If you work as an in-house speechwriter–one who doesn’t have regular access to your speaker–you’ve probably received a speech request similar to this:
URGENT: Keynote speech to the Koala Bear Foundation re: world should stop eating Koala Bears. Needed NO LATER than tomorrow a.m.
Let me guess, when you picked up the phone to get additional details (such as who, what, where, when and why) all you got was a heavy sigh from an exasperated assistant. Aren’t YOU the speechwriter?
One option is to slam the phone down, fire up Google and pray. The other is to have a system in place so you can get the information you need. Fast.
I believe speechwriting meetings–effective ones–can save time and energy.
Here’s a few suggestions on how to make them work.
Get The Right Information In Advance
Not all assistants know what speechwriters need. Help them out. Prepare a short form they can fill out before sending you a speech request. Only the basic facts, including: speaker, location of speech, length of speech, expected audience. Ask them also to include the original invite letter, a document that often outlines what the audience expects to hear. You could ask them to send all of this information weeks before the speech is due, but let’s be realistic…
Invite the Right People
Getting the basic speech facts helps determine who should be invited to the speech planning meeting. The invite list is crucial. You want only the highest-level subject matter experts, people who can actually make decisions. Inviting the assistant to the assistant’s assistant or the summer intern is a waste of time. They’ll just have to get approval on whatever is discussed, eating up valuable time.
Getting the speaker to attend is best, but if you’re writing speeches for the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, this can be tough. Invite people who have the authority to speak on their behalf.
Time It and Chair It
Unless you’re writing the State of the Union, your meetings should last no longer than 20 minutes. Time them. Seriously, bring a timer. Not only will your meetings be more successful, people will show up for them.
Chair the meeting. After all, you’re the one responsible for the speech. Be firm. Keep people not only on time but on track. Don’t let anybody talk about their cat. Trust me, it happens. It always happens.
Ask The Right Question
There is one key question that needs to be answered at this meeting. It’s not: “so, uhh, what should the speech be about?” I can’t even begin to tell you how bad this because what people hear is: “please list every pet project you’ve ever wanted in a speech”.
A better question is: “what’s the one thing we want this audience to remember after hearing the speech?” In my speechwriting workshops I speak about the importance of having one point to a speech. Not four broad perspectives, not ten thoughts for consideration, one point. Get it into one sentence. Everything in your speech should reinforce that point.
Next, get participants to decide on three themes (I like three) to support that point. Cajole them until they’re decided. Commit them to sending you the information to support those themes. Get their contact information and make sure they send it to you later.
Getting people to focus will be tough. People will pass the buck, defer to a later date, want to consult others, and so on. Be firm. Remember, this speech has your name on it. You cannot be wishy-washy. Besides, koala bears are being eaten…
Wrap It Up
At the conclusion of the meeting, expect somebody to request an outline of the speech. This is called ass-covering and usually occurs when you’ve invited people who aren’t decision-makers. Be wary of outlines. I’ve been in situations where the outline is more discussed than the speech itself. If they insist, keep it brief. List only the point of the speech and the three themes.
Before you leave the room, get a decision on when the speech is needed. Remember: this is not the date of delivery, but the date it needs to enter the approvals chain.
Now you can thank everybody, bang a gavel and get writing.
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