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Sep 13

How to Write an Award Winning Speech

How to write an award winning speech 1 195x300 How to Write an Award Winning Speech 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?

Beats me.

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.

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This is how you 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.

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This could explain my charming schizophrenia

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

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Why do socks go into the dryer as couples, but come out as singles?

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.

9 comments

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  1. Dee Macaluso

    Eloquently put.

    1. Stacy Dymalski

      You always know the right thing to say, Dee!

  2. LInda G.

    Works for me too. LOVE. lg

    1. Stacy Dymalski

      High praise from you, Linda. You’re one of the best speakers I know! Thanks!

  3. michael

    writing sermons is not unlike writing speeches, i found that mine were much more engaging when i shared personal, often embarrassing stories about how a concept affected me. Try keeping 250 some odd people entertained and engaged for an hour once a week while still trying to teach something important. I have no idea how school teachers do it

    1. Stacy Dymalski

      Thanks for your great comment, Michael. When I was little and when my kids were little we went church faithfully (I’m not so good about it now). In fact, when my son was in kindergarten I actually taught Sunday School for his class, which if you knew me personally, would make you laugh. (In fact, it’s a chapter called “That Old-time Religion” in my book–not plug my book.) Anyway, I used to listen to our pastor every week and I would marvel at how he could come up with such good material on a regular basis. But when I look back, my favorite sermons were the ones where he used events from his own life as metaphors for the points he was trying to make. It sort of “humanized” religion, which I think is important. Instead of making the principles or religion all mystic and godly, I think they should be brought down to a level that feel realistic to attain. That’s what this pastor did. And it has stuck with me ever since. Which I think makes him a successful speaker AND pastor. :-)

  4. Phillip

    It’s not your fault that you didn’t take home the BIG trophy from Florida. Your best material (that I have heard) might have gotten you jail time down there in the Oh So Hospitable South. You know what I am talking about. It is really tough to censor yourself and I know that you knew that the audience would die laughing or take you out back to the poplar tree. Phillip

  5. Stacy Dymalski

    Fortunately, Phillip, my common sense prevailed and DID NOT use my best material while in Florida. I hear jail time down there sucks.

    I guess the answer to “how do you write an award winning speech?” really depends on who’s giving out the awards, right? Step 1: Know your audience!

    1. Phillip

      Dear Stacy, I would NEVER suggest that you expose yourself to such close inspection by telling those polyester clad Toastmaster’s of your moment of terror! I just said that you didn’t use your best material. Sometimes reason must prevail. Phillip

      PS Know your audience? I can smell polyester.

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