Writing a speech is not the easiest task in the world but some people find it easier than others. Now why is that? Well, talent, inspiration and a strong work ethic helps, but so does methodology.
I want to talk today about the physical layout of your writing. But first, let me tell you a short story.
I do some work at a local primary school, helping year 6 and 7 children with their presentation skills. I must say that it a total delight. Pleasant and bright children, writing about topics that seem to matter to them.
They are keen and attentive. Some of them learn and develop their speeches more quickly than others but they are still growing up and developing mentally.
I’ve done this for several years now but this year, I did something new. I asked them to send me their scripts so that I could analyse them in detail… after all, it’s hard to give feedback on 17 speeches in two hours a week.
What I discovered was this: the children with the best constructed speeches, with the best continuity and development of their argument were those who physically laid out their scripts most clearly. The children with the most confused, incoherent and awkward scripts had a layout like alphabet soup.
Some of them had only two paragraphs on a page and little or no punctuation. It was hard on the eye. It was busy and crowded and just as the layout was clumsy, the argument was faulty and the delivery was confused.
This to me was a revelation. Of course, I have seen the scripts from many adults too and while their layout was better, in hindsight, the same faults and hindrances to clear expression were there.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at layout.
If you are writing something to be read by someone else, a paragraph is usually two or more sentences long. But technically, a paragraph can be as little as one sentence dealing with one idea and journalists often use one sentence paragraphs.
To me, writing for my use as a script, a paragraph is one idea. It may be one sentence. It may even be only one word. But each idea, each paragraph, sits physically alone on my piece of paper.
Viewed like this, it is much easier to organise and re-arrange your script. You can easily see the broken sequence, the needless repetition, the fractured argument and the clumsy phrase.
You also have more white space than is usual and that is good. Have lots of white space between each paragraph but don’t waste space on margins. Customise your margins to narrow at the top and bottom, left and right.
Number your pages. If you don’t number your pages, they will fall on the floor.
In the footer, include the date and version number of your script. Save that version.
Re number and re date and re save every subsequent script. The line you dumped today might work in next week’s version.
Do a grammar check for readability statistics and for passive voice. If you are in Word, it’s under the Review tab and you can juggle with your options under spelling and grammar, depending on your version of Word. I’m sure Mac has something similar too.
Lower readability scores means that more people can understand you easily.
Lower passive voice means that you will have more powerful and shorter sentences.
If you’re not familiar with passive voice, it works like this: If the subject of a sentence does something to the object, it’s called active voice. For example, “I read a book.” I did something to something.
But if you turn that around so that the “A book was read by me,” it becomes passive.
Active is a “doing” phrase while passive is a “receiving” phrase. Active is stronger and shorter but passive plays its part too. I aim for between 2 and 6% of passive voice but that will vary according to the style and the needs of the speech.
Now punctuation might sound a bit technical and boring, with full stop or periods, commas, semi-colons etc. But these are there to help your readers and help you too.
Punctuation marks aren’t there just to give your keyboard a few more keys, they help with structure and understanding.
Now, a comma can indicate a pause for a reader, but if you are delivering a script, you might like to use, as I do, dot dot dot to indicate a pause.
You can hand-write stress marks on your script to indicate pauses, emphasis, rising and falling inflexions.
Some people put stage directions in the body of their script. I find them nearly impossible to read. If you must do this, I suggest you use the review tab in Office Word and put them into the margin as comments.
Don’t use caps. Caps are all the same size and don’t go above or below the line. Caps are harder to read and they take up more space on your page. Use standard lower case type because the letters go above and below the line and are easier to read.
A good type size is between 12 and 14 points. Larger if you suspect there will be poor light at your venue.
Don’t double justify to both left and right. I mean, have a normal left margin and your script line end on the right where they naturally would with natural line breaks. If you stretch your script to fit both margins, you actually stretch each word and the spacing of each letter and at a subtle level, that makes it harder to read.
And if you really want to get technical, use serif script. Serif script has those little feet on each letter. Times New Roman is serif. So is Cambria. Calibri and Arial are sans serif which means they don’t have those little feet. And all those little feet do is give you a sight line so that each letter is that little bit clearer.
When you get right down to it, all I am addressing here is how to lay out your script so it is clearer for you to prepare and organise and then for you to read it. Life is too short to make it harder than it is. Speeches are hard enough to write and deliver without making them harder still by poor layout.
So do your-self a favour make your layout clear and simple.