The Speech

Usually, the easier something reads, the harder it was to write. Public speaking is like writing. It comes more easily if you have something to say.

Never lose sight of the reason your client was given prime time. Speechwriters who spend their time putting funny words into a speaker's mouth would be better off if they put in a few important ideas. Wit is the salt of conversation, not the meat.

There are a number of truisms about after-dinner speaking:

The recipe for being a successful after-dinner speaker includes using plenty of shortening.

A good speaker is one who rises to the occasion and then promptly sits down.

The speech, including introductory material, should never take more than twenty minutes. At the normal speaking rate of two words per second that means the speech should be a maximum of 2,500 words. That was Ronald Reagan's favorite time frame, and his motto was that an immortal speech should not be eternal.

Shake the idea that scholarly words and long sentences make a good speech. Sentences in speeches must be shorter than written sentences because the audience has no chance to reread something they haven't comprehended. The best length for a sentence in a speech is approximately fourteen words. Sentence length should vary to avoid monotony, but this is a good rule to remember.

During a recent election campaign in the backwoods of Kentucky, a Huey Long type state senator was running against the president of a small college. He would begin his speeches with "Now, you all know me. But what do you know about my opponent? Did you know his college is a den of iniquity? Why, in his college, male and female students use the same curriculum. Not only that, but they sometimes secretly show each other their theses. And if that isn't bad enough, folks, he even lets these young people matriculate together."

A speaker's humor must have all three of the following ingredients:

• It must be comfortable for the speaker.

• It must be comfortable for the audience.

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