Thursday, November 12, 2009

what speakers can learn from speechwriters

I heard two speechwriters tell a crowd of communicators today some insider tips that will help any speaker to understand what goes into a good speech--and what your speechwriter may need from you to help you get there.

Independent speechwriter Jeff Porro -- who served as a judge for this blog's Step Up Your Speaking contest and has contributed other speechwriter secrets here as well -- and Ann Scholl, a speechwriter for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, shared these insights at a Capital Communicators Group luncheon today:

  • Forget having a "canned speech." Fresh is better.  It's virtually impossible to have one speech that works for every group or for several speakers. Better to use some pre-made sections or "speech inserts" that are reworked, and target the rest of the speech to the situation.  (That's different from having a core message you use--and if you have one, be sure the speechwriter has it before she starts work.)
  • The speaker and the speechwriter need to talk:  Sure, intermediaries can do some of the arrangements, but to capture your voice, the speechwriter needs to be able to talk (and listen) to you in advance.   While you're having that talk, it's important to share some personal details about yourself: Stories from your early career or childhood, an anecdote or two you can tell about the topic, your unique perspective on why your topic is so important--all those insights can mean the difference between a dry talk and an audience-pleaser.  For example, if your goal is to inspire, who inspired you?  Telling a story about that person may help you make the point you want to make about your work today.  Another help:  If you've told personal stories in other media--say, in newspaper or magazine articles--share those with the writer.
  • The writer needs to see you:  If there's any video or audio of you speaking, it'll help the writer capture your voice and learn about your style of presenting.  And if you know special issues you face as a speaker, such as words you don't want to use or don't pronounce well, now's the time to share that information so the writer can work around them.
If you're working with a speechwriter, it also helps to ask him or her what's needed and useful.  Both speechwriters emphasized that every speaker is different--so be sure to share what makes you different with that writer.

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