Brent Kerrigan is the founder of Global Speechwriter. He has worked for more than a dozen years as a professional speechwriter at the highest levels of government and business. Here is a bit more about him and his thoughts on speech writing.
Why do you call yourself The Global Speechwriter?
Take any book that lists the “greatest” speeches of all time. Most of the ones listed are given by speakers in the United States and the United Kingdom. Those are the speakers I studied when I became a speech writer. Does it mean the rest of the world has terrible speakers and speech writers? Hardly. It’s just that North Americans can be terribly insular when thinking about them.
I wanted a chance to work with speech writers from North America and other parts of the world.
Is that why you offer courses on-site and online?
That’s one reason. It helps me reach more people more easily. Plus, speech writing is just one of those jobs where you don’t have to be on location. My work in the field helped me understand that there’s absolutely no reason great training can’t happen online.
The other reason is that people are sick and tired of the trainer dictating when they should take their training. How many people can afford to be away from their offices for a day, two days…sometimes a week? I think it’s time to move away from the model that worked in 1975 and get with 2015. That’s why I offer three models from which to choose: self-guided, online and on-site.
What’s the difference between you and any other speech writer/coach?
One word: experience. I’ve been a speech writer for more than a decade at the highest levels. I’ve written hundreds of speeches and much of this was spent as part of an overworked, over-caffeinated communications team. I’m not the guy who suddenly decided to take up speech writing because it seemed fun. I’ve been through the wars!
It takes a speech writer to teach a speech writer. You can’t fake it.
The second thing that sets me apart is that I’ve got my nose outside of North America. I’ve lived in many parts of the world and each place has informed my speeches.
Not all countries have the same approach to writing and giving speeches, but there are some commonalities. Most want clarity over complexity, how to understand audiences and their speakers better, and to really connect in a meaningful way with their audiences. That sort of speech writing knows no borders.
C’mon, all speeches sound the same, don’t they?
You’re right in a way—many speeches do sound the same, in that they are boring, ineffective, or both.
How did you get into speechwriting?
It began when I was 10-years-old. Typical primary school assignment: give a speech about the person who inspired you most. I think I wrote about a famous sports star and it was a disaster. But I had encouragement to try again.
Glad I did because I eventually fell in love with both the writing and the giving of speeches. I later made speech writing my career.
Why are you currently located in Berlin?
In addition to being globalized speech writer, I’m also a globalized husband and a father. My wife is a diplomat (from a different country than my own) and before her first posting I was a speech writer for the Government of Canada. Instead of releasing me after we were posted, they asked me to continue operating in a telework format.
Later, I launched Global Speechwriter. We’ve relocated a number of times since then, including Berlin. Other cities, other countries, other continents. It’s quite the adventure. We wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Do speeches really make a difference?
Read Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream Speech” or perhaps the speech Nelson Mandela gave after being released from prison. Cicero, Churchill, Kennedy—read any of their speeches and you’re likely to hear words that have helped to shape our world. As a speech writer I get to participate in a tradition that has been around since humans first learned to speak. Or grunt, perhaps.
Speeches are yesterday’s news, we’re on Twitter.
Yep, me too. I’m @gblspeechwriter. Look, Twitter, Facebook and other social media are not messages, they’re simply means of disseminating messages. Despite all the technology at our fingertips, one of the most effective ways humans have of communicating with each other is still the humble speech.
Still, the influence of speeches is declining. It’s just all sound bites.
Sure, sound bites have a jarring way of altering speeches, but I believe that great speeches have never been more important. Why? Think of technology. We have countless opportunities to spread our messages. Yet, to cut through the billions of competing voices we must do what we’ve always done: ensure we have something to say and then say it effectively. In that way, not much has changed. We’ve always had an app for that: a professional speech writer.
Do you actually give speeches or is this just all theory for you?
I’ve been giving speeches my entire life. These days, I am also a member of Toastmasters. I give speeches not only because I actually enjoy giving them, but because I realize that it’s impossible to tell somebody else how to give a speech if you can’t put yourself into their shoes. Evidence? This year I made it to the final round of the European Public Speaking Championships (Toastmasters).
Did you win?
Who are some of your favourite speakers?
My list won’t shock anybody. Perhaps because the great speakers are timeless. I like Kennedy, King, Obama, Churchill—the usual suspects. Yet I’m struck by how many great speakers there are doing the rubber chicken circuit or speaking to Rotary Clubs, Toastmasters groups, congregations and beyond. There’s an enormous amount of talent out there. There are also many who harbour the talent but just need a bit of help discovering it.
But who is your real favourite? The one who has influenced your work most as a speechwriter and coach?
My wife. Besides my passion for speech writing, she is the inspiration why I do all of this. English is her second language (she’s Mexican) and she is often faced with speaking to English-speaking audiences. She does an amazing job each time. None of this is theoretical to us, we live it each day.
Finally…why do you spell words such as “harbor” and “color” wrong?
I’m Canadian and we’ve decided we like both the Queen and the British way of spelling. While I won’t instigate revolution on behalf of my clients, I will happily adapt to their grammatical and spelling preferences.
More questions? Ask away.