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How a Speech Evolves to a Dynamite First Version


If you’re working on upgrading your public speaking skills, below are two drafts of my ‘Create the Space’ speech to see how an idea evolves over time. This is the first version of the speech since it’s the first time I shared it with an audience.  You will see below that version one evolved over thirty drafts to become “dynamite”.
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an ingograph showing 3 different types of speakers, "Most People", "The Upgraded", "Pro Speakers" with notes showing that pros practice and rewrite speeches more than most people
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‘Create the Space’ Speech Links

To watch the ‘Create the Space’ speech, go here.
To see all the posts this speech go here.

Speech Evolution Process – Recording

For reference draft one of the speech was written on December 30th, 2018 and is ~1050 words.  It was originally called “Just Listen”.  I started writing it right after I wrapped up a workshop speech on “Timeless Health Habits” (i.e. the best practices that don’t fade away like fads) which I delivered in mid-December.  My first drafts normally have multiple themes, big ambitions, and complexity.  Lots and lots of complexity.  My speech coach taught me that I need to simplify, simplify, simplify.  Pick one theme.  Deliver one message.  Sometimes it takes thirty drafts for me to get there.  I imagine you could do it in less time.

Draft thirty of the speech was tweaked right up until February 26th, 2019.  I gave the speech in the video on February 27th to a group at Cerner with friends, colleagues and my wife in the audience.   After a few written drafts, the major evolution of the speech happens after I record the audio and listen to it in the car on the way to work.  Bad jokes, poor writing, and awkward phrases smack you in the face when you hear yourself say them.   The image below is how I feel after listening to the first audio recording of my speech – awkward and disgusted.

Stick figure in car listening to speech and disgusted with his speech

As the speech sounds better, I record a video of myself using all the gestures, movement, and vocal variety.  Watching the video produces similar results as listening to audio.  Purposeless movement, strange hand positions, and weak gestures bludgeon your eyeballs when you watch yourself.

What’s the price you pay for recording yourself?

  • It’s awkward.  Like the image above.  Get over it. Once you do, you’ll have a new toolbox for communicating effectively in the biggest moments of your life.  Plus, listening to and watching yourself becomes less awkward over time.  For me, the payoff happens when everything starts to sound and feel good like in the image below.

Stick figure listening to speech for tenth time and happy with the results

  • This process also costs time, but you can listen to yourself in the car and then it only costs you the time to record the audio.  Recording and watching video is more time-consuming but even watching yourself once makes a big impact on the quality of your presentation.

Speech Formatting Techniques

You’ll see color throughout my text.  My good friend Brian Lawrence referred me to a video on Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech which broke it down visually.  I started coloring my speeches after watching it (read the article or just watch the video).

I use green text for humor (I hope), red for emotional moments, purple when I’m trying to connect with the audience (ex. questions), blue for spoken dialogue.  This tells me if I have too much narration (i.e. not a lot of color), too little humor, too much audience connection (I tend to want to ask a lot of questions).  Lastly, I keep the number of words and length of the speech in the filename.  Version thirty is ~750 words and seven minutes long.

In draft thirty I have “acting notes” (gestures, movement, voice, etc) after the spoken text in pink color and brackets [ ].  This helps me remember all the subtle and over-the-top physical parts of my speech.  You’ll also see … and — for pauses or sometimes I just write PAUSE.  More dots and dashes means longer pauses.

Speech sections (intro, point 1, 2, 3, conclusion) are underlined with a word count and where I’ll stand (right, middle, left) for that section of the speech in parentheses (ex. Introduction 130, Middle).  Using correct spelling is optional.  Word counts are not always accurate since I don’t recount between each change.  Recounting words seems easy since text editors have this but I want the true count of just spoken words, meaning I have to delete the section headers and acting notes to get an accurate count.  This let me know how long the speech will be.  My target is normally 100-120 words per minute.

Create the Space – Draft 1

Reminder – This speech was originally titled ‘Just Listen’.  The theme is different here which shows that a speech often starts with wide ambitions and morphs into a clearer and slightly different purpose over time.

What if your parents never listened to each other?
You might think,
“Exactly the same.
My dad NEVER listened to my mom.” 
Or maybe…
“Well…wait a minute, he must have listened that one-time.
Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
We’ll come back to this.
But now I’m going to say some words and I want you to notice your reaction.
  • abortion
  • gun rights
  • affirmative action
  • entitlement reform
Okay, that’s enough.
Who felt a strong reaction to ONE of these phrases?
I didn’t say these words to offend you.
After hearing these words we stop listening like when we hear THE most-dreaded-word in the E-N-T-I-R-E English language
You all are the GREATEST audience I’ve ever met…
  • BUT…… 
  • You might not like me now that I’ve said the word – ‘but
  • (or maybe because I said ‘those words’)
Like everything after ‘but’, we don’t listen well after an automatic response.
But we’re ALL in a marriage here.
Our union of millions to billions of citizens requires better listening than the most happily married couple to advance.
You still might be thinking, “Right…but why should we listen better?”
I learned the answer from a homeless man and a superhero.
But first let me start with some context.
Point 1 – My Story Intro
I’m selfish.
I’m arrogant.
I’m stubborn.
Now might never notice these attributes.
But you, you don’t live with me :)
Ask my wife.
Selfish – check.
Arrogant – check
Stubborn – check
So much of our last ten years of marriage, we did things my way.
I worked all-day, trained and wrote all-night.
If you were my wife, this is what you’d see every night.
B: <looks at watch> “Matt DINNER!”
N: A half-hour later, <creeps out of cave>like a hermit-crab shedding its shell I emerge from my cave.
M: “Sorry I was working on something really important. <superman pose>”
B:  “What were you doing?”
M: (low voice) Organizing my pens… (looks down, eyes up)
This life is great for me.
I do what I want.
Every day.
But I forgot one important thing:
I – was – MARRIED.
I’m 36-years old, married 8 years.
And my wife wanted to have kids.
I was holding us back.
And we…we were headed towards a divorce.
It’s the times we don’t listen that cost us dearly in life.
Luckily I had the listening lessons of a heroione in my back pocket.
Point 2 – My Mom’s Story
When I was little my mom was constantly on the phone.  CON – STANT – LY.
She burned a lot of dinners.
One night I <sniffs> smelled a little smoke.
“Mom, is dinner burning?”
The oil had burst into flames engulfing half our kitchen.
And so my mom <turns around> “Oh geez, I’ll call ya back.  MATT!  Call 911!”.
We survived.
What I remember most about my mom was her superpower — listening.
After dinner, driving in the car, coming home from a game.
You were the only person in the universe when she talked to you.
She worked in a mail room at 18th and Chestnut in Philly.
She took me and my sister into work each year.
One-time on the way home she asked a homeless man.
“How’s your day going sir?”
“Okay it was a cold night mam.”
“Would you like to get some hot chocolate and a sandwich with me?”
“Yes I think I’d love that.”
“Well then let’s get you warmed up.”
And off she’d go like an Irish handmaiden tending to a king.
I wonder what that interaction would be like if we weren’t there.
I imagine she’d sit down beside the homeless man and say,
“Tell me about your day.”
Point 3 – My Story Conclusion
So I asked “in my situation, what would mom do?”
She’d listen and learn what you wanted.
And as long as she didn’t burn down the house
Well then she’d make that happen.
Now I was pretty sick last year.
I saw so many doctors that one met me and said,
Young man, you are singlehandedly bankrupting the American healthcare system.”
While I was out of work, the one thing I looked forward to every day was dinner talk with my wife.
I listened and learned.
Clearly, kids were important to her.
And so kids became important to me.
Now that sounds all romantic and nice but it was hard too.
Witness our dinner exchanges.
M: “How was your day, honey?”
B: “When are we having kids?”
M: “I think I have double vision.  Either that or the dog cloned himself.
B: “How does this affect us having kids?”
M: “I almost passed out again this afternoon.”
B: “What do we need to to fix this, because, well ya know…KIDS!”
By the way let me state for the record that my wife is wonderful and kind and beautiful and smart and, and, and well..
What else can I say except she’s going to make a great mom.
We’re expecting our first child in August.
Has anyone experienced this – contemplating a big life decision – college, career, marriage, kids?
Who did you ask for advice?
I bet that person was a good listener.
Like my mom I bet that person lites your world on fire with their listening, maybe not as literally but just as well.
Maybe one day you will be that person for someone in your life.
And so the answer to why we should listen is clearer,
but why don’t we listen?
Many reasons.
What stands out to me is:
We fear the vulnerability of opening our mind to what we’ve based our life on opposing.
That’s what happens when we hear those “dreaded words” I said at the beginning.
That’s understandable.
So please don’t listen to change or compromise your beliefs,
instead “just listen” <low voice>
Listen with the intent to understand better.
Maybe you’ll give birth to a new bond.
Maybe we’ll find more common ground.
Maybe one of us will find more beauty in humanity:
That while our differences often separate us,
Learning the story of what we believe and why is the greatest story ever told.
And we can hear it any day we choose to ask and.
“just listen”.

Create the Space – Draft 30

Introduction (130, Middle)
“You were an accident.”[look R-1st row]
… … 
Did your parents ever tell you this? [step out-Mid, hands wide]
Me neither but my mom was 41 when I was born. [stay Mid]
You hear rumors when your mom is 41 and you’re the 3rd kid. [low voice]
I didn’t create space in my mind for that🙂 [hands ’space box’]
Imagine you go home tonight and someone says to you, [stay Mid]
“I love you.   [look R-2nd row]
BUT YOU juussstttt need to change TWENTY things about yourself. #1 – your face…
Who else ‘cringes’ when this happens?
We tune people out. 
It’s natural. 
But last year I found
When I create the space to listen, 
…(even when its hard) I build stronger bonds.
…That makes the best moments in life possible.
If that sounds like an adult-storybook, that’s because it is. 
Point 1 – I’m Selfish (115, LEFT)
Chapter 1
I’m selfish. [look L-1st row]
…You might not notice.
But you, you don’t live with me 🙂 [double-take]
…Ask my wife. 
Here’s a typical exchange at our house.
… (My wife is a ‘little’ shorter than me)  [look R + pinch ‘fingers’]
B: “Matt, what’s your plan for Saturday?”  [high ‘Bria’ voice]
M: “Hmmmreading, coaching, lifting, napping, writing, maybe dinner at 9 o’clock?”  [look L @L-1st row]
M: “… No? EARLIER… .I know that face — —— Yep, we should eat earlier.”
I’m selfish with my time. 
 (Oh and a little secret) my wife wants to have kids.   [low voice + step R, look LAST-row]
… These two things do not go together.  [weigh scale]
We were headed towards a bad place.  [fists together]
In times like this, I’m grateful for my mom.  [walk R to MIDDLE]
Point 2 – My Mom’s Story (125, RIGHT)
Chapter 2
Go back to a long—— LONG time ago with me.   [low voice + point R]
… …
That’s right. 
It’s the 1990s.
… N-Sync, Rat Tails, Scrunchies, and Starter Jackets.
I’m 12 years old.
…. Back then my mom was ALWAYS on the phone.   [make phone-hand]
One night I <sniffs> smelled a little smoke.  [crouch + sniff + look up]
“Mom, is dinner burningAGAIN?”  [“kid-Matt” voice]
The flames exploded over half our kitchen.  [hands UP-high/wide]
… my mom turns around. [turn around]
 “Oh geez, I’ll call ya back.  MATT!  Call 911!”. [phone-hand]
 My mom created space to listen — ——  maybe to a dangerous extent. [create ‘space-box’ + look L-LAST-row]
But it was clear.
… Creating space for people was more important than food, shelter, Safety, SEcurity, SLEep, okay EVERYTHING!  [rising voice by word]
This lesson was about to change my life.
Point 3 – Creating Our Space (140, LEFT)
Chapter 3
Fast forward with me to late 2017.  [point L + walk L]
… I had a rough year.
Constant dizziness.   Double vision. —  And a — YEAST — infection (in my gut)
… One doctor read my chart, shook my hand, and said,
Young man, you are singlehandedly bankrupting the American healthcare  system.” [look 2nd row]
(Yeah, we fired him.)
The point is my wife and I were burnt out from this ordeal.
We still weren’t communicating well. 
Even sitting upright was hard —  so we ate meals in front of the TV.
One day I thought 
“Hmmm…what would my mom do?”.  [look UP + tap chin w/index finger]
Then I asked my wife if she’d like to eat at the dinner table again.  [look R-LAST row]
Creating that space paved the way for what happened next.  [create ’space-box’]
Point 4 – The Conversation of Our Lives (205, Middle)
Chapter 4
… It was July 9th, 2018.
… My wife and I ate dinner like any other night.
But afterward, my wife said to me,
(Remember she’s shorter  like a hobbit but prettier)  [low voice + crouch down]
“Listen I love you with all my heart  [look R-3rd row]
BUT if we don’t have kids, I’ll still love you — — —— but I’ll resent you too.
(Whoah, this was it.   [step out R]
The moment.  [look L-3rd row]
The decision.
… I heard honesty.
…I felt pain.
I wanted to protect our space.  [create ’space-box’]
And I knew what my mom would do.)
So I said,“Okay. Tell me more.”  [SCARED face + look L-2nd row]
 [walk L]
For this part, you should know that my wife was a kids-swim-coach.
She said, “After all these years, it’s not coaching that I love… [look R-3rd row]
I learned so much from those kids.
I need to have my own kids, because of what THEY can teach me.”
… …. …
Have you ever had one of those moments when things just ‘clicked’?  [step out R]
…. … 
Like a movie — when you see the GIANT gears — on a broken clock —  SLOWLY start turning.  [wave R-hand in circle-slowly]
… ….
When my wife told me her dream, the gears of life moved for me.
… …. … 
Now I object to telling lies about the birds and the bees, so we’ll skip that part.  You’re welcome!
But we expect to have our first baby girl this summer. [hand low]
… … …
I look forward to the moment when I can tell her
“Baby girl, You are no accident.  [crouch low]
You are a dream.”
… … … 
Conclusion (110, Middle)
Do you have a role model for situations like this? 
… ….
Like my mom I bet that person lights your world on fire ——  (with their listening).  [point R to ‘Mom’-space]
We could use more people like that.
Maybe one day you will be that person for someone.
 In any place we’re with our favorite humans,  [look L]
 Any moment we’re about to tune out  [look R]
 Any time we might choose — food  — or sleep — or not burning dinner and lighting the house on fire — — over —— people.  [look M-LAST row]
Friends, we can write our own storybook.
Today, tomorrow, and every day 
Build a bond
Make magic moments
Create the space to listen. 
Over to you.