Ghostwriting for a CEO: A survival guide

There are caveats aplenty when you take on such a high-level assignment, but this veteran’s advice will help you home in on that ideal core message and send it soaring.

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It’s hard enough writing in your own voice. What’s the secret to writing for the CEO (or other senior leader) of a client company? (And don’t think it won’t happen to you someday.)

At the outset, let me say this: Do not imagine that you will get to speak to that CEO at length, spend plenty of time capturing his or her voice perfectly or make the speech topic come so alive that the CEO basks in loud applause.

I wrote a commencement speech for a Fortune 350 client’s CEO and I never got to talk to him. He never gave me any clear idea of what he want ed to tell graduates of a respected university. I was on my own and, well, had to tap creative license. In some form or fashion, this is typical for ghostwriting.

Direct interaction with the CEO is extremely rare, no matter what you’re writing—speeches, bylines, or op-eds. Now that I’ve burst your bubble, let me offer some rules of thumb. They’ve proven darn helpful in penning successfully placed CEO op-eds and speeches; some have snared “Best Speech of the Year” awards.

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