29 Search tools for Savvy Speechwriters

Thinking back to my previous post on a Speechwriters Resource List made me realize that, while there are a ton of great reference materials available for speechwriters (and speakers), a Savvy Speechwriter also needs to know how to use search tools.

You can wander through a lush forest of ideas in online encyclopedia, way-back machines and other arcane sources as you prepare to select the timber for your next project. But when you are up against a deadline and need a fact, quote or an opinion, then, like a master-carpenter who reaches for just the right drill-bit or chisel, the accomplished writer needs to know which search tool to use for the job. The faster you can cut through the crap and find the facts, the sooner you’ll finish the project, and the more pleasing the result will be.

Here’s various tools I’ve found useful. They are good starting points to assist you:

  • dig up or verify facts
  • gather creative ideas, opinions and hot topics
  • keep up-to-date on the latest news and views
  • find out what subject matter experts have to say
  • supplement the text with astounding images
  • Plain old Google

    No apologies for starting with Google. It’s my number one search choice. But it’s not my only one.

    Let’s say you have an assignment to write a speech on Global Warming. I’m sure 99% of computer-literate people immediately think of going to the main Google Home Page and typing in ‘Global Warming’. Result: 93,100,000 hits. So no shortage of material! But what’s relevant? The first, unpaid, link is to the US Government’s Environmental Protection Agency Site which is as good a place to start as any. Under the heading ‘What is the Problem’ it states “There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.”

    The second site is also from the EPA – the EPA Global Warming Kids Site. This contains Games! Links! and a reassuring note for the little ones that “We CAN make a difference!”

    Google internationally

    The Savvy Speechwriter might realize that since the US Government is the only major power apart from Australia that refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol to limit Global Warming, limiting your content to that found on Yankee sites won’t cover all the bases, as they say in America.

    So, my first tip for the Savvy Speechwriter is to see what the rest of the English-speaking world has to say. Suggestion: expand your search on Google UK (once you access Google UK be sure to click the button for ‘pages from the UK’). Here the highest ranked site is the New Scientist Special Report on Climate Change. In contrast to the EPA’s mealy-mouthed statement that “most” of the warming is “attributable” to humans the UK source is far more direct: “Climate change is with us. A decade ago, it was conjecture. Now the future is unfolding before our eyes.” Depending on the point of view of the speaker, this might be a far more compelling source to quote.

    As powerful as Google is, you can’t rely on it to surface all of the right material. If all the carpenter has is a hammer, every issue looks like a nail. If all you use is Google, every speaker will quote the same sources. For this reason, I like to run my searches through a couple of other engines.


    I usually turn next to Yahoo . Their listing has an anti-Kyoto organ as number one. This is probably funded by the oil companies — it attempts to refute evidence about the ‘imaginary climate crisis’. No matter which side of the debate you speak on, this is invaluable material. For starters, you could discuss why this site gets such high ranking – might makes right?


    Still other rankings are shown by other search engines. Ask lists a Chevron-sponsored site in the pole position. No surprise which side of the debate their content is on: Abundant energy drives economic development…

    Ask has a nice feature to allow you to narrow or expand your search to related phrases:

    Narrower options: Global Warming Greenhouse Effect; Facts on Global Warming; What Are the Projected Effects of Global Warming?
    Expanded Options: What Is the Kyoto Protocol; Effects of Carbon Dioxide; Causes Acid Rain

    Yahoo Internationally

    As with Google, you can search for alternative (saner?) views from around the world using Yahoo. How? Simply choose ‘Advanced Search’ and in the lower half of the screen reset the ‘Country’ option. An instant speech on ‘Global views on Global Warming’ could be created in short order using this simple technique!

    Here’s a sampling of the top of the list from different countries coupled with a quick quote from each site:

    Australia: The particular problem arises in the 8-18µm band where water vapour is a weak absorber of radiation and where the earth’s thermal radiation is greatest.
    China: Blue Man Group Global Warming Awareness Ad. (weird, huh?)
    France: Russia and Germany subsidize coal mining, and the US subsidizes oil by spending billions on keeping the Mid-East, not “safe for democracy” as anyone familiar with the autocratic regimes of the region can attest, but “safe for oil companies and consumers.”
    Italy: Radar altimetry confirms global warming is affecting polar glaciers.
    The UK: It’s said that by the time a baby born today is 80 years old, the world will be 6 and a half degrees warmer than it is now.

    Google / Yahoo multi-lingually

    You could continue to search on views from other countries, in other languages. If your language skills are up to it, look in Google France for the topic Le réchauffement climatique. Likewise, look in Google Germany or Google Italy and see what you find. Be sure to click the button to for pages in the French, German or Italian first or the good old EPA pops up top of the list.

    Another approach is to use the ‘Preferences’ option to the right of the US Google search space where you can choose to see web pages in any one of 35 languages. This would be an alternate way of looking up multi-lingual sources.

    Yahoo let’s you select ‘Language’ on the ‘Advanced Search’ page.

    Google / Yahoo / Ask Images

    Many speakers use PowerPoint, or need graphics for a hand-out to accompany the speech. On the main Google Home Page the first option next to the plain Web Search allows you to search for Images. Click on the underlined word to switch to Google Images. You can look at over 50,000 images related to this topic. Click on the thumbnail images displayed to get the larger image. Before downloading, check if it is copyrighted and available for use and be sure to ask permission.

    Yahoo and Ask both have an images option. Same search phrase gives you a totally different screenfull of images.

    Commercial Image Searching

    Commercial stock photography companies such as Getty Images and Corbis provide newspapers and magazines with high-quality photographs on specific subjects. As Garr has recommended, one of the best low-cost sources “for the rest of us” is iStockPhoto. A search on Global Warming turns up nearly 500 photos and graphic images available for royalty-free use for a mere $1 a pop.

    More on Copyright

    While much content is subject to copyright laws, it’s useful to know that if you access the Advanced Search option in Google (or Yahoo) you can check the box that limits your search to material which is copyright free. You’ll find published content — including music, photos, movies, books, and educational materials — that you can share or modify above and beyond fair use.

    The “Usage Rights” feature in Advanced Search identifies websites whose owners have indicated that they carry a Creative Commons license.

    That said, note that the Copywrite Laws do allow speakers “fair use” of a copyrighted work:

    including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

    Google Groups

    Let’s say your speech needs some point/counterpoint arguments to spice it up. Or you need a subject matter expert to assist your research. Google Groups give you access to the world of Internet newsgroups where people debate any and all issues. You’d immediately see there is a specific group on this topic — alt.global-warming — with 141 subscribers passionate about Global Warming. You can read archived discussions, mining them for counter-arguments your speaker can disprove in his talk. You can also post questions relevant to your topic, or perhaps slip in a posting advertising your speech and encouraging people to attend!

    An alternate way to contact Subject Matter Experts is by using:

    Yahoo Answers

    Yahoo Answers is a direct connection to experts who volunteer to answer questions. This is the place to ask questions and get real answers from real people. You can ask questions on any topic—from the serious to the not so serious. Registration with a free Yahoo Login and Password allows you to post a question. Before you send it in, you’ll see other questions that have been asked on this topic, so, as in Google News, you can gather others opinions.

    I posted a question on the amount of CO2 emissions from automobiles under the ‘Environment’ category. Within the day I had 3 answers giving me some very precise statistics and references.

    Google News

    Next in line on the menu of choices is Google News. This allows you to search over 4,500 English-language news sources worldwide. The Advanced Search option lets you search the news published in a specific country. News clippings make great content for a speaker to refer to. Edit for brevity and clarity and you have instant credibility.

    Google Shops

    OK, it might be a stretch for every topic, but Froogle gives you access to items for sale. There are some cute Global Warming mugs, a Sonny Rollins music track by that name and a ton of books. You could purchase something to raffle as a prize for the audience — a well-know trick to collect attendees business cards and expand your network.

    Google Maps

    This is the final option on the main Google page. Google Maps won’t be a primary source for most speechwriters. But it does show the location of any business with the name of your search term. There’s a number of Global Warming related organizations and their address and phone numbers are displayed. This might be another way of reaching subject matter experts.

    That’s all you’ll see on the main Google page. However, the real treasures are buried on the screen you access by clicking on the ‘More’ button. If you’ve never ventured into this area of Google you are in for a treat!

    Google Alerts

    This is one of the Savvy Speechwriters most powerful tools. Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic. Some handy uses of Google Alerts include:

  • monitoring a developing news story
  • keeping current on a competitor or industry
  • getting the latest on a celebrity or event
  • Google Blogs

    My favorite! The blogosphere is now the best source for informed opinions and offbeat insights to liven up any speech. In contrast to Groups (above) which are more likely to contain rants and instant-message-like one liners, most blogs are articulate, well researched and contain a wealth of cross references in the form of embedded links, blogrolls (other blogs of interest), and reader comments. Google Blog Search has become my primary form of research for many speeches. Searching the blogosphere for Global Warming gets oodles of content from the pundits who publish Global Warming Watch, Carbon Planet and from these, links to many other blogs of interest.

    However, don’t rely on Google alone to be your guide to blogs. I recommend using two other resources:


    Technorati is the authority on what’s going on in the world of weblogs. It is currently tracking 40.4 million sites and 2.4 billion links. A search on Technorati will be a focused one, since it relies on bloggers who embed the search phrase a ‘tag’ in their entries, as I do at the bottom of each of my postings.


    Is my personal RSS newsfeed reader and blog search engine. I have written at length about Bloglines here.

    Now, back to Google for some serious, in depth, research.

    Google Books

    Is the fabled attempt by Google to put all the world’s books online. They still have a long way to go, but this is a great way to dig into books on your topic without having to drive over to the Library or your local mall bookstore to read up on it. Google Book Search does require you login with a valid (free) Google account but this is a small inconvenience to be able to access the partial or full text of hundreds of volumes on your topic. Be aware that copyright laws do apply, so be conscious the fair use law.

    Another option for digging deeply into published works is:


    I’m amazed that more people don’t take advantage of the ‘Search Inside!’ function available for many Amazon listed books. It seems less restrictive than Google and you can see 3-4 pages each side of the words you are searching on, as well as the Index and Table to Contents. Again, copyright rules apply, so quote fairly.

    Google Catalogs

    While the ability to search and browse mail-order catalogs might underwhelm you, I was surprised to see there is even useful information on Global Warming here. And if you have to write a speech for the consumer goods, fashion or home improvement industries, this would be a treasure trove of material.

    Google Finance

    Is the place to visit if you need some hard-hitting business info, news, and interactive charts for your speech. Google Finance gives you great access to company-specific information. Your topic might require researching the Coal Mining industry. You can dig deeper into the background of major companies like Penn Virginia (NYSE: PVR) here.

    Google Scholar

    Allows you to stand on the shoulders of giants. Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles, from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations. Many articles only allow unrestricted access to an abstract, but this might be all you need to quote a factoid or verify an opinion with some concrete research from academia.

    Google Specialized Searches

    This is about as deep a dive as you can take at Google. Google’s special searches enable you to narrow your search to a specific topic. The University Search enables you to search to a specific university websites for things like admissions information, course schedules, or alumni news. Other specialized services include a search for US Government websites (back to the good old EPA Global Warming site!) and a number for the computer industry.

    Google Video

    Is still a beta (trial) product. However, Google Video is bound to become a force in the future as more video becomes digital, virtual, and searchable. You can quickly locate specific clips from movies, TV shows, and a range of customized videos on many topics. There is a fee to watch some of the videos. As it is, a search for Global Warming found a couple of great free 30 second clips from the Advertising Council as well as an hour-long lecture from UC San Diego on the topic. Many speakers love to include short video clips in their speech. What better way to locate the right content? An added bonus is the option to upload and share the video of your presentation — a nice viral marketing trick that adds to the knowledge bank for others to search on!

    Google’s latest projects

    At the top of the right hand column on the ‘More’ page you can check out what is under development in Google Labs. There’s a range of projects which are still in early stage development at Google.

    Google Trends

    I’ve already written on Google Trends, here. The Savvy Speechwriter can easily see what is the relative importance in Google search ranking between two or more keywords. For the Global Warming speech you might want to compare three main forms of power generation. One theme in your speech could be a comment on the relative interest in nuclear power and wind energy since 2004. Also, dive into the major news stories flagged on the chart that stimulated an uptick in past Google searches. Note rankings by Cities, Regions and Languages. Your audience might be interested to hear about these variations.

    Google Notebook

    Google Notebook simplifies the burden of web research. It’s an easy and efficient way to clip and gather information while you’re browsing the web.

    Google Notebook lives in your browser, so you won’t be left with a scattered collection of notes, Word docs, images and browser bookmarks to sort through; all your web findings will be gathering into one organized, easy accessible location that you can access from any computer.

    To use Google Notebook you need to login and then download a plug-in for your browser. You can organize your notes, creating multiple notebooks, divide them into sections, and drag-and-drop your notes to stay organized. The Savvy Speechwriter on the go can access their Notebook from any computer by using your Google Accounts login. If you work as part of a team of speechwriters or communications professionals you can share your Google Notebook with the world by making it public.

    All in all, Google Notebook is a really cool tool to use.

    Google Suggest

    If you believe in the power of serendipity when you are searching for themes and topics for your speech, then Google Suggest is for you. I’ve made this my default access to Google. It’s a simple but powerful concept. As you type, Google will offer suggestions. So if you want to do a search on ‘wind energy’ as you finish typing ‘wind e’ you see a drop down list of suggestions:

    wind energy
    wind electricity
    wind energy or wind turbines
    wind energy association

    and so on.

    Some of these might be phrases other than the ones you’d originally planned to research.

    Yahoo Directory

    Back in Yahoo-land, the Directory option let’s you see Sub-Categories to your main topic. So we are shown:

  • Carbon Sequestration
  • Global Dimming
  • Opposing Views
  • Sea Level Change
  • Each provide new avenues to explore, new content to review.


    I’ve covered some of the search tools the Savvy Speechwriter can use to speed the plough on your next keynote or Toastmaster’s practice run. There is a whole Internet of content out there. You’ll find other tools as you develop your craft. The trick is to find compelling evidence that makes the audience sit up and take notice. Edit wisely. Good hunting.

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    […] I’d only just posted 29 Search Tools for Savvy Speechwriters on Friday when I came across a whole new level of info on search tools. I attribute this to the “Green Beemer Phenomena” (you don’t notice green BMW’s on the road until the day after you buy one, then they’re everywhere!). […]

    […] Life’s getting complex when you start to see the value in a search engine of search engines. An uber-search engine. Since my previous posts on Search Tools for Savvy Speechwriters I keep coming across ever more useful pointers. […]

    Another source for $1/time stock photos I’ve come across is http://www.fotolia.com/


    These are indeed great sites, and I’d add to the mix http://www.dreamstime.com and http://www.shutterstock.com. These are all what is known in the business as micro-stock agencies – they specialize in licensing royalty-free (i.e. – multi use, no restrictive license) imagery at cut-rate pricing. The benefit to the buyer is, of course, a low cost photo option and the benefit to the photographer is the potential to license images many, many times.

    The potential drawback here is that the photo you license from, say, Fotolia (who I happen to contribute images to), may also be licensed to many, many other people. Thus, if you are trying to find something unique to put on your blog, printed materials, etc., an image that “brands” you and makes you both noticeably and memorable, royalty-free photography is not the way to go! There are a couple of prime examples of this where companies tried to save a few cents and ended up shooting themselves in the foot in the process.


    Also, I’ve been using photos on Flickr that are released under the appropriate Creative Commons licenses for free for a long time now:


    The bulk of the photos are released under an “Attribution-Non-Commercial-No-Derivations license, which means you can use them on your blog as long as you give appropriate credit, link back to the source, your blog is not a for-profit venture and you do not alter the photos in any way.

    But there are also millions of photos where the only requirement is that you give attribution.

    And any of them are 100% free to use! I use them 4-5x/week. And it’s great fun finding the right photos.

    Here’s the Creative Commons site, which gives you background on the licenses, how the organization came about, etc:


    Congratulations on being listed on the Six Minutes blog.

    This is a pretty extensive list you’ve got going here. I’ll certainly hav to keep popping back here as a resource.

    A search engine that I’ve recently discovered and found useful was DogPile. It’s a meta search engine and it essentially does what it says on the tin, it’s a “pile” of data from various search engines like yahoo, google and so on. Might be worth a look…?


    72 Public Speaking Blogs: The Public Speaking Blogosphere…

    The public speaking blogosphere: a large and varied space with fuzzy edges spanning many disciplines. There are public speaking blogs which focus on speech delivery, visual presentation design, speechwriting, humor, personal development, and interperso…

    RefDesk is a comprehensive reference site offering more than 1,000 links to search sources, news feeds, commentators, columnists, today in history, geography, newspaper artifacts, wire services, dictionaries, health sites, zip code look-up, area code finder, etc. Visit the morning of a speech and you’re virtually guaranteed to find some news items or fact that relates directly to the group.

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