So many speeches don’t (…dammit…)

Whenever I find myself repeatedly writing, deleting and re-writing the first lines of s (…augh…)

The Oxford English Dictionary defin (hell, no.)

Ever find yourself staring at a blank screen, stymied at how to start a speech?

With “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” and “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” already taken, perfect beginnings can be awfully hard to find.

But maybe that’s because the beginning of the speech is the last place you should start. As far as the craft of writing is concerned, a powerful speech starts at the end—for the same reason that you (usually) don’t start a journey without some idea of your destination.

So think of your audience, and picture them at the end of the speech. What do you want them to do because of it? Do you want them to buy a product or service, sign a petition, donate money, storm the Bastille, vote for one candidate, vote against another, stop using petroleum products, write their legislator, join an organization, have coffee with a neighbour: what?

That’s your call to action. Write it down in one sentence, and label it sentence 1.

For them to take that action, something has to have changed in the way they see the world and their place in it. What’s that change in belief, in one sentence? Write it down as sentence 2.

One last question: what is your audience’s current belief—the one you’re changing? Write it down as sentence 3.

Your speech has to move your audience from believing sentence 3, to believing sentence 2, so they’ll do sentence 1.

Which means the beginning of your speech needs to launch them on that journey. What do they need to push them on their way? Answer that question, and you’re on your way to knowing how to begin the speech.