How a two minute story helped feed and shelter the homeless

Friday, November 20, 2015

Speech writing. What a job huh? Putting words in other people's mouths. Of course that's not the only thing great speech writers implant in us. They also put lumps in throats, butterflies in stomachs, and flames in hearts.

Here's my own speech writing story. I hope you find it useful.

A true story about speech writing

Sparkol gives a share of its profit to charity. Usually, our giving committee finds great causes for us to support. Recently though, we tried a different way.

Four of us got a two-minute chance to 'pitch' our chosen cause, and our colleagues apportioned the pot with a secret vote. Democracy (thanks Cleisthenes).

I wanted to support a local homeless shelter. I researched homelessness in Bristol. I wrote a speech full of figures. It wasn't a good speech. I hit delete and closed my laptop.

I thought about sleeping rough. I pictured the chain of events that lead to homelessness. There's nothing remarkable about them. They could happen to any of us. And that's sobering.

And that made my pitch a piece of cake.

How I used my two minutes

Me: Hi guys. Quick show of hands please, who's a homeowner?

(Lots of hands go up)

Me: That's about two-thirds I think. More than I expected. Great, you can put your hands down – thank you.

(I look over at my boss)

Picture this please: you get home tonight and your house is a pile of rubble. Awful. Who takes you and the family in? Where do you go?

Boss : My wife's parents.

Me: And if they couldn't, what’s plan B?

Boss : Uh, some good friends who live nearby.

Me: And could you think of a plan C and D?

Boss : Yes, sure.

Me: And I bet you could think of a plan for most of the letters of the alphabet if you had to. Most of us here probably could.

For some people though, plan A is impossible. They've got nobody. And when they lose their home, they’re forced onto the street.

With just £1,500, we can fund this homeless shelter for an entire week. We can give 90 people a safe place to sleep for the night, and cook a warm meal for 500 more.

Let's do something great for our local community.


The story is everything

Speech writing's poster boy, Jon Favreau (not that one), has this to say about storytelling:

The first question you have to ask yourself is: what is the story I'm trying to sell? That is essential, and should be the starting point... The best way to connect with people is through stories that are important to people's lives.

I didn't write anything down. I knew my story packed an emotional punch. It forced people to imagine the desperation of sleeping rough, their children curled up on the street.

More than half of my colleagues voted for the cause, and raised enough to fund the shelter for a month.

It was the story, and the emotion.

Have you had a euphoric speech giving moment? Share it below.

In the UK, Shelter helps millions of people every year struggling with bad housing or homelessness through advice, support and legal services.

In the US, The National Alliance to End Homelessness works to end homelessness by improving policy, building on-the-ground capacity, and educating opinion leaders.

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