Speechwriting Tips from Donald Trump and Reality TV

Christopher Witt —  August 31, 2015

Donald TrumpDonald Trump’s speeches seem unscripted. When he speaks, it looks and sounds as if he simply opens his mouth and lets his uncensored thoughts and feelings pour forth.

He doesn’t parrot someone else’s words. He doesn’t follow a script. He doesn’t depend on a teleprompter.

As a result, many people consider him spontaneous, authentic, trustworthy.

I think Trump learned how to speak the way he does from hosting 14 seasons of The Apprentice, a reality TV show. And I think we can learn something from him.

Reality TV seems real. But it isn’t. It doesn’t show life as it is.

Reality TV…

  • selects compelling participants
  • places them in artificial situations
  • fabricates and escalates conflict
  • scripts an overarching narrative
  • coaches participants’ reactions and dialogue
  • sifts through hundreds of hours of boring video to edit together a final show

In the same way, Donald Trump’s speeches seem unscripted, but they’re not.

Trump’s speeches are soft-scripted. Which isn’t a bad thing. Which is something you might consider emulating.

Speechwriting Tips from Donald Trump

Lesson 1: Accentuate Yourself

You are the message. That’s always been true.

Your character, personality, reputation, experience, and values shape how your audience hears, interprets, and trusts what you say.

Today it’s even truer. You have to be more you: more daring, less packaged, more willing to take a stand and to show your convictions.

It’s better to be bold and compelling, than to be safe and boring.

Lesson 2: Stage the Event

The event itself – the schedule and agenda, venue, room layout, lighting, sound system – can undermine or bolster your effectiveness.

Good speakers find out everything they can about the event. Masterful speakers take the time and effort to orchestrate the event.

At the very least you want to ensure that you’re in a position of prominence, that the audience can clearly see and hear you, and that there are no distractions.

Lesson 3: Prepare a Soft Script

Create an outline: the basic narrative of your speech. Start with conflict, a problem facing the audience. Heighten the conflict by piling on the negative impacts of the problem. Explain your solution, its benefits, and how to implement it.

Tell a story.

Write out – word for word – a few key passages: your opening words, a couple of sentences you want the audience to remember, and the conclusion.

Lesson 4: Rehearse

It takes a lot of rehearsing to sound spontaneous.

So stand up and walk around while you practice your speech out loud. The only things you have to memorize are 1) the overall structure of your speech, and 2) four to five sentences.

Lesson 5: Repeat

Once you’ve created bits and pieces of a compelling speech – winning stories, images, phrases – reuse them, repurpose them, repeat them.

I’m not suggesting – God forbid – that you try to look and sound like Donald Trump. But you may be able to learn from him how to soft-script your speeches and to become a more compelling speaker as a result.

Photo courtesy of Gary Skidmore at Flickr.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.