It’s my favorite time of year for sports: March Madness. At this time, I am also working on writing a few speeches. As I write this post, I am watching Gonzaga and Southern compete in the first round of games. Naturally, my mind began to make connections between the speeches I am writing and the game I am so passionate about.
I will begin with the obvious: delivering a speech and playing basketball are two completely different activities. However, the discipline, preparation and intelligence that go into both are quite similar. For the purpose of this post, I will write as if the speechwriter and deliverer are the same person, even though many speakers hire speechwriters.
Here are a few pieces of advice both activities follow:
The best defenders are smart. They can anticipate when the opponent is going to do a crossover dribble, drive to the basket or make a pass. Speakers need to anticipate as well, but with audience reactions. As you write your speech, consider how the audience will respond. Will they laugh at your jokes? Be skeptical of a statistic? Appreciate your colloquial language? Just as basketball players find success by knowing their opponents, speakers find success by knowing their audience. Nevertheless, regardless of how much research you’ve done, there will always be a few surprises.
Shake off mistakes
Even the best players miss a shot every now and then. Speakers are no different. They can stumble over words, forget important details or deliver jokes that don’t get laughs. What matters is not that speakers never make mistakes, but how they overcome them. The best players brush off their mistakes and keep playing hard. The best speakers take a breath and move forward, as if the mistake never happened.
*Note: If it’s a major mistake, such as misreading a statistic, apologize and correct the error before moving on.
Practice and warm-up
Basketball teams spend hours practicing before game time. While speakers may not have the time to practice for three hours, multiple days a week, they still need to take the time to rehearse. This post from speaker Andrew Dlugan outlines some great ways to practice.
In addition to practicing, it is a good idea to warm-up before “game time.” Take a few minutes to make sure your voice is ready and work out any last-minute nerves. If you have the opportunity, rehearse in the actual room where you will be speaking.
Never underestimate the importance of teamwork
Obviously, basketball is a team sport. Teammates must work together and communicate well—both on and off the court. While many people consider speechwriting a solo activity, the best speeches are created with support.
Consider the process of creating a speech. It involves research, editing, more editing and practice. If speakers and writers consult with others, they can learn new pieces of information, get different opinions on questionable sections and practice in front of an audience (even if that audience is just one person). In addition, speakers can enhance their credibility by taking time to thank the people who helped them.
I could probably list many more reasons to appreciate the connection between basketball and speeches. However, since the game is still on, I will leave it at four for now.