These days, high-profile leaders live in fear of making an off-the-cuff comment or ill-considered joke that will come back to haunt them or dominate the next news cycle.
“Gotcha journalism has got people behind the teleprompters, and so they’ve got everything approved that they’re going to say,” says Sandy Anderson, a speechwriter who has written for CEOs, army secretaries, and President Gerald R. Ford.
So are speakers forever doomed to read from texts, teleprompters, or 3×5 cards in order to stay on topic? Speechwriting pros say there are ways to help cure a speaker from over-reliance on the text—but it takes work by both the writer and the person at the lectern.
Sometimes it’s essential to stick to the script, such as at an investor relations conference where there are legal constraints on what can be said, says Rob Friedman, senior director of executive communications at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.