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Segue Writing Part 1 – Foreshadowing

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Segue Writing: Foreshadowing: Like giving a hint of a secret

Segue writing is the most searched term on this site.  Earlier this year, we wrote an article introducing the concept of the segue, and gave some insight on how to write a segue.

That article was just a quick introduction and glossed over the details of segue writing.

This is the first in a series of articles that explores the concepts from the first article in more detail.

Following the format of the first article we will expand on the three major transitions in segue writing. Foreshadowing, questioning, and selective segues.

In this article, we explore foreshadowing exclusively.

What is Foreshadowing?

Foreshadowing offers your audience a glimpse of what is to come in your speech. It is like letting the audience in on a secret, that you’re giving away just enough of your ending that they are compelled to stay and find out how that ending came to be.

Novelists use foreshadowing in their writing to give the reader a clue about a character’s future actions or whereabouts. Often the foreshadowing is so subtle that it is not until later in the story that the reader realises that they were given the clue early on.

Foreshadowing, being such a useful method to write a segue, is just as useful in writing a speech as it is in writing a novel.

An Example of Foreshadowing in a Speech

I once listened to a speaker who was father to a drug addicted teenage son. In the first few sentences of his speech, he told us of his sleepless nights waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting right into the early hours of the morning. He called it waiting for ‘that phone call’.

This foreshadowing in his story let the audience into his life and created an image in our minds. That image was used as the foreshadow to his son’s fall into deeper and deeper drug addiction. He as a father could do nothing other than wait for ‘that phone call’.

The audience, like the father, were waiting for ‘that phone call’. The audience all through the speech were connecting each new point of information to ‘that phone call’.

What the audience didn’t know at the time, was the foreshadowing was a red-herring.

A red-herring is a technique to make the audience think of one conclusion when in actuality the opposite occurs.

In this speech, the speaker had us all thinking he was waiting for a phone call full of bad news from the police. In the end, ‘that phone call’ was from his son. A call from the son to say he was sober, he was safe, and he was ready to talk to his father.

You can see in the paragraphs above just how powerful foreshadowing can be. All through the speech, the audience were captivated and wondering how long it would be before they heard ‘that phone call’.

The audience were immediately sympathetic to the speaker. You can imagine how relieved the  audience were, having prepared themselves to hear the worst news, only to find out that everything worked out well.

When to Use Foreshadowing

In the example above, we read about a speaker using foreshadowing in the introduction of his speech.

Foreshadowing can be used at any point within a speech.

Most commonly foreshadowing is used when the speaker wants to create suspense, introduce events of emotional significance, and to introduce events that happen in the future of the speech’s timeline.

A speaker can use foreshadowing more than once in the same speech too. A speaker might use foreshadowing to prepare the audience for the birth of a child. Later in the speech, they may also prepare the audience for the death of a parent.

One of my favourite writers, K.M. Weiland, explains foreshadowing the best in her article How to Use Foreshadowing:

The point of foreshadowing is to prepare readers for what happens later in the story. Not tell them, just prepare them.

Let’s use another speech example to highlight the difference between preparing and telling your audience what will happen.

Let’s say that you’re the boss of your own company. Your company has just won a prestigious award.

You could stand up in front of your employees, and shout ‘WE WON’.  Doing so won’t have the same effect on your employees as using foreshadowing to capture their attention.

Instead, you could gather your employees and foreshadow that a while ago your company was nominated for an award. The employees in the audience will prepare themselves to here about their company being nominated. They are likely to also wonder whether their company has a chance at winning. That leads you into explaining what the award is for and why it’s prestigious.

You can then use foreshadowing again, and say that the award winners have already been selected.

By now your employees are waiting with bated breath, wondering whether you’re going to give good or bad news.

After explaining who the other entrants were, and perhaps even announcing the runners-up, you then give them the good news, that ‘WE WON’.

Picture in your mind’s eye how much more the employees pay attention when they know big news is coming but they don’t know what that news will be.

Is Segue Writing Difficult?

We use segues in our speech everyday, often without realising it. Segues are one of the easiest elements you can put in your speech. However, they are one of the most difficult to do well.

Segues support your content, particularly the foreshadowing that we speak of here. It is important to make your foreshadowing relevant to your topic. You can’t promise the audience something that you don’t deliver.

One of the most difficult aspect in foreshadowing is giving away too much. If you give your audience the ending of your speech right at the beginning, then they have no need to keep their attention through to the end.

By now, you should have enough information to be able to use foreshadowing in your own speeches. It takes a lot of work to get foreshadowing right. And that means practice, practice, practice, and edit, edit, edit.

I’d love to know what you think of this article, and I’m sure that others reading this article will benefit by learning from your experiences with segue writing. So please leave a comment below with any questions or stories of your own experiences.

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