SPEECHWRITING FOR EXECUTIVES: MUCH MORE THAN WORDS


By James D’Ambrosio

Last fall I wrote a series about giving effective public presentations, detailing important considerations a speaker should take into account for a speech (click on October 2011  in Archives on the right to view). But often the person giving the speech doesn’t write it;  usually it’s delegated to a senior communications/public relations staffer. This column focuses on what the writer should consider in preparing remarks for an executive. 

There’s far more to speechwriting than gathering facts and information and shaping it into a unified whole. Before putting pen to paper, you need strong knowledge of the presenter. This is critical, especially if you’ve never ghostwritten for the person before.

Suppose you’re the new communications manager at a nonprofit. The executive director asks you to compose a speech (on short notice) to be delivered to the community. Since you barely know this person outside of your job interview, ask to meet with him or her to learn more about their communication style. Knowing your speaker’s strengths and weaknesses will help you more easily craft a speech that’s a good fit.  

WHAT TO LEARN BEFORE WRITING THE SPEECH

HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE DOES THE PRESENTER HAVE? You need to know if the person is a veteran, novice or somewhere in-between. This helps determine the complexity of your writing. If your subject is  inexperienced, keep it straightforward and avoid long passages. When the person gains more experience, you can get more creative.

WHAT IS THEIR COMMUNICATION STYLE? Is your subject outgoing and comfortable relating with others? Or reserved and quiet? This  helps you choose the proper tone for the speech, in sync with the presenter’s personality. The most eloquent speech can fail miserably if it doesn’t sound genuine coming from the presenter. Aim for a close fit. 

ARE THEY COMFORTABLE WITH HUMOR? This is a big one. From my experience, humor either works really well or goes terribly wrong. While caution is a given, if the presenter is comfortable, add one or two low-key lines to evoke a chuckle from the audience. Conversely, if you sense any discomfort with humor, avoid using it entirely.

♦ DO THEY EMBRACE CREATIVITY? A speech’s message can be amplified with a good quote from a well-respected/famous person. Has your presenter quoted others in previous presentations? Do they embrace providing another’s perspective to get their message across? If so, visit www.quotegarden.com and choose from hundreds of categories. If not, suggest it for future presentations.

Speechwriting is a multifaceted craft that takes time to perfect, even for professionals. Just as the writer must understand the audience, it’s equally important to understand the presenter. 

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QUESTION TO READERS:  What has been your experience speechwriting for others? Any memorable experiences to share?

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