Selecting the right words for your specific audience

Sarah Hurwitz, former head speechwriter for Michelle Obama, shares how to shape and sharpen presentations and capture the voice of your subject in an authentic manner.

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Selecting the right words for your audience

Writing to be heard rather than read requires a unique skillset.

Sarah Hurwitz, who was a White House speechwriter from 2009 to 2017, is perhaps one of the world’s foremost expert on the matter. She shared practical tips and fascinating tidbits gleaned from her sterling career with Ragan at a recent virtual Communication Leadership Council retreat. Here’s a slice of what she shared:

How to be a more influential, insightful speechwriter

If you’re tasked with writing on behalf of someone else, you must build a relationship and a genuine rapport. “To inhabit a person’s voice, you need to spend time with them,” Hurwitz says.

That includes in formal and informal settings to get a sense of how the person speaks and conveys information. If your subject has little time to spend with you one-on-one, ask to sit in on meetings or events to observe how they communicate and conduct themselves, Hurwitz advises. As you listen, note specific phrases they tend to use. Also be mindful of language they avoid using.

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