Here’s the final installment in my 6-part series of notes I took at a recent Speechwriters Conference. I hope you’ve found these notes helpful.
Highlights of Speaker/writer relationship by Chuck Toney, University of Georgia
Toney, a speechwriter and policy analyst at the University of Georgia, spoke about learning to sound like the person you are writing for:
• Speech writing is the clearest form of collaboration.
• Learning the voice
o Listen, listen, listen. Always take advantage of hearing the speaker speak in formal and informal settings.
• If you can travel with the speaker, it’s a great opportunity for relaxed conversation when you can hear how he/she talks.
• What are their common words and phrasing. How do they tell stories or jokes?
• Follow the script you’ve provided and note deviations from the speaker so you can learn for later.
• Watch videotapes of your speaker.
o Learn their patterns, common phrases, transitions and sequences – these give the speaker a level of comfort, a security blanket.
• What do they like in physical text: point size, spacing, font, page breaks, page numbers(?) Find out and make it happen for them.
• It’s not about you!
• What matters is that the speaker is comfortable with the text
• The speech needs to sound authentic to the speaker
• Don’t take criticism personally
• Speeches are specific to their speakers
• If the speaker isn’t happy, it’s our job to fix it
o Try to isolate the specific problem; don’t rewrite the whole thing
o Go back to what has worked before
o Make sure you are getting the voice write; often the problem with the text is the speaker isn’t comfortable saying it
• Adding value
• Be more than a transcriptionist
• You are the “first ear” to hear the speaker’s ideas
• If it’s good, say so; if it’s not good, say so
• We’re writers – -they expect us to offer words
o We need to bring back more than what they gave us
• It must fit the speaker’s style (can you hear them saying this?)
• There’s no greater compliment than to have someone endorse your words by speaking them publicly.
• Does what you’ve written work well as a spoken word, not just in writing?
• Consider presenting things in the rule of 3 – people can’t remember more than three points when they hear them. It’s also a great way to provide a litany.
• Read the room – watch how the audience is responding and build upon it for next time.