How to Write a Speech and the One Thing You Should Never Do

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Oct 12, 2017

by EVAN WILLIAMS

Speeches by businesspeople don’t often 
hit it out of the park for me. There are a 
few reasons for this but the winner, hands down, is they usually contain too many sports metaphors.

When I hear a sports metaphor, right 
off the bat I know the oration is going to struggle to go the distance. If you’re looking to inspire your fellow colleagues, you’re kicking an own goal by dropping one into your address. Hearing a sports metaphor 
– to borrow a phrase from former Australian prime minister Paul Keating – often feels like you’re “being flogged with a warm lettuce”. They’ve become hackneyed so you’re never going to deliver a knockout blow to your audience by using them. Plus, they’re just 
too easy – so easy, in fact, that a smug writer could step up to the plate and fill an entire article with them just to prove a point.

So here’s an idea that might hit you below the belt: how about ripping up the playbook and throwing a few curve balls into your speeches? Take a punt and tee 
up an interesting personal anecdote or historical analogy instead of your go-to ball-sports metaphor. Otherwise, you’re always going to find yourself behind the eight ball. If you want to bring your A game, you’ll need to improve your form.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking you to relegate all your metaphors to the bench right away; we don’t need a Hail Mary pass like that just yet. All I’m suggesting is that you try to get the ball rolling and level the playing field by including other turns of phrase in your addresses.

Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’re not going to hit it for six right away with other metaphors. And you’ll probably jump the gun a few times and stump 
your colleagues with your new historical analogies. But, soon enough, you’ll hit your stride. Then you’ll feel like you’re letting your guard down when you drop the ball and use a sports metaphor.

One day, you might try to convince your team members to throw in the sports-cliché towel. If you find yourself in this situation, 
I advise you call a timeout and play hardball with your colleagues about their use of sports lingo. Don’t be afraid to ensure that the gloves are off during this conversation. 
If you’re lucky, they will take your advice on the chin and be better for it. All this time they thought they were delivering a slam dunk, you’ll show them that they were actually rolling gutter balls. On the off-chance that their use of sports metaphors persists, 
I suggest a three-strikes-and-you’re-off-the-lectern rule.

So, what are you waiting for? The ball is in your court. You’re playing the long game so it’s up to you whether or not you call the match review panel on sports clichés.
Personally, I think it could be an absolute game changer.

Illustration: Steven Moore

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