Ever been in this situation?
You write a speech for your boss/speaker and you’re proud of it. You spent days on it, weeks.
You think your children still live at home but you can’t be sure.
You use a roll of paper towels to mop the sweat from your brow and you push the send button.
Instant reply. “Pls rework.”
What the…what does that even mean?
Look, I’ve been there. I’m still there sometimes. It’s frustrating, madding and it can go on for days.
It can feel like you’re in an endless loop where you try and predict what the boss wants and just when you get close….they change the boss.
Worse? Sometimes you’re not even dealing with the boss! Just a group of underlings who dress the same and use the word “synergies” a lot.
Speechwriting is almost always at the top of that “challenges” list and this creates stress for both speechwriters and their speakers.
If you’re a speechwriter, or simply want to know a bit more about how to become a speechwriter, here are five ways you can improve your speeches and get your bosses off your back.
Get To Know The Speaker Better
I know! Your finger is on the delete button. That’s the entire problem, right? How can you improve your speeches if you can’t get any face time with your boss (speaker)?
By hook or by crook you must make this happen. And it needs to happen sooner than later. Soon as in, the first week that boss begins her job. Go with your manager, with a court order…just make it happen!
When you do secure the meeting however, it’s not the time to ask banal questions such as “uhh, what is it you want in your speeches?” You can do better than that.
Instead, you need to dig a bit deeper, something that gives you a greater sense of what makes them tick. The closer you get to understanding what makes them tick, the closer you are to writing a speech that they can hear themselves giving.
In my online speechwriting courses, we help you design a tailored list of questions, but here are some general ones to try:
- Why do you believe speeches are important?
- Who are some of your favourite speakers and why?
- Do you like to use plain language or complex language?
(they always say “plain”. Use this as leverage later).
- Are there words you struggle to deliver? Which ones?
- What’s the impression (generally) you want to leave?
- Do you want full speeches or bullet points?
- Do you like to go off script?
- How would you like your speech formatted?
- Finally: are there any subjects you will never talk about?
The point of these questions is not only to glean information from them, but to let them know we’re professionals and we know what we’re doing.
Get A Speechwriting Meeting (And Get Out Of Approvals Hell)
Often, speeches fail because what the speechwriter writes and what eventually lands on the speaker’s desk is completely different.
More than one great speech has been neutered on a journey through Approvals Hell.
To avoid it, get organized. Take control. It begins with hosting effective speech planning meetings.
This gets everybody, including the speaker’s office, on the same page with respect to content and what is needed.
How many times have I hosted a speechwriting training session to discover that the problem isn’t the speechwriters, it’s everybody else in the chain.
It’s because there is no speechwriting meeting.
So, implement them immediately.
You the speechwriter should chair these meetings and they should include the highest-ranking subject matter experts and the speaker (or his/her representative).
In the meeting, get the relevant basic facts for the speech. Primarily, you need to know why the minister is speaking, to whom he’s speaking, the point of the speech (the most important), and the themes (no more than three) to support that point.
Write down what participants promise to send you, provide a deadline and follow-up immediately. Take the lead. Ask questions. Get agreement.
They won’t be hit with a surprise and you won’t be acting as a mediator when the speech goes through approvals.
Learn How To Capture Your Speaker’s Voice
Ever notice how some speechwriters just seem to be with the same speaker for years? It’s because they have that unique ability to “be” that speaker. At least when they’re writing the speech.
There are many approaches for capturing voice, but some of the most effective ones go beyond simply reading past speeches (because those may not be very good in the first place!).
I suggest keeping a speechwriting journal and studying your speaker. Request permission to become their shadow for a few days, weeks, however long it takes. Write down anecdotes, phrases they use over and over.
Find out how they speak in situations where they’re not using prepared speeches. What’s their pace of speaking? Do they use complex or plain language? What words trip them up?
Most of all, collect stories from the speaker. These can do wonders for personalizing a speech and making your speaker sound more human.
If you can’t get access to the speaker, try finding interviews where they speak in a non-formal setting. This is also a good opportunity to understand their pacing, word choice and ease with the audience. Transcribe what they say.
Finally, after you write your speech, you should be reading and editing the speech out loud. Not mumbling it at your desk, actually standing up and delivering it as your speaker would. Affect their mannerisms, speak at the same pace etc.
Learn To Master The Minor Things
As a speaker myself, there are a few things I must have perfect when delivering a speech.
If I’m reading it from a text, I must have that text written in a certain font with specific spacing. If I see two spaces after a period? Just the thought of it drives me crazy.
Seems petty? To you maybe. You’re not the one on stage!
If you want to go the extra distance with your speaker—master those seemingly minor details.
Also, think about this: if your speech looks like a dog’s breakfast (even when it’s not) on the page, there’s a good chance the speaker—especially if they’re in a hurry when they review it—will simply assume it’s a dog’s breakfast.
Get into the practice of making the speech very easy for your boss to read at the lectern.
This means large font, each sentence as a separate paragraph, and text only on the top half of the page (so the speaker doesn’t have to speak to the floor). Again, this will all depend on the needs of your speaker.
This is more of an overall attitude adjustment on your part.
Assertiveness is vital. It means you are in charge of the speech. Until the speaker has seen the speech, you are the writer, they are your words. Unless you’re working with another speechwriter or the speaker herself, it’s not a team writing project.
Stay in control of the speech. Don’t let others “run it through approvals” for you. If changes are suggested that don’t fit the tone of the speech, speak up.
Always invite people to make “suggestions” about the speech, never “corrections”.
Finally, nobody speaks for you. Only you know what questions you need to ask to get the information you need.
I’m not talking about being a jerk, I’m talking about doing your job—a job that isn’t about stroking somebody’s ego, it’s about giving the speaker the best speech possible.
I know, it’s not easy.
By reorganizing your relationship with your speaker and those who work with you, you can put together speeches that will make your boss happier, or at least closer to what they think they want.