It’s a prize writing assignment, but it has its risks.
Your CEO wants you to write a speech for her, but you’ve never written for the head honcho before. Where do you start?
If possible, have a face-to-face meeting with the CEO. Meeting in person is important for several reasons. First, you can more carefully study the CEO’s nonverbal cues and speaking patterns that will factor into how to craft the speech.
Also, you can observe speaking patterns. Does she use short sentences? Does she use metaphors? Does she have any catchphrases?
Whether or not you include any of this and the draft you create, it’s important to know what you may have to work with—or work around.
Here are three steps you shouldn’t avoid when crafting your speech:
1. Do your homework.
It’s a good idea to do as much research as possible in advance of that face-to-face meeting, covering not only speech topics, but also on the venue, the audience and of course the speaking history and preferences of the speaker.
Know when the speech will be delivered, the venue and the format. Will the speech be a keynote, a panel discussion or something else? Find out if you will need to think about multimedia or other visual aids that could be required.
Whether you learn this from someone else or in that meeting with the CEO, it’s crucial to determine how your final dradt should take shape: in the form of a script, a slide deck or note cards. What does she like to use when giving a speech?
As you do your research, spend a little time on YouTube as well. The speaker may have already given speeches that have been captured on video. A good review of two or three prior speeches will enable you to start thinking in your speaker’s voice.
Will there be other speakers at the same event? Learn as much as possible about them and what they will be speaking about.
2. Determine how the CEO will define success.
What does she want the audience to think, feel or do afterward? How does she envision that happening? What issues, solutions, questions or subjects must be discussed to get there?
For this CEO meeting, your job is to play the role of journalist, asking questions and posing scenarios to get the CEO’s input. Make sure to record this discussion, because chances are, you will get some priceless content for your draft, maybe a little raw, from the CEO herself.
As you listen later to that recording, you will be able to internalize the CEO’s speaking style and word choice, all before you even start to write.
3. Start writing.
Everyone has their own writing style, so while your approach may work better for you than mine. However, I almost always start with a detailed outline.
This is how I frame the speech and spend a good deal of time planning out how the speech will flow.
In most cases, the initial draft of the speech is missing certain information or details that eventually will find their way into it, such as certain data points, quotes or details. Bookmark those places and keep writing until you’ve framed out the entire speech in that first draft. Don’t let the lack of a data point prevent you from creating a structure for the speech.
Once you get that initial draft completed, you can go back and revisit specific sections to see what information or anecdotes may help advance the message.
After that, the process will be a familiar one, with edits to insert, delete, add, change, bolster and supplement.
As you write, don’t forget that you are writing for a live delivery. Don’t burden your CEO with long and complex sentences, multi-syllabic words that could trip the speaker up, or too much unfamiliar jargon or data. Don’t submit a speech manuscript for review without yourself first reading it aloud to see how it will sound in front of a live audience.
The key is to make sure that, in the end, the speech can be delivered easily and effectively well within the comfort zone of the speaker.
Tim O’Brien is owner of Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications, a corporate communications consultancy, and he is producer/host of the ShapingOpinion podcast. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.