Six steps to solid speech editing

There’s a wonderful book called The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write One, How to Deliver It, by Richard Dowis, an award-winning speechwriter and retired senior vice president of Manning, Selvage and Lee.

The book is chock full of great writing tips and world-class speeches. One of the excellent chapters is on editing the speech.

Dowis suggests these steps in editing speeches, which are very helpful to those of us in who are freelance speechwriters without a built-in supervisor to edit our talks.

First, let it rest, he advises. “Once you have completed your draft, put it aside if time permits. Actually, the speech will never leave your subconscious mind. Your mind will continue to work on it, and when you get back to it, ready to do your editing, you’ll be able to look at it more objectively.”

Second, edit for content. “In editing a speech for content,” Dowis writes, “question everything. Check every statement, every statistic, every quotation for accuracy. Examine every metaphor, analogy, quotation, statistic, and illustration for stability. Be especially critical of your humorous touches. Most important, look at the overall content of the speech and ask yourself once more whether it fulfills the basic purpose of the speech as stated in your prewriting phase.”  Or outline, as we like to call it.

Third, edit for organization. Dowis writes, “Now is the time to be certain the speech is coherent, that it hangs together, that it is a unified presentation rather than just a collection of ideas and information. Remember transitions. When you go from one thought to another, is the transition smooth?”

Fourth, edit for style. “Editing for style,” says Dowis, “will probably produce the most changes.” This editing “involves how word combinations, sentences, and paragraphs are put together to create the meanings and impressions you want to convey with your speech.”

He continues, “Simplicity has a certain eloquence all its own. Never underestimate the power of a simple, declarative sentence.”

Fifth, edit for language. Dowis urges speechwriters to edit for overuse of jargon, use of too many long words, infrequent use of contractions and personal pronouns, overuse of the passive voice, use of clichés, and use of too many generalities rather than concrete words.

Sixth and last, edit for grammar. “Although perfect grammar does not produce a perfect speech, too many instances of bad grammar can damage an otherwise good speech.”

So, there you have it. I know I’ll use these tips in editing all the speeches I write. But I’d pay a lot of money for time to do the very first one, “Let it rest.” Sigh…

Cynthia Starks is manager of executive communications at Verizon Wireless.

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