Make Your Message Heard with Victoria Wellman
Have you ever heard an absolutely cringe worthy wedding speech? If you're like me, you've heard that lots of times. And you've also seen amazing speeches. And whether it's at a wedding, in a boardroom, on a stage somewhere, the art of public speaking is so important to share your ideas with the world, again, in small settings or big settings. And that's why today's guest on the Chase Jarvis live show is one you're not gonna wanna miss. Victoria Wellman, is a professional speechwriter. She's written speeches from politicians, to NFL superstars, huge CEOs, influencers of all walks of life. It's an credible episodes specifically, about how to craft an amazing speech. I think if you're like me, you had a belief that these people who just rocket in all of these different environments, they have some natural gift. But the reality is that there is a framework. A thought process that we should go through, in order to craft this speech. And that's what this episode is about. You're gonna hear a...
ll kinds of anecdotes around how to think about it, around how to reveal this inner vulnerable piece of you that makes speeches so important. And this is something that anyone can learn and master. So I'm gonna get outta the way, and let you enjoy this conversation. Yours truly and incredible speechwriter, Victoria Wellman, enjoy the show. (upbeat music) (audience applauding)
They love you.
Victoria, thank you so much much for joining us today. Welcome to the show.
Thank you, so much for having me. It's an honor and a privilege.
Well, I am fascinated by your area of work, which is one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show. I was introduced to your work by my book agent, who I believe is also yours, and I've become a big fan. And you take a very interesting angle on a time old tradition, and in part that tradition is about communicating ideas. But without me putting words in your mouth, I would love to hear how you describe the work that you do in the world, and do so in a way helps us understand what you care about, think about, and why you're on the show today?
Great. Well, thank you for the opportunity to talk about it. And I will just say one of the ironies of what I do is that I spend so much time, really, carefully considering and crafting messaging, that when I'm asked as human to human about my work, I basically don't stop. So please do interrupt me when you feel like I've made the point and you wanna move on. So yeah, brevity is not my forte. So, you mentioned, you know, you called speech writing this time old tradition. And I think that's one of the reasons that I wanted to write the book was because I really feel like this is such an old, it's like the oldest form of communication, right. Before there was Instagram and Twitter and all that stuff, and even the printed press, right. We were just talking. And I just feel that there hasn't evolved a way of thinking about the craft, right? So people still think of speeches as this quite like rigid form of communication. But I really, truly, believe like this is a real creative discipline, and a creative act when you go to try and put together a speech. And I think that is just one of like the biggest misconceptions about writing speeches. And because of that people are really committed to and convinced that they can find the answers to how to do it in a manual, in the nonfiction section of the book. You know, of the library or the bookshop, that or tips weren't worst. I mean, my biggest sort pep pee, like, you know, these sites where you can like, do get tips for how to write this speech or, and the thing that I'm pushing against is that there is any prescribed formula or template or way to do this that is correct. Because there are so many variables to consider, and is an act of self-expression. So you put those things together and it's like, how could you possibly impose a structure or a set of rules to do this thing? And I think a lot of people might read the book. I mean, let's, I hope a lot of people read the book, but a lot of people might read the book, and be frustrated that I actually don't hold their hand to the podium and tell them exactly how you have to do everything, but I can't. Right. I can tell you how to think about it. What kind of things to notice and consider, as you step through these hoops? And so I talk about it at the beginning of the book. This is not a, how to, it's a, how I, because I've been doing it for so long. But you know, there just isn't a formula to this. And I think part of what I get so excited about is that when I talk to people about it, they're really interested in what I do, because they recognize that it's a very, very human process. Because it is about asking questions and listening, and then considering like, well, how can I now turn what I just heard into something that me times 500 or 300 might be able to really identify with and feel like really engaged with. So, I think people are really excited about that, but they haven't ever really considered what that means in terms of the process of the speech writing.
Yeah. Process is fascinating. That's one of the things that this show is very much about, and for reference, when you're referencing the book, Victoria, for the listeners- and watchers at home.
Yes. about your book, "Before You Say Anything: The Untold Stories and Failproof Strategies, of a Very Discreet Speechwriter." And one of the reasons that I wanted to have you on the show, as I mentioned in my few sentences there at the intro was, so many people who are listening or watching are creators or entrepreneurs. And part of getting your ideas out there, creative ones, in fact, or whether you're trying to launch a company or get people excited about a venture or a project is in communicating these ideas. And when I observe across the creative and entrepreneurial communities, the biggest gap that I see is not the people that have a lack of ideas, it's their ability to help people understand their ideas. And therefore the ability to communicate these ideas is totally critical. And as you said, long before we were writing, we were communicating in person with our hands, and our face, and our mouth, and our, as you said, carefully crafted words. And so to me, your profession, this book in particular is I would just call it required reading for people who want to communicate their ideas out into the world. Because whether we think about speeches as attached to the podium or in the boardroom, we're always giving speeches, right. We're always communicating our ideas into the world. So, you know, this idea of before you say anything, which is the title of the book. Why did you start there? Why is it before you say anything versus like, here's how to say things? Why would you choose before you say anything, as the title of the book?
Yeah. I mean, I think it's a, I mean, such a good question, because it is so much about the process of exploration and experimentation and curiosity that goes on before you even think about what words you are going to use. Right? So when you're writing? I mean, first of all, thank you for pointing out that speeches are not attached to a podium. I have been trying to do a little bit of messaging on social media about why you should, you know, quote, unquote, give a shit about speech writing if you're not giving a speech? And it is because precisely as you say, we are always communicating, always, always. Like, as soon as you open your mouth, you're doing it, hoping someone else will listen, and that you can convince them of the thing that you're feeling or believing or whatever it is. Right. So, but when it comes specifically to speeches, or these sort of like contrived remarks, right, that you have to deliver. The act of preparation is the thing that will ensure, that what you say when you to find whatever words is, you know, is elevated and strikes the right tone. So, so much of the book is about saying, look, just forget for a second, that you need to write something and say something, and just consider the ideas that you want to share, and the people you're sharing them with. The timing, like the moment that you're speaking, like the cultural moment that you are in when you give this. The physical location you're in, right. Are you sitting on a bar stool in a gazebo, in the Caribbean with a bunch of nonprofit people, like speakers I've worked with. Or is it you and like 20 lit agents in a boardroom. Like, you know, all these like tiny things, they really really matter. You have to, there's so much to consider. And then beyond that, there's just, you know, there's what I say is the stuff, you know, you know. And then there's the stuff you don't know, you know. And having the curiosity and the humility to say, well, I think I know what this is gonna be about, because I'm such an expert, but I'm willing to just say, actually, I need to go beyond that. I need to be curious because there are different ways to package up the thing that I wanna say, for this particular crowd. And so, almost like putting aside what you already know you're gonna say, and that you wanna say. And then leaping off into the unknown and going, let's just see what happens when I go researching. And also keeping your mind open. I mean, I listen to podcasts all the time. Big, big surprise. But I often find myself stopping mid run when I'm listening to a podcast to take down a note, because something, you know, Dolly Parton said. is just so perfect for the speech that I'm writing about. You know, so, and so, and so it's just like constantly being over open to taking in. And that's the process of sort of gathering your material, that process in itself, the material of the raw materials is a huge part of it. And I think people just sidestep that, because they think they know what they have to say? And they freak out about getting up on stage and saying it, and there's just so much work to do before then. So that's why it's, "Before You Say Anything", you got a long road, but it should be fun, and full of curiosity, and discovery, and learning.
The best, what I believe there is a gap in understanding that the best speakers in the world, whether they're in boardrooms or on stages, or in small environments that you talked about. Like someone sitting in the Caribbean on a panel, or something like the crafting of the remarks has happened. It has happened over time. And most people who are watching those things or listening, or are people who are listening right now and want to get better at that, it is often so easy to make the false assumption that that just happened. That that is just natural, that there hasn't been, so much time and thoughtfulness and preparation put into it. Which is, I think one of the reasons your book is especially timely, in a world where attention is so difficult to capture and especially so difficult to hold for more than a millisecond on some social media platform. You watch people like the late sir Ken Robinson. You watch him give a speech. It's absolutely mesmerizing. But when you speak to, you know, I just had the chance to speak to his daughter, and the amount of preparation that goes into understanding the little stories and the nuances that appear so effortless on stage, that has actually been carefully prepared, and practiced and considered. So I would like to shift gears. And now that we understand the theory of your ambition with the book. And again, I'll say the title "Before You Say Anything: The Untold Stories and Failproof Strategies, of a Very Discreet Speechwriter." I would like to understand some of the tactics? First of all, why would someone want to... You said it was almost convinced or something like that. You used a word, I forget what the word is? to pay attention. What, and again, this is a very open question, but why would someone, why would I care enough to craft my message?
Well, I mean, because if you don't think about, you have to think about the person you are crafting it for. So if you don't pay attention to them, why on earth are they gonna pay attention to you? It's just respectful, you know?
It's acknowledging that, I could make an analogy about being creative and all the variables out, that you have to consider when you're writing a speech. And I might say, "You know there isn't one way to do it." I mean, look at how Rocky trains in Rocky four, versus how Ivan Drago does, right? Ivan Drago goes into the gym and does exactly what you're meant to do, right. He weight trains and whatever. Rocky goes into the snow and starts like carrying logs and whatever. And that's how he gets strong. And that's how he wins. Now, that's like his creative thing. Now, if I'm speaking to an audience of millennial women, I might not choose that analogy, because they might not have seen Rocky four, or at least probably haven't. I'm always amazed at things that, like my references, I'm like, oh, that's really out of date. But, you know.
I love it.
I'm not gonna use that. I'm going to use something else, because they don't get it. Right. So then do I want them to walk away and just go, "Well, I didn't connect to anything she's saying." Well, no, you're just doing yourself such a huge disservice. And the thing, and I just wanna circle back point that you made before, because it is all related. This idea of, you know, authenticity and spontaneity and extemporaneity. I talk about it in the book, ad nauseam probably. There're very, very few people. In fact, I'm gonna say no one, can get up and make a 20 minute speech about the lack of creativity in education, without having really, meticulously, and thoroughly, research put together the thoughts, rewritten, redrafted, revised. Well, you know, it's just, no one does that. Now he might get up on a stage and use a teleprompter, and make you think that he did it just like that. But you know, the thing that bothers me about... There are so many misconceptions about this, about how the strategy of communication might be perceived as like being manipulative, or you're just trying to make me feel. Well, of course I am, but if I didn't do that, then you're not gonna listen to what I have to say. And for me, I feel like, if you think it's okay to spend hours crafting your message, and then pretend that you, and then sort of basically lull your audience into this false sense of spontaneity by using a teleprompter and the audience are like, "Well that's okay." Like, I can ignore the fact that I know that he actually crafted this because it comes across, well, that's inauthentic in itself. Right. You know, I think the authenticity piece nowadays is such a big deal. And everyone's talking about being authentic and telling your story and all that stuff. But like, if no one's listening to your story, because you didn't stop to think about how people hear things, perceive, understand, relate too. They have to find themselves in it. Then why would you know, what's the point?
I love it. You actually opened the book with what you call a gentle warning. I'm wondering if you can share a little bit about that?
Yeah, that was the part of the book that I think I wrote it almost at the end, or like three quarters through. And I wrote it in about 10 minutes, because I suddenly realized this is something that I was really struggling with it's like; I know how to do this, but now I have to articulate my process for a readership who then has to be able to take something from it, and somehow use it. But without, but as, I guess, not a manual, it's not a manual, 'cause there's no prescribed formula. You know, that's obviously key to everything. And so I thought it was important to say, look and use my daughter. And this is one of these examples of the analogy and metaphor you can use. My daughter has crafting sets and Lego sets, a plenty, does she ever follow the instructions? No. What she does is she takes the pieces, and she makes the thing she wants to make. And sometimes it drives me crazy, but I actually in the back of my mind and I'm like, I'm so proud of you. Because when we think about, this goes to this heart, this creativity piece. Do you want to make a speech or craft a message, that is someone else's puzzle? Or do you want to paint the picture and cut out the pieces, and make the puzzle yourself, right? There are so many ways to when you're thinking about how to reach someone and make impact? You have to strive for originality. If you're just gonna go down the generic route. Okay. It's safe. But no one's gonna remember what you said, and it's not gonna make anyone think or do anything differently. So, you know, I just say in the beginning of the book, if you are here for a, how to, and you wanna put the Lego thing together, the way that your neighbor down the hall does, so that you end up with the same thing, then this is not the book for you. This is not a, how to, it's a, how I. And the reason that I can write it is simply, because I've just done it so many times. Right? So, I hate the idea in anything that there is a correct way. There cannot be a correct way when you're talking about making something and creating, right? Like, you know, there's not a correct way to take a photograph. How could you write a book? This is how you take a photograph. And I always think about, you know, there's like- My daughter also has one of those sketch, like how to draw. Right? You know, and it's how to draw the face? And so it has this diagram and it's so the eyes go here, and what have you, I'm like, great, okay. If, okay, whose face are you drawing? Because you know, the Norwegian seven year old face, that you are doing a portrait of is not your like, Maori grandmother's face. And the person with the eye patch does not look like, the person with the hair lip. And so what is that face that you're making me draw, and saying that that's the correct way to draw a face. It's just not. Better to say, when you are drawing a face notice, are the eyes symmetrical? You know, how are the eyebrows? Are they pushed down? Is there a single mono lid? Is there, you know, notice these things, and then paint or draw what you see. But, it's about observation and being curious, and understanding that just the right way is always the wrong way. (both laughing)
Well, this underscores a couple things. It underscores the creative process, which is what your book is about. And the creative process specifically, towards writing speeches and being able to communicate one's ideas. But the personal aspect of it is something that is very difficult to overstate. And it's very easy for us to see that in the expression of something like, say a painting, where you on mural can just put a red circle on a canvas and I can do the same thing. And well, why is the mural worth $20 million? And mine is, you know, worth $20. And it's because there's a personal narrative wound up in that painting what it took to be able to do that, into all the knowledge and understand that goes forward, and that same level of personality and individuality and all that. If we can embed those in our words and the stories that we tell on stages and in front of, in boardrooms and in front of groups of people that we're hoping to inspire. Then, we'll, we will literally be more successful in sharing our ideas. That's the fundamental principle of the book, right? It's like, if you can be intentional with what you are aiming to communicate and to who, or to whom? Like that is such a thing that is ignored. So having a little bit of background now. We've talked about, mentioned the book and the concept. But you've been doing this for your lifetime, basically. Give us a little context of.
I'm not that young. (both laughing)
Give a little context of The Oratory Laboratory, and share with us how you got to this point in your career?
Well, first of all, I will say it is The Oratory Laboratory. You have to say it in an English accent. So you're gonna have to work on that.
I will work on that.
Yeah. OK. So it was a very circuitous route in a way, and very direct in another way. I trained as a drama student and thought, oh, I'm gonna be an actress. And then whilst trying to be an actress, decided to satiate that kind of creative desire. And I just started writing because no one can tell you not to write, but lots of people can say they don't want you in their movie. And so I just kept writing and then found that actually, I was much better at it, and it made me feel better. And it had just started to move away from the drama, but obviously, always loved the story, I loved storytelling. And so I worked as a writer. You know, feature writing, reporting, copywriting. I did a ton of voiceover, you know, bringing in that drama. Education as well. And my partner at the time, now husband, also had a performance background, was also a writer. And we had been to a few weddings together one summer, which is obviously is the ultimate test of any relationship. Can you handle other friends, weddings? And at every single wedding we went to, and they were all very nice weddings. When it came to the speeches. It just, you know, the energy just became, it just bombed. It was just like the, oh, it was so awkward because they were all terrible. And we were driving back down, and I talk about this in the book. We were driving down the I95, back to New York after one of them. And I was just like, you know, someone needs to help people because it isn't a given that you know how to do this. Someone has to do it. And then we kind of just looked. I mean, it was really cliche. We kind of looked at each other and went, could we? And we had both obviously written some speeches ourselves, and knew that we were quite good at it. And then, so we literally just put together this website. Came up with the name, which we had, I think our first idea was "Picture Them Naked", but it was taken. And I'm really glad that it was, because later I came to realize that actually, it's just not about imagining that the audience is naked at all. Like, you know, that's kind of like, that's a trick, and it doesn't work. So I'm really glad that URL was taken. So, but we just started it. And we had a sense of what the process would be based on everything that we knew about absorbing story, and then sort of regurgitating for different people. And I will say we were making it up as we went along at the beginning, and then quickly realized that like, no, actually I do know how to do this. I am really good at it. And that is how the oratory laboratory came to be. And then we got married, 'cause that was a little easier to work together.
Well, I know combined, you have crafted messages for Ted's stages, and the UN, and Obama's campaigns, and Google, Intel, so many there other leaders, and Craft People, and Idea Folks. What I'm interested in hearing is that these techniques are the same techniques that are used in every day life. The techniques that you are talking about in this book around the stage of these high profile clients that you have would be the same techniques that you might use in a conversation with your partner about the future of your profession, for example. And an example that I would like to hear you explore in real time is. I have identified over the course of my career, that I look backwards and connect the dots and how I was able to communicate my passion for let's say photography, and realizing that it is a difficult road to become a professional. And I essentially had to share with my, then girlfriend. And at some point during this process, wife Kate, around this was a true dream. And I realized I was going to put a burden on our family, and we were going to have to, you know, I was going to drop out of graduate school and this certain path to a certain level of income, for example, and take this more risky path. And when I observe the people who are in this community. I would say that is one of the key problems in communicating your crazy idea that you want to do with this one precious life, to the people who around you, who, for whom that might be scary because it involves financial risk. It involves, you know, there are risks involved, I will say. And at least of which is just a fear of going into the unknown, and trying to become this dream that you have. And so I'm trying to help people understand how valuable the work that you have done is, and it's not all at the podium. I recognized that, I thought about what I truly wanted with this life of mine and thought about it through the lens of my partner, through the lens of my parents, and my career counselors and all the people, who had influenced these choices that we make. And I recognized post facto that I was successful in communicating this idea to my wife, in such a way that she would go on that journey with me. So as you said earlier, there's no malice involved, but I wanted to provide a compelling story. And it required me to understand actually what I wanted to say. Because if you package this shiny fictitious thing up, it's not going to go well. And so I'm wondering if by extension of that analogy. You can help people understand, using your technique, how would they package up a speech? I'm doing that in air quotes to help someone, a loved one, understand that they want to pursue this crazy dream that they have. How using your philosophies, and the techniques you described in the book, how might someone approach this? Just, I know we can't do the whole exercise, but help use that as a background for the thought process.
Ooh, you making me work. All right. So I mean. I think the thing that always is really effective is when you start from a place that is unexpected, right? If especially, if you are gonna be speaking to someone who you sense might already have reservations, have made judgements, basically, like it's almost the hardest thing you're gonna do. You very rarely, and this is important to know for anyone who's just scared of speaking. You rarely encounter a hostile audience. Your audience is usually there because they want to be there. Right. And they're very loyal, and they will give you a lot of leeway, and they'll applaud at the silliest things. And they'll laugh at jokes that even funny. So it's really easy. Now, the situation you are talking about is convincing someone who has a ton of context, who has personal stakes, right, in your decisions. Actually, it's probably the hardest audience that you can speak to. And so thank you for this question, Tracy. So I think what you need to do is almost, right from the beginning, set off, and knock them off course, right to start. So that they can't be ready with that defensive thing. But they literally are like, whoa. And that while you are catching them from falling, you're explaining all the benefits of it. Right. So if you want to, and I'm one of the things I am absolutely terrible at. And it's probably because I spend so long crafting and perfecting things is thinking of on the spot analogies. But if you are trying to convince someone that you want to be an artist, that you wanna stop your finance job, or whatever it is. Don't start by talking about what you- Don't start that way. Right? Think of, you need to go on this journey and think about what is it that's going, how is that person gonna understand the value to you? And it might have nothing to do with art, and it have nothing to do with Wall Street, but it could be an insane data point. I mean, I can't say for sure what it is.
What I know is that you- It's got to be the unexpected beginning, and that you have to step through making your case and think about basically, something that they can't argue back because it is just about you.
That emotional, that emotional piece. Yeah. I'm thinking that-
But the thing is-
that it's worked. Yeah.
It's really, really hard because also then you get emotional. Right. And then you, like, and that's the hardest thing. You know, if I talk about myself and my family, I just start crying. So, it is really hard to get personal. But people can't argue with how you feel? And I mean, we're getting into the realm of therapy, but it's funny, because so many people I work with say to me after the initial call or meeting, "My God, that felt like therapy." Because I'm literally asking them to unburden themselves with everything. So I'm like, I'm not gonna write it in speech. But if I'm gonna write this as you, I really need to understand what your thought processes are, and what your pain points are, and all this stuff? And I think people come out of it just astonished, that they even shared what they shared with me.
But that's, but to me, this is genius. Like, that's the thing that right now the goal would be to, or sorry, historically people may think, or off the cuff people may think that, okay, cool. I need to set out a spreadsheet, of it's gonna work like this, and like this, and like this, and what I heard you talking about is basically a therapy, an emotional inward turning of how does make me feel? And this idea, for example, the idea of becoming a doctor, it's romantic. And I can help so many people, but at the end of the day, that's not where my heart is. Because I would've had to, if you were my speechwriter, tell you that, to not pursue my career as a photographer, would've left me on my death bed feeling like I had left some of the most important work in my life undone. And the thought of dying with that in me was like, how can- Like, the difference between that and a spreadsheet of how I'm going to make the finances work? And it's fascinating to hear you reveal that people think of this, or feel like they've just gone through some sort of therapy. Is that a key to it? Is that how you craft these individual messages, and how you make something that's resonant? Are the answers sort of in here, versus out there?
So there is a whole chapter about who you are in the narrative? So there are certain speeches where your role is as expert or bystander and that you are not important. And so there is a limited amount of times, I wanna hear I this, and I that, because and it's, especially if you're speaking about someone else at a party, a wedding, a bar mitzvah, whatever. It's the stories are- The whole speech is about how amazing this person is. You're there because you know that better than anyone else. But not because people wanna hear about the time that you and this person did this, and you and this person did this other thing, right? And it's not necessarily an opportunity for you to declare your love for that person. You can do that in private. You can pull them aside and say, I just think you're the best thing, and I love you. Your job is to put that person on a pedestal, and tell everyone how awesome they are. Now, that is very, very different from a speech where maybe it's an award acceptance speech, where people in the audience want to understand how you came to the thing that you do? What your insight is? How it makes you? But then also, it depends on the awards and the audience, because maybe you are just there to say thank you to other people. There are so many nuances. All the material has to come from within, because your insights and experiences are the reason that you are there. They're the reason that you did something or know something, that warranted this opportunity for you to address, right? But in terms of your role in the narrative that you construct, there are different ways to manage that, depending on who you're speaking to, and what it's for? So, you know, again, and that is just something that like I can talk about, but I can't. That's why, when you say like, oh, I'm gonna follow this formula. Like, no one's saying that to you. No one on the, like, be careful how much you talk about yourself. But as you said, like with a thought, leadership speech, or, you know. If you don't talk about what brought you to that moment? Your failures or whatever it is. Why would people be inspired by you? Because you have to be humbled. You have to be human and you have to show vulnerability. People have to, it's like when you watch a movie, people have to be able to sympathize, empathize with the character and like the person. I mean, this is all, you know, Aristotle's, Ethos, Pathos and all that stuff. But you know, it's true. Like, you have to see yourself in that person. Otherwise they can't connect to it. And very often it is out bringing yourself to something. And some people are amazing at it. Some people are too good at it, and you have to bring them back, say, you know what, let's just take you out a little bit. And some people are absolutely adamant, that they do not wanna disclose anything about their own feelings, their own experiences, and that's like ringing. I'm just like, no, you have to, you have to share, you know. Like, if there's nothing of you in there, then just, this isn't impossible. So it's interesting.
I want to grab that and I wanna pull the role of you, or just the role of different aspects rather than you as a core piece, of course. But I was fascinated by the bit on humor. There's humor in, in speaking and in conveying ideas is obviously very, very powerful. And you've got a chapter in the book. It's like, how to be funny when you're not? Or when you don't think you are? Let me, where is it here in my. "Oh, how to be funny when you think you're not funny." So the role that humor, like, I have always wanted to make sure to include some humor, ideally self deprecating humor in my, I'll say speeches. But again, I wanna keep this beyond the keynote, beyond the stage.
Talk to us about the role that humor plays?
Yeah. I mean, I don't know. Humor is the one thing, it's the one area where we both. Like, in that moment where we all laugh together, there's just like nothing else happening, except we are laughing together. So you can have different ideas or enjoy different things, or be comfortable with different philosophies or whatever. But if you are all laughing together, in that one moment, that's just everyone present together. And people, it's just always so surprising to me how often people will take out the jokes. They'll just take out all the jokes and then say, well, you know, because it's just not me. Or, I just think it's just safer not to, I'm not that, I don't make jokes in real life. I'm like, well, this isn't real life. And no one is sitting there with a scorecard. No one is sitting there with a scorecard going, well, they're not usually funny, so I'm not gonna laugh at that joke. But there are so many different ways to use just the truth of your message and the material that you have. The real stories, and the real nuggets of information, to find humor. It doesn't have to be. You don't have to be a standup. And that goes to what I was saying before. People are really, they want to laugh. I mean, if you watch some of Obama speeches, like he'll make the lamest joke and everyone's like, (Victoria laughing) 'Cause everyone wants to laugh at Obama, or with Obama. I'm sure some people wanna laugh at him, but, you know. So it's just about being open to finding those where the way I always find humor is just one of the, I always say tricks of the trade if there is one? But just when I look at material that people give me, or like different stories and different things. And I have this whole chapter called the crazy wall, where you basically, throw up everything you have to work with and you start looking at the weird unexpected connections. And you go, oh, wait, they said that this happened in 1989, but they also said that this person always wears pantaloons and they never understood it. And then it's like, oh my God, there's totally a joke. And that's not because I'm a funny person. That's just because I can see there that and that are just. I mean, of course there's a joke. And if you are really into humor and you watch like different comedians. I mean, everyone has different ways of being funny. Mitch Hedberg, I mean, his whole thing was just the observation of the most ridiculous, but specific thing that all of us missed and he saw it and it was like, oh, I mean. So there's just so many different ways to be funny. But most importantly making people laugh is just such a gift. And if you could do it just once or twice, that's it. The audience are with you, you know. And hopefully-
I love this.
I give people a way to do that.
Oh, you've definitely done it. I've taken some of your advice. I gave a speech, when last time I was on stage was two years ago, and I did an adaptation of it recently, which is my first in person keynote in some time. And the humor, I basically retold a joke that I told to my second grade classroom. And then I revealed the process while I was on stage, that actually I told this joke. And it's a terrible joke. And it's very-
off color. And it makes me look wildly foolish. But this concept of both being aware of it. And it was so good to drop it in this particular point in the speech. And it was a little bit of a whim, 'cause I was outta practice. But in looking and reading "Before You Say Anything", it was like, oh, so there's like an understanding, a retroactive understanding of that's why it worked because it was personal, because it was self-deprecating, because we've all been seven years old. And we've all seen seven year olds say totally inappropriate things. And at the end of the day, it really wasn't that funny. But this is getting me to the point that I wanna make here. The audience was so ready to laugh. And so let's go the opposite end of the spectrum. If the point that I was framing earlier about, the difficulty for creators to share with the people in their lives, that they really aspire to be a creator and it may be hard. And you may have a difficult audience in that case, let's explore the other side, which is most people when they're listening to you, they don't have a scorecard. They are interested. You're in the room with them because you are already, either collaborating with them or hanging out with them, or you're in the same line of work, or they're at an event at the same event you are. So you've got some things in common. So let's help dispel the fear that most people have of this moment.
The moment of being-
Are we talking about the same moment of-
No, I wanna talk about the reason you are there, and that people are not, their goal is not to be critical of your speech. Their goal is like you're at the wedding. We're both friends with the bride and the groom. We share something in common already. You're not, I think the word used earlier is that 90 something percent of audiences are not combative. That's not the goal of the audience and the presenter relationship. But for those of us that are nervous about public speaking, or about sharing our ideas, I think that the opposite is true. We believe there's a false narrative, that they're there to judge me and to give me a bad score on my speaking ability.
Yeah. Yeah. Got it. So I think our biggest fear is not being, people say, oh my biggest fear is speaking in front of an audience, and it's not, it's that you are worried that people are gonna think that you are not smart. We're so afraid that people are gonna think we're not smart. That our ideas aren't good enough that, you know. And there's so much to this. I think one of the things that I really try and emphasize is that an audience, is this isn't you versus them. And a speech when you come to write the speech, and any remarks that you are making or any messaging. And this comes back to the audience again. Is that they are part of the narrative, and you have to craft it as if you have to speak to them. But you have to include them in the story. So that's why people will say like, oh, you know, like the Ted thing is like, ask a question, right? The reason that they do that, so often at the beginning of a Ted talk is because if you ask the audience a question, you are automatically welcoming them into the conversation. And a speech isn't a monologue. That's for the bathroom mirror by yourself. It is a dialogue. It's the part of the dialogue where your doing the talking. But at any point they could at the end respond. So, if you think about it. You go to a bar with a friend and then you have this thing that you wanna talk to them about. And then you just talk, and talk, and talk, and then whatever. But it doesn't mean that that person's not there. Right. It just means that they're actively listening. But you, by talking, hopefully, I mean, some people obviously do completely ignore the person sitting opposite them. But the point is is that they are an ally, right? They're not the enemy. And the minute you realize that you're actually. This is a conversation. This is a dialogue. And they're there to listen to you because they care what you have to say. I think it removes some of that fear that you somehow have to overcome, right? You don't have to overcome. You just have to include them. And there's this hilarious podcast, not podcast. Well, it's an episode of a podcast. I think it was this American Life. It was in the book, but it's called "Fiasco". And it's about this college performance of Peter Pan or something. That goes desperately wrong at every turn. I mean, people falling off the flying thing, and captain hooks hook flies into the audience. I mean, it couldn't be more of a disaster. And yet the audience really holds it together, until the tenth thing goes wrong. And the fire people have to, you know, the firemen have to come in from the local town, and a bell crushes and like, you know, squashes someone. And then it just turns into, you know. Then they lose it and they start to laugh, and then they turn feral. And then they want more of, you know. But they put up with so much because they want the performers to succeed. I think if you just constantly just keep that in mind, that this is not a judgment on your capability. No one's sitting there with a scorecard. That hope hopefully removes the fear. There are a lot of coaches out there, who I think probably have tactics for positive mental strategies. But imagine a ball of fire, or I don't know, picture them naked. That was definitely one of them for a while, that was on Vogue. But that's kind of a bandaid over it. Doesn't solve the actual deep seated fear. And the fear is just that it's not combat. It's like Daenerys Targaryen surrounded by all her people going, "Yeah, come on." And it's the same thing, you know, they're with you. They paid, some of them paid to be there.
They want you to succeed. Yeah. The people at the wedding. They want to laugh. It's all fun. It should be.
The ability to put yourself in that mindset is so important. I think that's an area that quite often, I think creates barriers for people. Again, this is not just on stages, but in rooms, or I think, I like the wedding toast. The idea that you use consistently. Like, they want you to succeed. And the only thing that goes wrong is when you put up all these barriers and it's the rigidity, all of the things that you feel like make up a speech, which are actually the opposite of what provides a connection, and provides the vulnerability and the opportunity to let the audience in. I think it's very misunderstood. Very misunderstood.
It is. But I also think that people assume that again, there's this standard to which they must adhere of public speaking. And that if you can't get up and be Tony Robbins, then you're failing. Right. And it's so misplaced because when I work with a speaker, we do delivery sessions to make sure that they're like nailing the punchlines, and that they can understand the different shifts of energy. Because the way it's pieced together is like there is shape to it, right? So you are taking them, the audience on a journey. So you have to be able to signal that with your voice, et cetera. And yet I will always say, I am not trying to change who you are, I'm not trying to turn you into a pro. I'm trying to listen to who you are naturally as a speaker, and just bring out your strengths. And actually the shyest person who can't look up from the paper can give just as perfect a delivery as the person who's prowling around the stage, which by way, I hate please don't ever move around the stage. But it's not about that you have to be this perfect polished person. And also just to know that it is completely natural. I think probably Tony Robbins also has a little bit of adrenaline before a buzz, before he gets on the stage. It is so natural to feel that because it is adrenaline, right? It's like, oooh. The thing to know, and this unfortunately does only come with experience is that every time you do it, when you get on stage or when you grab the mic, whatever. The minute you start speaking, it's gone. It's anticipation, and that is anxiety. And anxiety is always about the idea that something could go wrong. It's not the actual reality, but the minute you start speaking and you are in that moment, there's no time to feel scared. 'Cause you've gotta give your speech. So you're just, you know. But the more you do it, the more you are plugged into that. I definitely still have those jitters, I'm like, woo, here we go. But I know that the minute I start, they just melt away, and then I'm just having fun. Right. And so knowing that it's okay to feel that way. No one's trying to nicks an erase your feelings and emotional responses, like, no, it's fine. But just be aware of them and embrace them, and just go it's okay.
No, there's a lot of wisdom in there. And you know, again, the same is true. If you're on stage at a keynote or in front of the company that you're leading or even sometimes your family, if you gotta talk about something important, or scary, or exciting. I want to finish up on this idea around practicing. And it goes back to what we opened with, the idea that the perception of most people who started listening and watching our conversation today, is that great speakers are just great. And that is their gift in life. And that they did not practice a lot to get there. And I do know people who are more willing to make mistakes in front of others and perhaps that is one of their vectors, or their vehicles by which they got good at this. But the reality is you get good at something from practicing. And this is true, whether you're talking about brain surgery or juggling, or speaking a foreign language. You have to practice in order to become successful. So you wrap up your book with this, the concept of practicing, giving your speeches and standing and delivering. So what advice that you give, you know, you can feel free to comment as you had in the book. Again, the book we're talking about just as a reminder here is "Before You Say Anything: The Untold Stories and Failproof Strategies, of a Very Discreet Speechwriter." I wanna find out why you described yourself as very discreet, but we're gonna go, we're gonna put that in a second, but this idea of practice.
Think that it's natural. And so give us your thoughts on how great speeches are practiced?
You're absolutely right. So Winston Churchill had a terrible stutter, but he was really absolutely determined to be this great speaker. And he worked his behind off to become the speaker he was. Now, obviously he's an incredible writer too. So that helps, right. There are two pieces of this, right? There's what you write and what you say, and how you deliver it. But practice is, so many people come to me and say, I wanna give a Ted Talk, and I'm like, oh, are you speaking at Ted? They're like, no, no, just a Ted style talk. I'm like, what does that mean? And they have this image that they wanna be up on the stage, they wanna look like they just made it up, with the headphone. And they would quite like to walk around, and just look incredibly authoritative, and inspire everyone. Right? That's the sort of image, right? Those talks, that they're nine months in the making. They are rehearsed for so long. And so, yes, you do. If that's what you are trying to achieve, and you want to memorize a speech, you have to do it. You have to practice, and practice, and practice, because memorization, and this I could talk about for another hour. The minute you forget one thing, or you look up to the heavens, 'cause you can't quite remember that line. You break that facade of it's straight away we see, Ugh. And it just is crushing for the audience, because you can't be present in what you're saying, if you're constantly thinking to the next line. That means you're not connected to the actual material. So to really memorize your speech effectively, you do have to just practice, and practice, and practice, and practice. So you're literally saying it in your sleep. I always say, okay, you know, fine. If you're doing a Ted talk and you have to, and they, which they don't, by the way, say, you have to, then fine. I'm a big proponent of taking your script up with you, being really familiar with it. But having it there. Because first of all, that's the acknowledgement that you actually worked on it. But it gives you that sense of, I think that confidence, right? That you're not just like official, oh my God, what's gonna happen? So when you think about practicing, and you're gonna have your notes, or just sort of focus on that for a minute. There is actually a really interesting line you can cross where if you over practice, you potentially do more damage than good, because you start to riff a little bit, right. And riffing on something that you've really carefully put together can actually pull a thread too far out of the Jersey and the whole thing starts to pull apart. And then it's really hard to come back to what you were saying. If you've decided that you know it so well that so. I was a bit like don't get too over confident with it. But also just because I think there is something really charming about seeing someone up there who is really familiar with their content. But it's still almost discovering and in the act of telling you about. They're so connected to it because there is still a novelty in a way. It hasn't been just, you know, if it gets over practiced, it can become very wooden. And then it starts to feel inauthentic, because I start to feel that you are performing. And I don't really want a performance. Right? I want preparation, but I want you to be responding to the material for real. In an authentic way as you deliver it to me. But to the bigger thing, obviously the more you go out on the stage, the more you accept invitations, and the more you say, you know, I'm gonna put myself up for this thing and do it. The better you will become. My book cannot make you a great, fantastic writer, but that isn't the point of the book. Great writing is just, it is instinctual, right. But speeches are very much about the synthesis of ideas. I think of it in the difference between, you know, like a Malcolm Gladwell book, where you're just like, whoa, look at the way he put all those pieces together. Like he just pulled that thing apart, and then put it back together and like, whoa. The writing itself, very plain and clear, because that's how he writes. Right. And I know that's very intentional that his writing his play. But let's say, you know, who's your favorite novelist? Beautiful language and flourishes or whatever. Great. Like that's an amazing read, but that's not what I want in a speech. I don't want every word to be a five syllable word. I need to understand what you're saying in a much more direct way. So it's very much about putting, how you put those ideas together and communicate them in the simplest and most direct way. And then the more you do that, and the more you get up and do that, of course, you're gonna feel better about it. As you say, like, practice just makes you better and better. Not perfect. No one is perfect. Everyone can improve on everything.
And yeah. And you don't wanna be. I think that's part of what I-
How boring, yeah.
One of my favorite takeaways from the book is just reinforcing that perfection is not what people want. They want authenticity, and individuality, and personality. And again, I have to absolutely, my belief that oral communication, I have a strong belief rather, that oral communication is so important. And our ability to deliver messages, whether they're at work or at home. You know, on the Ted stage, or in trying to get someone to believe in the vision that you have for your life. These are all oration. The ability to convey these ideas is super powerful. It's a learnable, teachable skill. And we know that from your book again, the book "Before You Say Anything: The Untold Stories and Failproof Strategies, of a Very Discreet Speechwriter." I know you've written for thought leaders, influencers, CEOs, NFL stars, politicians all over the map. Why the discreet speechwriter in the title? Help me understand that?
Well, the book is both, a look behind the process, right? So it's the first time I've unveiled like the crazy machinations, like what it is that I'm doing when I put these speeches together. But I can't do that without obviously, telling a lot of stories about the collaborations that I've been lucky enough to have over the years. And I mean I've worked with of people who are prolific and then just everyday people. And there is no difference in terms of who's more interesting than who. It's, you know, it's human, all our stories and experiences. I mean, just, that's why I love my job. I love it. Because I just talk to people all day long every day, and hear other people's perspectives. It is so unbelievably rewarding. But to answer your question. People feel that there is still so much of a taboo around this the idea of having a speechwriter, that it's a guilty vice that you, you know, I can't write by myself, I have this person do it. Or, this incredibly personal speech about someone at my friend's birthday. I couldn't pull it out the hat myself, and that's really embarrassing. And I really want to break that because I don't see why you would tell people about the person who gives you your Botox, and you would tell people about the person who I don't know, gets the bunions off your feet. And then you would hire and share your interior designer, whatever it is. And yet with a speechwriter, you can't admit that someone helped you craft this message. And so I really like working to blow that myth up, that there's something to feel guilty about. But most people who work with me do so thinking that there is discretion, and that I'm not gonna share stories. And for the most part I don't. But for the book, because I really needed to illustrate the stories, you know, I've gone there. I've changed all the names and no one should know who anyone is. But the book is part memoir. It's like, it's about those really human relationships that I form with the people, and like how we delved into their ideas, and talked about them and tangled with them together. And it shouldn't feel, my husband says it's kitchen and confidential for speeches. I dunno. It's very flattering. But yeah, it is just about people, speech writing is just about people. And so.
I found that to be true. You learn a lot about not just the individuals, but the art of speech writing and how to think about your ability to write a great speech, or to share a great idea through your very personal stories. And I wanna say, thank you, for sharing with us today. For being on the show. I wanna say.
Oh, the thanks is all mine. Thank you.
Congratulations on an amazing book, again. How important communication is specifically, spoken communication. Where would you direct us aside from the book? Are there any other places you wanna point our community out there to your work, or on the internet? I know the website, which I won't say, because I won't be able to do the British accent, but where else would you like us to go.
No, go on. I want you to try, go on.
The oratory laboratory.
And that's not bad. It's better than the first try. Yeah. The theoratorylaboratory.com is the website. I've recently taken to TikTok, for better or worse. I think it's @Victoria.Wellman. I have an Instagram page. On the website at the moment, I am working on a side project called Free Speech, which I definitely would love people to check out. It's just the idea is that everyone really deserves a speechwriter. At the moment it's inaccessible to a lot of people, but everyone has something important to say. So it started in 2016, it's in its infancy still, and working with Ukrainians and Russians at the moment, at the time of doing this. Hopefully the speakers, it's not limited to working with them, but just obviously right now, this is really important. And it's just an opportunity to take everything I know, compress it into a tiny micro timeline, and get as many speeches out there, 60 second manifesto's. So people can, you know, I can help amplify those voices. And yeah, so it's a great project. It'll continue to grow. I'm very proud of it. I'm very passionate about it. But other than that.
Well, we know we have a lot of CEOs and leaders, who listen to the show and who may be interested in hiring you to help craft some of these authentic, vulnerable, powerful narratives. Is the best place to hire you specifically, is to go to the site?
You can go to the site and fill out the form, or you can just email me at Victoria@theoratorylaboratory.com
It's the longest email address ever. (both laughing) It's a real pain in the bum when you have to type into. I didn't think that one through at all.
You were too busy writing speeches. Thank you, so much for being on the show. Congratulations again on the book. And we're very, very excited to support you in your work here. Our community will go out and we'll show up for you. So thanks again for being on the show, until next time from Victoria.
Thank you so much.
And myself to everybody out there in the ether, we are grateful for you and your attention, and we bid you with you. (upbeat music)