Caroline Goyder, above, voice coach to the stars and lesser luminaries, asked us to call to mind the person we love most. Did you notice, she asked after we’d done it, that you marked their arrival in your mind with a little in-breath?
When you’re speaking in public, she says, you need to preface each new thought or idea or piece of information with an in-breath. It lends spontaneity, freshness and emphasis to what you’re saying. It converts the cut and dried on your page into living, just-arrived words. It transforms a reading-aloud exercise into public speaking.
We were then put through an exercise. We recited Churchill’s Fight on the Beaches speech: “We shall fight on the beaches (in-breath) we shall fight on the landing grounds (in-breath) we shall fight in the fields and in the streets (in-breath) we shall fight in the hills (longer in-breath) we shall never surrender.
It’s a brilliant tip. Celebrants, do try it. It’s likely to slow you up, of course. The trade-off is that it will enable you to add meaning and impact to your ceremonies.
Caroline’s tip set me wondering about the most appropriate word count for a funeral service. A hundred words a minute is normally reckoned a good ballpark delivery speed but, given the diminished mental and emotional processing power of most funeral audiences, a more appropriate delivery speed probably lies nearer seventy words a minute.
The occasion was the UK Speechwriters’ Guild annual convention last Friday organised by our good friend Brian Jenner, the genius behind the Joy of Death convention. I met all sorts of very nice and interesting people from the UN and the EU, and addressed them at speeds approaching a thousand miles an hour about eulogy writing.
Two closing observations. First, judging by the speechwriters present, you’d never ask a speechwriter to deliver a speech. What celebrants do — write and perform — is rare. How many actors write their own plays?
Second, the celebrancy orgs would do well to develop ties with speechwriters, and individual celebrants ought to consider joining the UK Speechwriters’ Guild.
Did I say two? I’ve just remembered a third. Caroline Goyder has written a book, The Star Qualities. I’ve ordered a copy. You might like to, too.
Caroline Goyder’s website here.
UK Speechwriters’ Guild here.