Highlights from the Speechwriters Conference, Part 6

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.

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