Why you should edit your speech

How to make every word in your speech, talk or presentation count.

"Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings"

Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch On the art of writing 1916

When it comes to good speech writing, or any kind of writing for that matter, sometimes what you don't say is just as important as what you do. "Kill your darlings" has long been a mantra among those who teach writing. In essence, it means removing your ego from the writing process, so that you can identify good writing from bad. In practice, it means finishing a speech and then removing roughly 20% of the narrative you've spent painstaking hours hunched over a desk constructing.

I was once asked in a training how I go about editing my own speeches and I could immediately launch into an indulgent anecdote about that... but instead here are three ideas to help you kill your own darlings humanely.

The over-introduction

When it comes to editing a speech there is no better place to start than the beginning. More often than not, what should be an introductory paragraph is in fact a preamble. Instead of capturing the audience's attention, you're simply walking them through the inner workings of your own mind, listing all the reasons you're writing this speech in the first place. So, revisit your introduction first and be brutal about removing anything that doesn't give the audience a reason to listen.

The forgone conclusion

Though it's important to remind your audience of your message at appropriate moments, don't let a helpful summary turn into a repeat performance of the same speech. Using repetition will help your audience remember your key points, but too much of it will have the opposite effect: everyone tuning out. Save time by using phrases that help your audience understand your point the first time around. This is called "signposting" your speech. Here's a few examples of signposting:

"I'm here today to tell you about three things. The first is..."

"That story really illustrates my final point..."

"I started telling you about (X). Let me finish by telling you about (Y)."

The indulgent anecdote

I've said it before, but no one cares what you did on your last golf trip. Nor do they care about your diabetic cat or that time your high school art teacher compared you to Turner. They don't know what you did last summer and they don't want to. When telling a story within your speech, ask yourself - Will this story help my audience understand the point I am making? If the answer is no, then kill your darlings and kill them quick.