Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Inside Voice: Brian Jenner, European Speechwriters Network

(Editor's note: Inside Voice is a new interview series on The Eloquent Woman, in which we'll ask speakers, speechwriters, and storytellers to share their insights. This week, I'm pleased to let you hear from Brian Jenner, a British speechwriter who has created two thriving networks in that profession: The UK Speechwriters Guild and the European Speechwriters Network. I've worked with Brian as a keynote speaker and as a chair at the conferences of the guild and the network, and I admire his thinking about speakers and speaking. He curates conference speakers with an eye to presenting variety, humor, insight and inspiration, and does so without including a single panel discussion. I share his views on speakers who go overtime, among many topics!)

Where did you get your storytelling chops? (aka, skills)

I did Toastmasters for many years. I also studied French and German at university. My time at journalism school gave me interviewing skills.

What are the most important parts of a story, for a public speaker?

As a humorist, it’s the feedline and the punchline. Surprise is a important feature of any entertaining yarn.

What's something you wish more speakers would include in their storytelling?

More colour, that means insights that make the speaker more likeable.

What's something you wish more speakers would leave out of their storytelling?


You write speeches for clients. What does it take to put words in someone else's mouth?

It takes sensitivity. You’ve got to listen to the client’s voice and work out whether they would feel comfortable saying what you’re giving them. 

What's the difference when you write a speech for yourself?

Not much. You’re always looking for structures to squeeze your material into. I still need help because the point about your own work is you can’t see the faults or neurotic leaks in it.

Do you have a favorite speech or talk to which we can point our readers? What is it and why is it your favorite?

Lord Rabbi Sach’s Pre-Selichot Address, his last as Britain’s Chief Rabbi, is one of the most amazing sermons I’ve seen delivered. He blends topical storytelling with Biblical commentary. And he uses gestures you’d usually associate with an evangelical preacher. 

If you knew you could not fail, what kind of speech or presentation would you give? Tell us about the setting, audience, type of talk, content... 

I’d like to give careers lectures to schoolkids. Learning to speak in public can be about learning to think for yourself. If you think for yourself, you’re not going to be a very good employee, you’re going to have to be self-employed. Hence, I see a link between public speaking, leadership and entrepreneurship.

What's your public speaking pet a speechwriter? As a member of the audience?

As a speechwriter, I don’t like clients who rewrite large chunks. As a member of the audience, I would throw rotten vegetables at people who go over their time. However good their presentation is.

Why is public speaking worth the effort, in your view?

Because you move people through the spoken word. You can persuade them to see the world differently and act on it.

I'm offering a new workshop on women and public speaking. Be The Eloquent Woman will take place in Washington, DC, on Feb. 28, and in Oxford, UK, on April 2. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. Please join me for these unique professional development sessions!

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