Working with a client on a speech yesterday I found myself repeating a mantra I have used so often I must be close to wearing it out: Read it out loud!
I know this sounds intuitive when you're talking about speech-writing. But many folks seem to think they are the exceptions to this rule. They feel the need to embellish or expand their writing, as if saying a thing simply is not good enough. The truth is: short, declarative sentences are much easier to understand; active verbs are good. And, as we all know, it is far harder to write simply and explain a thing clearly than it is to express your thoughts in a roundabout albeit creatively arresting way in which you intend to convey the essence of your unique insights and contemplations. (was that easy to get through? Or did you have to go back and sort it out?). As Blaise Pascal famously remarked: "I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short" (Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue parceque je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte).
And yet. . . .
How many times do you actually read what you have written out loud? I urge clients to practice each speech seven times. The first three of these times they are usually getting used to the rhythm, and doing rewrites to tighten up the message. That is essential work and a step that should never be skipped. But, alas! too often it is. The result is a speech with meandering sentences that don't go anywhere, "padding" that does nothing to further the argument, and conclusions that are inconclusive. Writing for the ear is vastly different than writing for the eye. When people are listening to you, they need to comprehend what you are saying while you are saying it. There is no going back to reread the previous paragraph.
This does not mean you have to be boring, however. Much eloquence is found in simplicity. But, like anything precious, you cannot find it without seeking it.