Let's start with the basics. For whom do you work?
90% of the people who hire me to write speeches do so because I've written for them previously or written for someone they know. They know me and they know the level of my work.
In other words, they hire you because they know they'll get an intelligent, wellcrafted speech.
Sure, but I think it's more than that. It's fine if audience members leave a meeting thinking, "Gee, that was a really clever and brilliant speech." But the comments you're really looking for are ones like "Gee, I really respected what he had to say," or "I never thought about those things before in quite that way," or "She was honest and what she said made sense to me."
What's the best comment following a speech?
"No wonder that person is in charge of this company."
So you're looking to create a response to the person, even more so than the speech.
I think, in this arena, it's tough to separate the message from the messenger. The person at the podium must offer a personal "take," presenting information and opinion based on unique individual experience and interpretation. That means the success of the message, and the success of the communication process, depends on the sincerity, commitment, and confidence of the speaker. A good speech captures those qualities.
. . . if those qualities exist.
Sure. But, in my experience, few people who have risen through the ranks of management lack those qualities. A mediocre speech conceals the qualities, and a good one emphasizes them. But I believe most people are passionate about their job, their company, and their goals and objectives.
It's in their own best interest to be that way.
Well, that's what you try to line up in a speech the self-interest of the speaker and the self-interest of the audience. That's a connection you have to make. You usually can't do it without hard facts, but you never can do it with facts and figures alone. You need to strike a balance; you need to strike a note that rings true to the audience.
How do you find that note? Where do you start? What questions do you typically ask about the speaker?
I usually don't begin with questions about the speaker. I begin with questions about the audience. I want to understand the audience's frame of mind their questions, their fears, their hopes, their level of trust. I want to know what the audience believes to be true, and where their perceptions differ from reality as the speaker sees it. I find that I learn a lot about my speechwriting clients by listening to those clients talk about their audiences.
What's the most important element of a speech?
Credibility. You can't accomplish any of your goals unless you offer a credible presentation. And I think you have to work at credibility in every speech. You can never simply assume that people will accept what you have to say.
How do you establish credibility in a speech?
I'll give you the short answer first: tell the truth. Realistically, in a corporate situation, speakers have established a level of credibility long before they arrive at the podium. But I find it can be valuable, early in the speech, for a speaker to re-establish credibility by acknowledging something at odds with the views about to be presented something that runs precisely counter to the objectives for the speech.
This could be a fact, a situation, or even just a widelyheld perception. Saying "I know that many of you feel that
" or acknowledging "While it's certainly true that
" establishes a connection with the audience, establishes that your speech is in touch with the real world, and suggests to your audience that they are about to hear a reasoned, objective presentation.
. . . which is why you ask about the audience's beliefs first?
Yes. My goal is to develop a line of logic and emotion for the speech which addresses the audience's concerns and beliefs. If I can, I'll work to refute perceived negatives. But even when the speaker doesn't have specific solutions for the audience's concerns, I believe these concerns should still be recognized, to establish a baseline of credibility and balance at the outset.
You said "a line of logic and emotion for the speech." What exactly is that?
Every speaker has the same basic mission: to lead the audience to a better, new, or sometimes simply different, understanding of a given topic.
It could be "This product has more marketplace potential that you think it has." Or perhaps the message is: "My vision for this company makes sense and here's how we will achieve it."
A useful speech changes the audience's mind in some specific way. The speech's "line" starts at the point of the audience's current beliefs, and then leads the audience toward the set of beliefs the speaker wishes the audience to understand and endorse the end point of the speech's "line."
What else do you need besides credibility, which we've discussed to successfully move an audience along that line?
For me, the second component that's necessary is passion.
Isn't that more a function of the speaker's delivery than of the speech itself?
Delivery is part of the equation, sure. But you can't credibly deliver an impersonal, mechanical, lifeless speech
with passion. The words of the speech have to capture the speaker's passion for the topic. It's a big piece of the power that moves the audience along the speaker's line.
. . . the line of logic and emotion.
Right. The ingredients we've been talking about credibility, logic, passion are inseparable from each other, and they're bonded to the content in a well-crafted speech. Every opportunity to speak is an opportunity to take these ingredients and blend them together in a uniquely personal way that establishes or enhances leadership, builds support, promotes an agenda or philosophy
and convinces, informs, and inspires.
What inspires you, as a speechwriter?
I'm inspired by the stories and fables that hinge on the concept of "magic words," where something fantastic and wonderful happens as a result of saying precisely the right thing
at the right time and in the right place. That's a good metaphor for the goals of speechwriting.
How do you know when you've found those magic words?
Standing ovations for the speaker and additional assignments for me are my favorite indicators. But actually, it's not hard to gauge the success and effectiveness of speeches, since most call for a specific response from the audience. If the desired response materializes, if a common understanding and direction is established, if the speaker's leadership is strengthened, if levels of confidence and motivation rise
then it's a safe bet that the words you selected and the speech you constructed were successful.