Official Blog of Bannon Leadership Consulting Founder Shawn Bannon

Tips for Speechwriters (and Other Communications Professionals): Getting Your Speaker to Deliver the Speech that You’ve Written — Part 4

Here’s tip four in my series of five to help speechwriters frustrated by speakers who abandon the approved script in favor of extemporaneous remarks that, more often than not, seem to miss the mark.

Tip 4.      Write the way your speaker talks.  And if you can’t do that, keep the language simple.

We’d all like to write for speakers whose words sound like poetry.  Think Kennedy, King, Reagan or Obama (a bit more so during the campaign, perhaps, than since his election).  But it would be downright painful to hear most of our speakers try to deliver their kind of oratory.  Speakers of that caliber just aren’t common enough to meet our desires.  And as speechwriters, we have to adapt to that reality.

If you are fortunate enough to spend time – preferably one-on-one, but even in small groups – with your speaker, you need to use that time to listen for and make note of the way he talks.  Identify the rhythms of his speech.  Jot down words he uses frequently.  If he sees those words in a speech you’ve written, he’ll feel more comfortable with the speech.  While you may be tempted to quote sources like Euripides, your speaker is likely more familiar with Jack Welch.  Ground your quotes, references and examples in your speaker’s reality.

But what if you don’t get the face time with your speaker to learn his tendencies and preferences?  There are ways you still can write a speech that fits your speaker.  The trick is to keep the language simple.  Use short, declarative sentences.  Look for the least complex ways of saying what needs to be said.  Use “use” instead of “utilize.”  “Cooperation” instead of “inter-departmental collaboration and challenge resolution.” 

Working from a plainly written speech, your speaker will be able to quickly absorb the text you’ve prepared and will be able to change those passages that don’t fit his personal style, either during the review process or on the fly, without significantly changing the speech overall.

If you’re working to keep the language simple, stick to quotes from contemporary and well-known historical figures.  Although some of the most wonderful quotes come from the most obscure sources, the safe bet is that the speaker with whom you aren’t familiar is going to be most comfortable quoting the likes of Abraham Lincoln or Lee Iacocca.

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