The following elements have to be considered from the onset.

Will your speech be…

CURRENT? – having direct bearing on relevant matters; pertinent

COMPELLING? – having a powerful and irresistible effect

CREDIBLE? – worthy of belief or confidence; believable

In addition, it is best that your topic be born from your own core interests, values, or aspirations. Then you are sure to have the passion and enthusiasm that every speaker needs in order to connect with others.

As you begin to narrow down a topic, and  your coaches  concur that your message will indeed be current, compelling, and credible, here are other questions worth asking regarding content:

Do I have a clear thesis and restricted focus for this speech? A good thesis takes a position that will be defended or explained throughout the speech.

How can I be trusted with my message?              

  • What is my personal connection to the topic? Remember a good speech is never just a report.  Again, the audience must believe that you the speaker are truly interested in your topic and invested in your message.
  • Have I included sufficient credible information from others? Evidence from experts and advocates will help support your thesis throughout the speech.

What has the audience heard too often if they are familiar with a particular platform event?  If you will face judges this season who have already heard countless speeches on “subject X,” remember that your responsibility will be to deliver something that is absolutely original and unique, if you want it to be competitive.

Is there a difference between what the audience would like to hear and what they need to know about my topic?

What will my audience already know or think they know about my topic? Once again, your information will have to address any preconceived notions or misconceptions about your topic.

What NEW information will the audience learn from my speech?

How will my speech be memorable?

Will the audience have any other expectations? This includes all of the criteria stated on the ballots from your particular speech league. Review them often while writing your actual speech.

Not only is it wise to ask questions during the speech writing process, it is essential. The good answers to these questions will lay the groundwork for a platform speech packed with purpose, power, and persuasion. Revisit your questions and answers often throughout the process. Then craft your message carefully – make it meaningful and memorable.



Write for the EAR

Write for the ear

Congratulations to young people all over the country who have written their own speeches this year. We know them as Platform Speeches on the speech side of things, and as Constructives in debate (i.e., 1AC).

As you review, rewrite, and refine your speeches one last time before national competitions, consider the SOUND of these speeches. At these particular venues, your speeches are strictly heard, not seen by your audiences (except, of course, for portions of Expository speeches which include some visual elements). Remember that you are writing for the ear not the eye. Therefore, it is necessary to deliberately incorporate rhetorical devices that will make your message echo in our minds, well after you have finished speaking. This usually means using shorter sentences, clever repetition, parallel language, word play, alliteration, assonance, sound-alikes, rhythmic phrases, epanalepsis, anaphora, epiphora, and more. These sorts of techniques were the same elements that the ancients employed when delivering literature orally, centuries ago. For example, the alliteration and rhythmic phrasing of Beowulf, the clever epithets of Homer, and the refrains/repetition of the Psalms allowed them to be handed down from one generation to the next because they could be easily heard and remembered.

Here’s a great link for rhetorical “sound” devices:  Link

And though hard to find now, the book, I’d Rather Die than Give a Speech by Michael M. Klepper with Robert Gunther, © 1995  has a great chapter on “Writing for the Ear.” Here’s a brief excerpt from Chapter 5:

“’Ear appeal’ phrases can be like the haunting songs of a musical that the members of the audience find themselves humming on the way home. Even if people want to forget them, they can’t.  A good ear appeal phrase compels the listener not only to remember it but also repeat it.”

So… Be “hear-able!” We can’t wait for your next speech…