Archive for the ‘Speechwriting’ Category

Move Your Story File Out of Your Head

Whenever someone asks if I have a story file, I say, “Yes,” and point to my head.

Portrait of a smiling senior woman reading a book at home Old-fashioned style Can Stock Photo Inc.  prometeusBut after attending two storytelling workshops in recent weeks, I have started a written story file. Retrieving stories from a brain that can’t remember why it directed me to walk into a room is iffy at best. I’ll probably miss the best one to illustrate the point I want to make. Having them stored in written form makes it more likely to hit on the right one.

What kinds of stories should go into the file? All kinds, because you never know how they may fit in. For example, here are a few stories from my file that haven’t made it into a speech yet, either because they weren’t available in my head when I was looking for them or I haven’t raised a point yet that they fulfill.

Story 1: I was climbing up a tree-lined mountain trail with a 50-pound pack on my back. I was 11 years old and 80 pounds soaking wet. And I was soaking wet. It had been raining since my Boy Scout troop began the climb. The rain turned to hail. The hail turned to snow, then back to rain. Rivers of water pushed rivers of mud beneath my feet. I slipped and fell, my cold young hands buried in the nearly freezing muck. I began to cry. Our scoutmaster, my dad, pulled me up by my collar. “Real men don’t cry,” he growled. “Get moving!”

Fast-forward 41 years. My 19-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. We rode the muddy river through hell, up the mountain and back again. One night we nearly lost her. On my way home from the hospital, a river of tears broke the dam. I was crying so hard there may as well have been a blinding thunderstorm outside the car. But the storm was behind the wheel, not in front of it. Unable to see, I pulled onto the shoulder until the storm passed, thunder erupting from my vocal chords as my body shook in violent spasms.

Real men do cry.

OK, that’s actually two stories that make a point. Perhaps I can find a couple more and actually make a speech from it. The next two don’t make a particular point, yet.

Story 2: My wife and I were concerned my dog, Galadriel, would be a danger to our newborn twins. Galadriel by then was about 7 years old and never liked children. She had to be locked up whenever children visited because she would attack them. A day or two after the twins came home, some friends came over to meet them. Galadriel knew the couple and liked them. But when we sent them down the hall unescorted, Galadriel scooted past them, sat at the entrance to the twins’ bedroom, bared her teeth, and growled. It was only when my wife and I came down the hall that our friends were allowed in the bedroom. Those were her pups now.

Story 3: Matt and Peter Viaggio lived across the street from my two older brothers and me. We were good friends. Except when we were fighting each other, which was often. At those times, our parents would forbid us from seeing or playing with each other for a week or a month, depending on the seriousness of the fight. After a few days, however, we were sneaking in play time. I don’t think we fought while we were on suspension—but we would as soon as the suspension ended!

Those three stories are among the first dozen to go into my story file. With more than six decades of memories, there will be many more. What’s in your story file? Have you written them down or are they still bouncing around your head? If they’re in your head, do you remember why you walked into the room?

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at

Unleash your power TW


Same Old Tom Meets Tom the Author

I was at a chamber mixer last week. Erin, the daughter of one of my fellow entrepreneurs, was there too.

Cropped Coffee_Conversations 2-24-16

The author leading a Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce Coffee & Conversation.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met an author before,” she said.

To which I rather stupidly and haughtily replied, “Now you have.”

I didn’t mean to sound haughty. I just was taken aback that Erin did not know any authors. I know lots of authors. In fact, in my circle I’m rather late to the game. No big deal, really. It’s been a lifelong dream to publish a book. Now I have, as many have before me. End of story.

But it’s not. Because, I’ve found, much of the world runs in Erin’s circles, not mine. They’ve never met an author before. To many people, I’m unique to their circle.

In the few short weeks since my book was published, I’m no longer introduced as Tom. I’m introduced as Tom the Author. At business networking meetings and at Toastmasters gatherings, Author is always appended to my name. As if I’m a new person. As if the old Tom doesn’t exist anymore, and in his place is this shiny new being.

I will be presenting an educational session at a Toastmasters International district conference next Saturday because I am a published author. Thirty years of writing for newspapers, politicians, associations, and businesses, years of writing a blog and years ago writing a book four times as thick didn’t gain me that privilege. The previous book hasn’t been published. It didn’t make me Tom the Author. Presenting the same workshop several times before the book was published may have gotten my foot in the door, but publishing a book threw the door wide open.

Presenting at the conference will be the same old Tom. I may say something stupid and be unintentionally haughty. I will intentionally crack some jokes. More importantly, I will share lessons learned from more than 30 years of being a professional writer that my audience can use to improve their communication skills. That’s my reason for being there.

Oh, and I’ll have some books to sell. Because while I am the same old Tom, I now have Author appended to my name. I need to take advantage before the novelty wears off. The old Tom approves.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

Book cover for Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They'll Applaud!

Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! is available on Kindle or paperback.


I Want Your E-Book! How?

Book cover for Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They'll Applaud!When I published my new e-book on Tuesday, I did not anticipate the number of unforeseen questions and problems that would arise.

Hint to future self-published authors: Do not schedule oral surgery on the same day you publish a book. You don’t three hours to be out of pocket.

Lessons learned, I’m going to attempt to give away Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll Applaud! as a free download again this weekend. I’m offering it over two days for a very good reason: I hope you will all attempt to download it on Saturday, when I’ll be out of pocket again. No, I’m not having more surgery. I am, however, surgically removing junk that has accumulated around the house and depositing it at the annual free Neighborhood Cleanup event in the morning. Then I’m quickly showering, throwing on a rare Saturday tie, and officiating at a division-level Toastmasters International Speech and Evaluation Contest.

Sunday I’ll be around to problem-solve. Hopefully there won’t be many problems to solve because I’m offering to you here the three most prevalent problems that presented on Tuesday and their satisfying solutions.

Issue: “I can download the picture, but the book doesn’t download with it.” Followed by: “I’d like my free download, but I don’t want to sign up for Kindle Unlimited.”

Solution: On Saturday and Sunday, the book will be available for free. No strings attached. But to obtain it, you do have to click on the “Buy Now” button. I know, it’s counterintuitive to have to “buy” something that is free. But by clicking that button, my book will land in your cart. Then, when you check out, your charge will be $0.00.

Issue: “I don’t have a Kindle.”

Solution: You don’t need a Kindle. Underneath the cover art is box that says: “Read on Any Device: Get free Kindle App.” Click on it. It has an app for you. I don’t have a Kindle either. But I read Kindle books on my Android phone and my Windows laptop. (They have Apple apps too.)

Issue: “I’m in Australia (India, Qatar) and it won’t let me download. I guess it’s only available in the United States.”

Solution: Here are the international links Amazon provided to me. If yours is not listed, log onto your Amazon account in your home nation and search for Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll Applaud! Please let me know if it still doesn’t seem available. I’ll look into it.

UK, DE, FR, ES, IT, NL, JP, BR, CA, MX, AU, and IN.

(How many Californians do you think will click on CA and complain they can’t download it?)

Thanks in advance! Talk to you on Sunday!

P.S. If the book was helpful, please leave a review on the Amazon page. (U.S. link.)

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

Write It, Speak It Available for Download

Book cover for Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They'll Applaud!Hello Family & Friends!

My new book, Write It, Speak It, is available today, Tuesday, April 5, as a FREE download as my birthday present to you!  Share with your family and friends! Let’s make free download history!

In three chapters, Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll Applaud, gives you the tools you need to produce a more effective, powerful, and memorable speech. Chapter 1 discusses the rules and good practices of all effective writing. With that foundation set, Chapter 2 sets out the ways in which speech writing differs from other forms of writing, and how spoken language allows you to make your words come alive. Chapter 3 provides you with techniques to write more powerful and memorable speeches through storytelling, timing, and rhetorical devices.

Tom Pfeifer has been a professional communicator for more than 30 years. In Write It, Speak It, he uses research and personal stories to show how you can write speeches they’ll applaud.


Begin with a Bang

Write it Speak it_FINAL-2-1

Available on April 5, 2016. It’s also my birthday, so you can have it that day for free as a present from me.

(Editor’s note: This is excerpted from Tom Pfeifer’s book, Write It, Speak It, available on on April 5, 2016.)

How many speeches have you heard start like this?

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here tonight. You all look wonderful. I’m guess­ing you look wonderful anyway. It’s kind of hard to see you with these bright lights. Isn’t the weather perfect? I’d like to thank Norman for that wonderful introduction. I hope I can live up to it.”

I guarantee he didn’t live up to it, because my brain had already shifted to composing my grocery list. The speaker had already broadcast to me that he was boring.

In 2015, the attention span of humans fell to eight seconds, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute. That’s shorter than a goldfish, which the institute pegged at nine seconds. It’s also down from 2000, when humans apparently could pay attention for a full 12 seconds. Incidentally, the Institute didn’t say if the goldfish’s attention span rose or fell during that time.

An unsigned iSpeakEASY blog clocked the time to grab audience members before their minds wander at 15 seconds. That’s longer than the Institute gives us credit for, but it’s still not much time. You don’t want to waste it. Once you lose your audience it’s very difficult to get them back. So you need to begin with a bang and grab their attention right away.

Craig Valentine, the 1999 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking, believes there are three effective ways to start a speech:

  1. A story
  2. A question
  3. A curious statement

In a speech about telling stories, I start with telling a story. Depending on my audience and the effect I want to create, I may start with a story about four-year-olds predicting their futures, or about my first day as a newspaper intern, or even a story about my tie.

In a speech I was asked to give on “Trump, Toastmasters & 2016,” I began with a question:

“Is Donald Trump succeeding because he embraces Toastmasters guidelines, or because he violates them?”

After a brief pause, I answered:

“The short answer is: ‘Yes.’”

You also can combine elements to begin a speech. In a speech on how the journey to greatness never ends, I open with a curious statement followed by a question:

“I am great!” I loudly exclaim.

“How many of you have been told you were great?” Which I answer:

“Most of you have, I’m sure.”

These tricks of the trade work equally well with the written word. Here’s the opening paragraph of a magazine article I wrote for a client:

“At Emergency Nursing 2015, a small group of emergency nurses was asked what their top three legislative issues are. While not every emergency nurse rated mental health as their top priority, everyone rated it in their top three.”

That’s a mini story—with a point.

I started a blog post for another client this way:

‘“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,’ ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is widely quoted as saying.

“What if your first step is a 6,000-mile, cross-country round trip to meet with military, veterans, and their families to put faces on the suicide epidemic?”

That’s a quote followed by a question.

I began another blog post—and a speech to a group of business folk—by asking:

“Do you want clients who you enjoy working with—and with whom you do your best work?”

The point is to engage your audience’s brains right away.

Again, there is nothing special about speaking that demands you grab your audience immediately. It’s crucial to all communication. Joshua Conran, a senior partner with brand strategy, marketing, and advertising agency Deksia, wrote in Inc. that advertisers have only five seconds to grab their target’s attention.

Eight seconds. Fifteen seconds. Five seconds. In short, seconds count. If you want your audience to pay attention, begin with a bang, not a whimper.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

3 Tools to Build Your Speech’s Structure

Cartoon of a faceless construction dude with hardhat, vest, a handsaw, and carrying 2X2s on his shoulder.In previous posts, I talked about the power of stories and how to frame a speech. This week we’re going to look at three tools to build your speech’s structure.

Structure is actually the first step in writing a speech but I saved it for last because it’s also the most borinnnnnng part of writing a speech. But stay with me because it’s just as important. If writing a speech was pure fun, everyone would be a speechwriter.

There are three primary tools to structure a speech:

  • An outline
  • Mind-mapping
  • Stream of consciousness

I’m a big believer of stream of consciousness. I give myself a topic, then just start writing. I enjoy writing, so it’s the most enjoyable form of structuring a speech for me. The problem with stream of consciousness speech writing, however, is that it’s the least structured structure. So once you’re done, you have to rework it to give it form.

I tell a story about wearing Jerry Garcia ties. That story came out of stream of consciousness. My chamber of commerce decided to start a speaker’s bureau. They asked me for three speeches I could give and one of them was “Give a Eulogy to Your Public Speaking Fears.” I wanted to give examples of how you could find stories anywhere. What’s the most mundane thing I can tell a story about? I thought. I looked down at my tie and said AHA! And I just started writing about my tie.

A screen shot of the first half page of an outline for my speech workshopThat’s fine for a 5- to 7-minute normal-length Toastmaster’s speech, but when preparing for an hour-long workshop, I sit down and write an outline first. There are points and sub-points I need to make and I need a bit more structure to pull it off. For a workshop I am planning for early next year, I wrote up an outline and sent it to a colleague. He gave me some feedback and off I went to writing the speech. I referred to the outline from time to time, but the speech I wound up writing did not strictly follow the outline I wrote. Which is fine. All the elements are in there.

We’ve all done outlines before – in school if nowhere else, but to quickly explain it, outlines have a hierarchal structure. In the case of a workshop on speech writing, I had four capitalized Roman numeral sections for the Introduction, Stories, Skeleton, and Structure pieces. Then there were lettered subsections for the points to be made under each main section, and lowercase Roman numerals for each point to be made under the subsections. All very neat and orderly.

A depiction of a mindmap: BLue circle in the center with the words The third method of structuring a speech is mindmapping. I am not a big fan of mindmapping, perhaps because the thought of seeing where my mind goes scares the ever-loving life out of me. But it may work for you so I offer it as an alternative.

Think of mind-mapping as stream of consciousness outlining.

Here’s how Toastmasters International describes mindmapping:

“A mindmap is a diagram that represents an individual’s random thoughts on a particular subject. Its purpose is to discover what will be included in the speech and when it will be mentioned.

“Step I:

“In a mindmap, the main topic is printed in the center of the page and is circled to stand out.

“Ideas about how to organize a speech are recorded in squares around the main topic. The squares are linked to the main topic with lines. Finally, important points about those ideas are added.

“Step II:

“On a separate paper create a mindmap for one of the ideas. The idea is in the middle of the page surrounded by specific elements of that idea. For example, the specific elements related to the ‘Outline’ idea would be ‘Intro,’ ‘Body,’ and ‘Conclusion.’

“Keep the mindmap free of clutter. Use a separate paper to record direct quotations or other extra material. Connect the extra material to the mindmap using asterisks, numbers, or color coding.”

Sounds like way too much work for me. And too much paper to mix up. But it may be the way you work best. Try it and see. If not, you have two other structures to fall back on.

Happy writing!


Related Posts:

Start with Your Speech Skeleton, Add Some Tasty Skin

This Is Your Brain on Stories

Donald Trump Targets Audience’s Emotions

Give a Eulogy to Your Public Speaking Fears

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

Start with Your Speech Skeleton, Add Some Tasty Skin

Imagine your body without a skeleton. You’d be a blob of loose skin covering a glutinous glob of quivering gelatin. Just as your body’s skeleton provides a framework to your body, you need to provide a skeleton to your speech.

Smiling skeleton in tophat raising a glass of red wine.There are a number of ways to frame a speech, but the basic framework is framed in threes. You have:

  • An opening
  • A body
  • A closing

Within that opening, body, and closing framework, you want to:

  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them
  • Tell them
  • Then tell them what you told them

The opening is the most important part of your speech. You have about 60 seconds to entice your audience before they begin reviewing their shopping lists or fiddling with their smartphones. Professional speakers do not start by thanking the person who introduced her, or even telling the audience what she is going to tell them. Instead, a professional speaker will put some skin on the opening with a story, a rhetorical question, or an outlandish declaration that grabs the audience’s attention and encapsulates the theme of the speech.

I started a speech once by shouting, “I’m great!” with outstretched arms. You can bet I had the audience’s attention with that.

It also can be a joke that relates to your theme:

“Speeches are like the horns on a steer. There’s a point here and a point there, but in between it’s mostly bull.”

If I’m giving a speech on success, I might start with a rhetorical question: “Have you ever failed?” Or better yet, I would engage the audience’s brains right away: “Think about a time when you failed. (Pause) Got it? Was it really a failure?”

Once you have the audience’s attention, you can tell them what you’re going to tell them. “Today you’re going to learn how to turn your failures into success.”

Then you’re ready for the body of your speech. It’s the ribcage, with tasty ribs.

A good body also uses the power of threes. Our brain is geared to remember and respond positively to a series of three. A 2014 study determined that a series of three persuades, but four or more provokes skepticism.

And here’s where stories are a must. A 2011 study underscored what storytellers have known since the beginning of human communication: stories sync the storyteller’s brain with the listener’s and invokes empathy.

So using the power of threes and the power of stories, you want to serve up three tasty ribs with three personal stories that illustrate the theme of your speech. In a speech on turning failure into success, you will want to tell stories of when you failed and how you did—or could have—turned them into successes.

Now you’re ready for the close. It’s the second most important part of your speech. It’s where you serve up the call to action, or leave them laughing, or satisfied that they’re learned something. Therefore after you tell them what you told them, dress up your skeleton with a strong closing. For example, in the speech on failure and success, you might ask your audience to think back to the failure they identified at the beginning of the speech. Did they turn it into a success? How? If not, can they see now how they could have turned it into a success?

Opening, body, closing. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. That’s the skeleton. Add skin and dressing with stories, rhetorical questions, and thought-provoking statements. Now you have a skeleton ready to come out of the closet and play to your audience.


Related Posts:

This Is Your Brain on Stories

Donald Trump Targets Audience’s Emotions

Give a Eulogy to Your Public Speaking Fears

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

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