The other day I did a radio interview by phone about all the Toastmasters competitions I’ve done in the last year. Everything was going swimmingly until the interviewer said, “I think what our listeners really want to know is how to write an award winning speech.” I sat there dumbfounded and thought, Come on, does anyone really know how to write an award winning speech? If we did we’d all be making millions as award winning speakers!
So I told the interviewer my Emergency Room Antics story of when I splayed open my hand with the food processor blade while making my son a smoothie. (What?) I painted a picture with words that was so colorful I had no doubt she could see the blood gleefully bubbling up from my open vein like a hot spring. She became so enthralled with my narrative that I successfully navigated the topic from speeches to kitchen safety.
At the end of my story she asked, “What did you learn from all this?”
I replied, “That I need to stop making my kids smoothies.”
She laughed, and it was right then and there I knew that I had her complete, undivided attention. At that point, I could’ve relayed just about any message I wanted and she would’ve listened.
Is that how to write an award winning speech? By almost killing yourself in a stupid kitchen accident?
Lord, I hope not. Talk about taking a bullet for your art.
So Do I Really Know How to Write an Award Winning Speech?
But consider this. When you were a little kid, what did you always ask parents for…besides money? You wanted them to read you a story, right? Fortunately, we don’t lose that desire as we get older. Even as adults we love a good story. That’s why my interviewer continued to listen to me, even though I didn’t directly answer when she asked me how to write an award winning speech.
A psychologist friend of mine once told me that our emotions are tags for our memories—that we remember events, places, songs, books, movies, and speeches based upon how they make us feel. For example, hearing a particular song can take you back to high school. Or watching a certain movie reminds you of a first date.
If that’s true, is that how to write an awarding winning speech? By adding emotion? Well, no one can promise you awards, but peppering your speech with emotion will certainly make you memorable.
The best place to find emotion is in a personal story, not someone else’s story, but your story. Because if you’re in front of people speaking, or if you’re writing for public consumption, then we can only assume your audience wants to hear what you have to say through your personal filter. Your point of view is your emotional fingerprint that only YOU can provide.
But that’s only half the battle in our search for how to write an award winning speech. If you’re going to make your point via a personal story, then it’d better be authentic. Nothing turns an audience off more than deception or insincerity.
Humor and Pain: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Ironically, I went to the Toastmasters International Speech Contest hoping to learn how to write an award winning speech, even though I’d already written one to get there. What I found was all the competition speeches (including mine) were personal stories that had two things in common: Humor and pain.
And when I say “pain” I don’t mean death and dying pain, but rather uncomfortable, get-me-out-of-here pain. The kind that strikes, for example, when you have no money to pay the tab in a restaurant because you left your credit card at home. Or you just asked a heavy woman when her baby’s due, but she’s not pregnant. Or you flunked your driving test for the third time, not because you can’t drive, but because you freak out whenever you take a test.
These things are the minutia of life. But they’re all things we can relate to, even if the exact situation has never happened to us. That’s because something similar surely has happened and we remember how we felt when it did. And once you make that connection with your audience (or readers) you become kindred spirits; allies in a world that’s out to get you. But somehow you persevered and found the humor and lesson in your experience. That’s what your audience wants to hear. Nothing unites people more than a common foe, and ironically the more mundane that foe is, the better.
Turn to Comedy for the Best Examples
A master at this is Jerry Seinfeld. He used to do a brilliant routine about how socks get lost in a dryer. The audience would laugh until they were crying, because who hasn’t lost socks in the dryer? This just goes to show you don’t have to go for the huge I-saw-Big-Foot-Dancing-With-Elvis! story to get people’s attention. Instead, you only need two things:
- Sincerity (be authentic)
- Structure (have a beginning, middle, and end that lead to a relatable conclusion)
Your modest goal when you speak or write should only be to make your audience see the world as a skewed vision through your weary eyes.
So after it’s all said and done, do I know how to write an award winning speech? I have no idea or I would’ve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest. But I do know this: If you want to be a memorable speaker or writer, if you want touch hearts and relate to your audience, if you want to teach yourself how to write an award winning speech, then tell a simple, personal story. The more ordinary and authentic your story is the more extraordinary your connection with your audience will be.
Hey, it works for me.
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Stacy Dymalski is an award winning keynote speaker and stand-up comic who gave up the glamorous life of coach travel, smokey comedy clubs, and heckling drunks for the glamourous life of raising kids (who happen to be bigger hecklers than the drunks). This blog is her new stage.
For more of Stacy’s comedy check out her hilarious book Confessions of a Band Geek Mom available in paperback and on Kindle on Amazon.com.