Speechwriting: Start with one line

You can build an entire speech around one line.

One line that you would love to say on stage, just once.

A line you would love to be known for. Something you have been itching to say.

A line that makes you a bit nervous. Or maybe a truth that everyone knows, but doesn’t admit.

Find that one line, and you have your speech.

I was working with a EVP who was invited to address an event for women in finance. She wanted to do it. It would be boost her reputation. But she had no ready-made ‘signature’ speech in the drawer.

We had to create one from scratch.

I suggested some ideas. She suggested a few. We went back and forth.

She wasn’t sure what to talk about that would matter.

We were brainstorming on the phone when the phrase ‘Work-Life Balance’ came up.

“Ack!” she said. “I hate that stupid notion. I’m lousy at it, and I’m sick of feeling guilty about it. Because everybody is pretending anyway.”

She ranted for ten minutes. It was personal. She had felt it in her bones for years. We discovered that it touched on wider issues that she wanted to express, professionally and personally.

The talk took shape very quickly. I wrote it that afternoon and evening.

And no, it didn’t come out angry or raging, either. Her talk was thoughtful and insightful and meaningful for her.

I try to look for that ‘one line’ all the time.

Sometimes it’s the beginning of the speech, which will set the whole thing galloping.

Or maybe the killer line is the end. And the idea is to build up to it.

The line doesn’t always survive untouched. It often morphs into something even smarter or funnier or entirely different.

But it lights the fuse.