What sets memorable stories, presentations, and speeches apart from the ordinary? If you think it has to do with the speaker’s innate ability, you’ll be surprised to learn that it doesn’t.
Fortunately, Victoria Wellman knows how to craft compelling messages and overcome our fear of public speaking. Victoria is the Co-Founder of The Oratory Laboratory, a Manhattan-based boutique creative agency for public speakers. Formerly a journalist, copywriter, producer, a trained actress and voice-over artist, Victoria has crafted speeches for influencers, politicians, entrepreneurs, Olympians, NFL stars, astronauts, rap stars, artists, and activists, and has garnered media attention from The Today Show, Martha Stewart, CNN, NPR, NBC, ABC and CBS News.
Victoria turned author with her newly released book, “Before You Say Anything“, in which she details the creative process behind crafting memorable speeches. Giving a speech- or any form of communication, is about synthesizing ideas – which is the core of creativity.
Why Is Public Speaking a Creative Art?
If you’ve ever sat through a professional conference or a mediocre business presentation, team meeting, or personal conversation, you know how it hurts to be an uninventive speaker. An effective speech doesn’t have to be riveting. But it does need to be relevant and exciting, and that takes creativity. Knowledge of your subject area is essential, but being creative makes for a memorable speech.
At its core, an effective speech has to do with originality — this is why it’s so important to be creative when preparing and delivering one.
Overcoming The “Fear” Of Public Speaking
Why do you fear public speaking? Is it the insecurity or awkwardness of not being perceived as smart? Or do you fear making a mistake?
Remember this: It’s never you against the audience; your audience isn’t here to judge you. As Victoria shares, more than 90 percent of your listeners want to enjoy listening to you and learn from you. They want you to succeed. If you’ve been in the audience yourself, you might have noticed how you laugh at even the slightest of jokes from an authentic speaker – only because it comes from their heart.
The “idea” that something could go wrong could hold true only until you grab the mic or clear the air and start speaking. Because the purpose is to get the message across, not to pass an examination.
Blending Humor Into Your Speech
The beauty of humor is that it is of the moment – it lights up the audience, grabs their attention, and then fades away, making them happy for the few seconds they were experiencing it. Plus, you don’t have to be fun and jolly as a person to include cracking a joke in your public speech. Comedy is crafted, but be careful not to over-do it.
What Makes Great Speakers?
You might think that the world’s greatest speakers possessed an ability to blurt out evocative stories and narratives. But did you know that behind the powerful speeches of Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs, was incessant preparation? These leaders knew the power of a well-crafted speech.
That doesn’t mean you must over-practice, which would instead make your speech wooden and inauthentic. What you’re aiming for is authenticity, individuality, and personality: traits that would be entirely absent if you were to follow a “how-to” instructional.
TIPS TO BECOME A CREATIVE COMMUNICATOR
- Think about the ideas you want to share. Creative exploration and experimentation start even before you think of what to say.
- Think about to who you’re communicating your ideas. Include them in your narrative. Your speech is not a graded monologue but a dialogue that engages the audience with the message you want to get across.
- Think about the cultural moment, the environment that you’re in when communicating.
- Embed your personal narrative into your speech. Originality clicks better with your audience and makes people remember your message for longer.
Listen to the Podcast
Chase Jarvis: 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.
That's why today's guest on The Chase Jarvis Live Show is one you're not going to want to miss. Victoria Wellman is a professional speech writer. She's written speeches from politicians to NFL superstars, huge CEOs, influencers of all walks of life. It's an incredible episode 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 going to hear all kinds of anecdotes around how to think about it, around how to reveal this inner vulnerable piece of view that makes speeches so important, and this is something that anyone can learn and master. So I'm going to get out of the way and let you enjoy this conversation, yours truly, and incredible speech writer, Victoria Wellman. Enjoy the show.
Victoria, thank you so much for joining us today. Welcome to the show.
Victoria Wellman: Thank you so much for having me. It's an honor and a privilege.
Chase Jarvis: 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. 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.
Victoria Wellman: Great. Well, thank you for the opportunity to talk about it. 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 actually 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 want to move on. So yeah, brevity is not my forte.
So you called speech writing this time-old tradition. 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 before there was Instagram, and Twitter, all this stuff, and even the printed press, right? We were just talking.
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 rigid form of communication, but I really truly believe this is a real creative discipline and a creative act when you go to try and put together a speech.
I think that is just one of 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, of the library or the bookshop or tips, worst. I mean, my biggest pet peeve is just these sites where you can do get tips for how to write this speech.
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 it is an act of self-expression. So you put those things together and say, "How you could possibly impose a structure or a set of rules to do this thing?" I think a lot of people might read the book. I mean, 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. So I talk about it in 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 there just isn't a formula to this.
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, "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 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.
Chase Jarvis: 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, we're talking about your book, Before You Say Anything: The Untold Stories and Failproof Strategies of a Very Discreet Speechwriter. 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.
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. 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.
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 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 here's how to say things? Why would you choose Before You Say Anything as the title of the book?
Victoria Wellman: Yeah. I mean, it's 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?
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 "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. 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?
When it comes specifically to speeches or these contrived remarks that you have to deliver, the act of preparation is the thing that will ensure that what you say when you come to find whatever words 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, the moment that you're speaking, the cultural moment that you're 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 some speakers I've worked with or is it you and 20 lit agents in a boardroom? All these tiny things, they really really matter, and there's so much to consider.
Then beyond that, there's what I say is there's stuff you know you know, and then there's the stuff you don't know you know. Having the curiosity and the humility to say, "Well, I think I know what this is going to 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 want to say for this particular crowd."
So almost like putting aside what you already know you're going to say and that you want to say, and then leaping off into the unknown and going, "Let's just see what happens when I go research," and also keeping your mind open. I mean, I listen to podcasts all the time, big, big surprise, and I often find myself stopping mid run when I'm listening to a podcast to take down a note because something Dolly Parton said is just so perfect for the speech that I'm writing about so and so.
So it's just constantly being open to taking in, and that's the process of gathering your material. That process in itself, the material of the raw materials is a huge part of it. 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. 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.
Chase Jarvis: 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, the crafting of the remarks has happened. It has happened over time, and most people who are watching those things or listening or 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 ... 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 convince or something like that. You used a word. I forget what the word is, to pay attention. Again, this is a very open question, but why would I care enough to craft my message?
Victoria Wellman: Well, I mean, because you have to think about the person you're crafting it for. So if you don't pay attention to them, why on earth are they going to pay attention to you? It's respectful. It's acknowledging that I could make an analogy about being creative and all the variables out that you have to consider when you are writing a speech, and I might say there isn't one way to do it. I mean, look at how Rocky trains in Rocky IV 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 carrying logs, and whatever, and that's how he gets strong, and that's how he wins. Now, that's 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 IV or at least probably haven't. I'm always amazed at things, my references. I'm like, "Ooh, that's really outdated."
Chase Jarvis: I love it.
Victoria Wellman: I'm not going to 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 or anything she's saying"? Well, no. You're just doing yourself such a huge disservice. I just want to circle back to point that you made before because it is all related, this idea of authenticity and spontaneity and extemporaneity. Ah, I talk about it in the book ad nauseum, probably, that very, very few people, in fact, I'm going to say no one can get up and make a 20-minute speech about the lack of creativity and education without having really meticulously and thoroughly research, put together the thoughts, rewritten, redrafted, revised. 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 the thing that bothers me about, there are so many misconceptions about this, about how the strategy of communication might be perceived as 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 going to listen to what I have to say.
For me, I feel like if you think it's okay to spend hours crafting your message and then basically lull your audience into this false sense of spontaneity by using a teleprompter, and the audience says, "Well, that's okay. I can ignore the fact that I know that he actually crafted this because it comes across," well, that's inauthentic in itself, right?
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 if no one's listening to your story because you didn't stop to think about how people hear things, perceive, understand, relate to, they have to find themselves in it, then what's the point?
Chase Jarvis: 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.
Victoria Wellman: Yeah. Actually, that was the part of the book that I think I wrote it almost at the end or three quarters through, and I wrote it in about 10 minutes because I suddenly realized it was something that I was really struggling with is, "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 as I said, "It's not a manual. It's not a manual because there's no prescribed formula." That's obviously key to everything.
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. Sometimes it drives me crazy, but actually in the back of my mind I'm like, "I'm so proud of you," because 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 going to go down the generic route, okay, it's safe, but no one's going to remember what you said and it's not going to make anyone think or do anything differently.
So I just say in the beginning of the book, if you are here for a how-to and you want to put the Lego thing together the way that your neighbor down the hall does so that you end up with the same thing, then 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? There's not a correct way to take a photograph, right? How could you just write a book like, "This is is how you take a photograph"? I always think about my daughter also has one of those sketch, how to draw, right? It's how to draw the face. So it has this diagram and it says the eyes go here and what have you.
I'm like, "Great. Okay. Whose face are you drawing?" because the Norwegian seven-year-old's face that you are doing a portrait of is not your Maori grandmother's face, and the person with the eye patch does not look like the person with the hair lip. So what is that face that you're making me draw and saying 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? How are eyebrows? Are they pushed down? Is there a single mono lid? Notice these things and then paint or draw what you see." It's about observation and being curious and understanding that just the right way is always the wrong way.
Chase Jarvis: 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. 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. Well, why is the mural worth $20 million and mine is worth $20? It's because there's a personal narrative wound up in that painting, what it took to be able to do that, and all the knowledge and understanding that goes forward.
That same 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 boardrooms and in front of groups of people that we're hoping to inspire, then 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, that is such a thing that is ignored. So having a little bit of background now, we've mentioned the book and the concept, but you've been doing this for your lifetime, basically. Give us a little context of-
Victoria Wellman: I'm not that young.
Chase Jarvis: Give a little context of the Oratory Laboratory and share with us how you got to this point in your career.
Victoria Wellman: Well, first of all, I will say it is the Oratory Laboratory. You have to sit in an English accent. So you're going to have to work on that.
Chase Jarvis: I will work on that.
Victoria Wellman: Yeah. Okay. 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 going to be an actress," and then whilst trying to be an actress, decided to satiate that 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.
So I just kept writing and then found that actually I was much better at it and it made me feel better. I just started to move away from the drama, but obviously loved the story, loved storytelling. So I worked as a writer, feature writing, reporting, copywriting. I did a ton of voiceover bringing in that drama education as well.
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 obviously is the ultimate test of any relationship. Can you handle other friends' weddings? At every single wedding we went to, and they were all very nice weddings, when it came to the speeches, the energy just became, it just bombed. It was just like, "Oh!" It was so awkward because they were all terrible.
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, "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 just looked. I mean, it was really cliche. We looked at each other and went, "Could we?" We had both obviously written some speeches ourselves and knew that we were quite good at it.
So we literally just put together this website, came up with the name, which 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. That's a trick and it doesn't work. So I'm really glad that URL was taken, 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 regurgitating for different people.
I will say we were making it up as we went along at the beginning and then quickly realized that, "No. Actually, I do know how to do this. I am really good at it." That is how the Oratory Laboratory came to be, and then we got married because that was a lot easier to work together.
Chase Jarvis: Well, I know you've combined, you have crafted messages for Ted stages and the UN and Obama's campaigns and Google, Intel, so many other leaders and craftspeople 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. An example that I would like to hear you explore in realtime 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.
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 it was going to put a burden on our family and 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.
When I observed 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. There are risks involved, I will say, and the least of which is just a fear of going into the unknown and trying to become this dream that you have.
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. 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. I know we can't do the whole exercise, but help use that as a background for the thought process.
Victoria Wellman: Ooh, you're 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, especially if you're going to be speaking to someone who you sense might already have reservations, have made judgements, basically, it's almost the hardest thing you're going to 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? 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 aren't even funny. So it's really easy.
Now, the situation you're talking about is convincing someone who has a ton of context, who has personal stakes in your decisions. Actually, it's probably the hardest audience that you could speak to. So thank you for this question, Chase. 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, that they literally are like, "Whoa!" and that while you're catching them from falling, you're explaining all the benefits of it, right?
So you want to, and one of the things I am absolutely terrible and it's probably because I spend some time on crafting and perfecting things is thinking of on-the-spot analogies, but if you're trying to convince someone that you want to be an artist, that you want to star your finance job or whatever it is, don't start that way, right? You need to go on this journey and think about how is that person going to understand the value to you, and it might have nothing to do with art and 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 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, and that is a-
Chase Jarvis: That emotional piece, yeah.
Victoria Wellman: The thing is-
Chase Jarvis: I'm thinking that that's worked. Yeah.
Victoria Wellman: It's really, really hard because also then you get emotional, and that's the hard thing. 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. 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 going to write it in the speech, but if I'm going to write this as you, I really need to understand what your thought processes are and what your pain points are and all this stuff." I think people come out of it just astonished that they even shared what they shared with me.
Chase Jarvis: To me, this is genius. 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 send out a spreadsheet of it's going to work like this and like this and like this," and what I heard you talking about is basically a therapy and an emotional inward turning of, "How does it me feel?" This idea of, 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 speech writer, tell you that to not pursue my career as a photographer would've left me on my deathbed 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 ..." The difference between that and a spreadsheet of how I'm going to make the finances work.
It's fascinating to hear you reveal that people think of this or feel like they've just gone through some sort of a 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 in here versus out there?
Victoria Wellman: So there is a whole chapter about out 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. So there is a limited amount of times I want to hear I this and I that, especially if you're speaking about someone else at a party, a wedding, a bar mitzvah, whatever. 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 want to hear about the time that you and this person did this and you and this person did this other thing, right? 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 you 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 this, to the thing that you do, what your insight is, but then also it depends on the awards and the audience because maybe you're just there to say thank you to other people. There are so many nuances.
So 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? 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 again, and that is just something that I can talk about. That's why when you say, "Oh, I'm going to follow this formula," no one's saying that to you, no one, like, "Be careful how much you talk about yourself," but as you said like with a thought leadership speech, 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 humble, you have to be human, and you have to show vulnerability.
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 Aristotle's ethos, pathos, and all that stuff, but it's true. You have to see yourself in that person. Otherwise, they can't connect to it. Very often, it is about bringing yourself to something. Some people are amazing at it. Some people are too good at it, and you have to bring them back and say, "You know what? Let's just take you out a little bit," and some people are absolutely adamant that they do not want to disclose anything about their own feelings, their own experiences, And that's ringing. I'm just like, "Np, you have to. You have to share." If there's nothing of you in there, then this is impossible." So it's an interesting question.
Chase Jarvis: I want to grab that and I want to 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. Humor 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. Where is it here in my ... Oh, how to be funny when you think you're not funny.
So the role that humor, I have always wanted to make sure to include some humor, ideally, self-deprecating humor in my I'll say speeches, but again, I want to keep this beyond the keynote, beyond the stage. Talk to us about the role that humor plays.
Victoria Wellman: Yeah. I mean, I don't know. Humor is the one thing. It's the one area where we bought. In that moment where we all laugh together, there's just nothing else happening except we're laughing together. So you can have different ideas or enjoy different things or be comfortable with different philosophies or whatever, but if you're all laughing together in that one moment, that's just everyone present together. So people, I mean, 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, because it's just not me," or "I just think it's just safer not to. 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 going to 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. You don't have to be a standup.
That goes to what I was saying before. People, really, they want to laugh. I mean, if you watch some of Obama speeches, he'll make the lamest joke and everyone's like, "Hahahaha," because everyone wants to laugh at Obama or with Obama. I'm sure some people wouldn't laugh at him. So it's just about being open to finding where ... The way I always find humor is just one of the, I'm going to say tricks of the trade if there is one, but just when I look at material that people give me, all their 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! This is totally a joke."
That's not because I'm a funny person. That's just because I can see there that that and that are just ... I mean,, of course, there's a joke. If you are really into humor and you watch 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, and hopefully, I give people way to do that.
Chase Jarvis: Oh, you've definitely done it. I've taken some of your advice. I gave a speech. 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. 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, and it was so good to draw op in this particular point in the speech, and it was a little bit of a whim because I was out of practice, but in looking and reading Before You Say Anything, there's 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.
At the end of the day, it really wasn't that funny, but this is getting me to the point that I want to make here, the audience was so ready to laugh. So let's go the opposite end of the spectrum. 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.
Victoria Wellman: The moment of being?
Chase Jarvis: Just of-
Victoria Wellman: Are we talking about the same moment of-
Chase Jarvis: No. I want to 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 you're at the wedding, we're both friends with the bride and the groom. We share something in common already. I think the word you used earlier is that 90 something percent of our 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.
Victoria Wellman: Yeah. Yeah. God! I mean, I think our biggest fear is not being ... People say, though, "My biggest fear is speaking in front of an audience," and it's not. It's that you're worried that people are going to think that you're not smart. We're so afraid that people are going to think we're not smart, that our ideas aren't good enough, and there's so much to this.
I think one of the things that I really try and emphasize is that an audience, this isn't you versus them. In 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 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 you're 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 want to 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.
The minute you realized that 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.
There's this hilarious podcast, not podcast. Well, it's an episode of a podcast. I think it was this American Life, and it's 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 Hook's hook flies into the audience. I mean, it couldn't be more of a disaster. Yet, the audience really holds it together until the temp thing goes wrong and the firemen have to come in from the local town and a bell crashes and squashes some, and then it just turns into ... Then they lose it and they start to laugh and then they turned fear off, and then they want more, 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 that hopefully removes the fear. There are a lot of coaches out there who I think probably have tactics for positive mental strategies, 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 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 one."
It's the same thing. They're with you. 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, I don't know.
Chase Jarvis: 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 like the wedding toast idea that you use consistently. They want you to succeed. 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.
Victoria Wellman: 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? It's so misplaced because when I work with a speaker, we do delivery sessions to make sure that they're nailing the punchlines and that they understand the different shifts of energy and because the way it's pieced together is there is shape to it, right? So you're taking them on the audits or the journey. So you have to be able to signal that with your voice, et cetera.
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." Actually, the shiest 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 the 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.
Then also just to know that it is completely natural. I think probably Tony Robbins also has a little bit of adrenaline before he gets on the stage. It is so natural to feel that because it is adrenaline, right? Whether it's ... 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. It's 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're in that moment, there's no time to feel scared because you've got to give your speech, but the more you do it, the more you're plugged into that.
I definitely still have those jitters like, "Here we go," but I know that the minute I start, they just melt away and then I'm just having fun, right? So knowing that it's okay to feel that way. No one's trying to nicks and erase your feelings and emotional responses. No, it's fine, but just be aware of them and embrace them and just go, "It's okay."
Chase Jarvis: No. There's a lot of wisdom in there. 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 got to 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.
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 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 the concept of practicing giving your speeches and standing and delivering. So what advice that you give? 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 want to find out why you described yourself as very discreet, but we'll wrap up with that in a second, but this idea of practice, right? Most people think that it's natural. So give us your thoughts on how great speeches are practiced.
Victoria Wellman: You're absolutely right. So I mean, 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 then how you deliver it, but practice is, I mean, so many people come to me and say, "I want to give a Ted talk," and I'm like, "Oh, are you speaking at Ted?" They're like, "No, just a Ted style talk."
I'm like, "What does that mean?"
They have this image that they want to be up on the stage, they want to look like they just made it up with the headphones, and they would quite like to walk around and just look incredibly authoritative and inspire everyone, right? That's the image, right?
Those talks, they're nine months in the making. They are rehearsed for so long. So yes, you do if that's what you're 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, is the minute you forget one thing or you look up to the heavens because you can't quite remember that line, you break that facade of ... Straight away we say, "Oh," 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. Fine. If you're doing a Ted talk and you have to," 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 that you're not just like, "Oh, first order. Oh, my God! What's going to happen?"
So when you think about practicing and you're going to have your notes, so I'll just 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? 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 fall apart. 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's still a novelty in a way. It hasn't been just ... 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.
So to the bigger thing, obviously, the more you go out on the stage, the more you accept invitations, and the more you say, "I'm going to 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 instinctual, but speeches are very much about the synthesis of ideas.
I think of it in the difference between a Malcolm Gladwell book where you're just like, "Whoa! Look at the way he put all those pieces together." He just pulled that thing apart and then put it back together and you're like, "Whoa!" The writing itself, very plain and clear because that's how he writes, right? I know that's very intentional that he's writing his play, but let's say who's your favorite novelist, beautiful language and flourishes or whatever. Great. 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 how you put those ideas together and communicate them in the simplest and most right way. Then the more you do that and the more you get up and do that, of course, you're going to feel better about it. As you say, practice just makes you better and better, not perfect. No one is perfect. Everyone can improve on everything. Blanket statement.
Chase Jarvis: Yeah, and you don't want to be, I think. You don't want to be. I think that's part of what I-
Victoria Wellman: No. How boring.
Chase Jarvis: 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. Again, I have a strong belief that oral communication is so important, and our ability to deliver messages, whether they're at work or at home, 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 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 speech writer in the title? Help me understand that.
Victoria Wellman: Well, the book is both, it's a look behind the process, right? So it's the first time I've unveiled the crazy machinations of 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. I mean, I've worked people who are prolific and then just everyday people. There is no difference in terms of who's more interesting than who, all our stories and experiences. I mean, that's why I love my job. I love it because I just talk to people all day long everyday and hear other people's perspectives. It is so unbelievably rewarding.
To answer your question, people feel that there is still so much of a taboo around the idea of having a speech writer, that it's a guilty vice that, "I can't write by myself so I have this person do it," or this incredibly personal speech about someone at my friend's birthday, "I couldn't pull 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 share your interior designer or whatever it is. Yet with a speech writer, you can't admit that someone helped you craft this message.
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 going to share stories, and for the most par, I don't, but for the book, because I really needed to illustrate the stories, 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 about those really human relationships that I form with the people and how we delved into their ideas and talked about them and tangled with them together. So my husband says it's kitchen confidential for speeches. I don't know. It's very flattering, but yeah, it's about people. Speech writing is about people.
Chase Jarvis: I found that to be true that 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. I want to say thank you for sharing with us today, for being on the show. I want to say-
Victoria Wellman: Oh, the thanks is all mine. Thank you.
Chase Jarvis: ... 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 want to 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?
Victoria Wellman: No, go on. I want you to try. Go on. Go on.
Chase Jarvis: Oratory Laboratory.
Victoria Wellman: That's not bad. It's better than the first time. Yeah, theoratorylaboratory.com is the website. I've recently taken it 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. Just the idea is that everyone really deserves a speech writer. 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. I'm 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. 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 seconds manifestos so I can help amplify those voices. 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-
Chase Jarvis: Amazing. 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?
Victoria Wellman: You can go to the site and fill out the form or you can just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chase Jarvis: Awesome.
Victoria Wellman: It's the longest email address ever. It's a real pain in the butt when you have to type it into ... I didn't think that one through at all.
Chase Jarvis: You were too busy writing speeches.
Victoria Wellman: Yes.
Chase Jarvis: 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.
Victoria Wellman: Thank you.
Chase Jarvis: Until next time.
Victoria Wellman: Thank you so much.
Chase Jarvis: From Victoria and myself to everybody out there in the ether, we're grateful for you and your attention, and we bid you adieu.
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