5 helpful speechwriting reminders for newbies or veterans

Do you watch your tone or practice with your speaker beforehand? Write a successful speech with these tips.

At some point, every executive will need to speak in public. And invariably, it will be the communicator who puts the words into their mouths. But speechwriting is very different from other types of writing and often calls for a unique approach. It’s not rocket science, but it is different. So here are our five tips for successful executive speechwriting:

1. Don’t overstretch. Nobody expects your executives to wax poetic about integration or deliver earnings results in haiku. What they want is clear, compelling and comprehensive information. In fact, forcing the key messages into a contrived theme can often do more to confuse the listener and dilute the strength of the messages.

2. Work with the speaker. This may seem self-evident, but you’d be surprised how often communicators write speeches without conferring with the speaker first. By taking an iterative and collaborative approach to the speechwriting process, most communicators will find that they can not only cut down the review cycles, but can also instill a higher level of confidence and comfort in their executive speakers.

3. Practice makes perfect. While many executives believe themselves to be consummate orators, the reality is that even the best of us can benefit from a little practice. Communicators should be firm with their executives that practice (preferably on site and with full A/V set up) is a key contributor to success. For their part, communicators should always attend the practice session to see where the speech needs work or where the executive needs coaching.

4. Watch your tone. One of the great things about speeches is that you can use emphasis, tone and body language to accentuate a point. And since your executives are expected to be passionate about their topic, it is perfectly acceptable (and often beneficial) for them to repeat phrases to drive home a message, show pride when talking about their team’s achievements, and maybe even a little bit of fist thumping when fervor is required. Of course, nobody will trust an executive who comes off as a complete loony, so keep it within reason.

5. Control what you can. There is no shame in seeding questions into the crowd, and no reason that the communications team can’t be the first to start the applause. The less that is left to chance the better, so take advantage of your ability to influence the way the speech is received or delivered. That said, these tactics may be glaringly obvious if the only participant asking questions is the PR director, so try to find like-minded colleagues in other departments who can supplement your team in this regard.

Executive speechwriting is a function that in-house communicators tend to outsource. And with good reason; executive speeches can be time consuming, stressful and somewhat political to write.

But word to the wise, with election machines gearing up on both sides, speechwriters may soon be in very short supply.

Peter Schram is the managing partner of Communications Unlimited. A version of this article originally ran on the blog, The Communicator, and appeared on Ragan.com in September 2011.


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