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 5

Here’s tip five in my series of tips 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 5.     Let your speaker tell his own story.

One sure-fire way to craft a speech your client will be able to deliver is to weave in his own stories.  If your speaker can open with a story about how he met his wife, if he can use stories about his children or his most unusual business trips to illustrate his key messages, and if he can close with an image or a vision about which he is personally passionate, he’ll have to do an awful lot of hard work to mess up his delivery.

So, your first hurdle is getting the stories.  Unfortunately, many of us don’t have the kind of access to our speakers that we’d like.  Sure, there are some speechwriters who travel frequently with their speakers and have regular one-on-one meetings we could use to collect these incredibly valuable nuggets.  In a past job, I had the luxury of being golfing buddies with my CEO, which was a perfect situation in which I learned all about his college days, his military career, his family and more.  But that’s the exception, not the rule.  Most of us are lucky if we even get to meet with the speaker before we’ve written a first draft.  We’re kept at arm’s length – or even further away – until he’s got a draft in-hand.  We don’t know who he is, really, so how do we get at his stories?

One route is to become good friends with his administrative assistant.  They can really dish the dirt when you’re looking for a story that humanizes your speaker.  But dig deeper.  Talk to lower-level people in your organization who do travel with the speaker for business.  Usually, you can get time with these folks much more readily than with the speaker, and they often are happy to talk about their time with the boss.  Does your speaker have friends you can approach within the organization?  We’re talking genuine friends here – the kind who will tell you that your speaker is such a bad golfer that his golf coach bought him a tennis racket.  If you can spend some time with these friends or – if you sell your soul – his family, you’ll get golden stories your speaker can tell with ease and to good effect.

Getting the stories only gets you halfway home, though.  Now you’ve got to get your speaker to let down his guard long enough to share a little of himself with an audience.  Personal stories and self-deprecating humor can win over an audience in an instant, but it can be hard for a speaker with an ego to demonstrate humility.  Admitting that he is known among friends and family for being the anti-handyman may not come naturally.  Getting him to tell the story about how he nearly electrocuted himself while trimming hedges the day before his son’s wedding (that one’s for you, Dad), may simply not be possible. 

If your speaker isn’t immediately willing to open up to audiences, try beginning a few speeches with stories about his professional experience and closing with personal stories that bring together his key messages.  Keep them short at first, and begin to weave them through the speeches you develop as your speaker becomes more comfortable with this kind of speechmaking and storytelling.  When you get the speaker telling his own stories, he’ll begin delivering your speeches.

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