Fewer words make bigger impact at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards

Premier Daniel Andrew’s didn’t bother to unfurl the speech prepared for him.

No doubt his speechwriter had worked hard to present the State Government’s contribution to literature in a good light, along with a few details on other policies that may be loosely related to words, books or education. But this was not the audience for that speech.

The M Pavilion in Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Gardens was overflowing with writers, readers and the 21 shortlisted authors. Full of cheese, wine and a wicked sense of fun inspired by the vibrant host Candy Bowers, they just wanted to know who was going to win.

Mr Andrews apologised to his speechwriter and went off-script. This gave him the opportunity to maintain constant eye-contact with the audience and respond to their reactions. He spoke realistically about “Australia’s richest literary prize”, made reference to people and events in front of him, and wrapped things up before any of us were forced to disguise a yawn.

That set the tone for the day and almost all of the award winners accepted their prizes with efficiently worded speeches. Very few had any notes to refer to and all successfully conveyed their passion for writing and reading to an audience who were definitely on the same page.

The winner of the Prize for Writing for Young Adults, Demet Divaroren, was one of the few with a handwritten speech. On accepting the award for her book Living on Hope Street, she uncrumpled a short speech she had written in the five minutes that her baby was asleep.  She quickly declared that it was totally inadequate, given the high quality of the speeches that had gone before her.

Demet said she’d written her speech because she didn’t think she’d be able speak easily without crying. And she couldn’t. She was overcome, saying she’d grown up in the outer suburbs, quit her job to become a writer, and didn’t ever dare think she’d be winning a literary award. Everyone in the M Pavilion shared every one of her emotions with her.

Writing a speech isn’t easy. It’s done in solitude, with an imagined audience and occasionally prepared in vain – unless you do win the award! No amount of preparation can account for the nature of the audience, which you won’t know until you step up to the podium. One thing we can say for certain is that less is usually more – we’ve all had to sit through that one speech that seems to go forever. While it isn’t always advisable to go completely off-script, if you observe your audience before and during your speech, you can make some quick edits on the run.

And maybe shave a few words off your final draft for good luck.