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.

Highlights from the Speechwriters Conference, Part 5

Here’s part 5 in my 6-part series of notes from the Speechwriters Conference I attended:

ted-sorensenHighlights of Ted Sorensen’s keynote address on great speeches

Sorensen, former speech writer and counselor to President John F. Kennedy, spoke about the importance of speechwriting and speechwriters:

•    The best inaugural speeches of all time –
o    Thomas Jefferson
o    Abraham Lincoln’s second
o    Franklin Roosevelt’s second
o    John F. Kennedy’s

A solid method for writing:

1.    Outline – where are you going?
2.    Headline – what will be reported?
3.    Front line – what’s the most important point? Make it clear.
4.    Sidelines – quotes, poems, humor
5.    Bottom line – a great ending to make the speech memorable for the audience

Good speeches are based upon:

1.    Clarity – be clear!
2.    Charity – praise the audience
3.    Brevity – anything worth saying can be said in 20-25 minutes, according to JFK
4.    Levity – to open the speech or sprinkled throughout

You can provide:

•    Full text – best way to be careful when everything you say is going to affect things seriously.
•    Outline or notes  – can serve as a security blanket for reference
•    Pneumonic – Provide key words of the speech to remind them of the key points. Use the first letters of the key words

Highlights from the Speechwriters Conference, Part 4

Here’s part 4 in my 6-part series of notes from the Speechwriters Conference I attended:

Highlights of Make them laugh, make them cry by Eric Schnure and Bob Lehrman

Schnure, a former writer for presidents and high-ranking elected officials, and Lehrman, former chief speech writer to Vice President Al Gore, spoke about bringing emotions to your speeches:

•    Self-deprecating humor and humor in general can be good, but it needs to be on the softer side and can’t be too harsh.

•    Research shows, compared to any other device to open a speech with, a story is going to grab an audience’s attention and is the most effective way to connect with them.

•    Get attention right away
•    Then give problem first – establish a need
i.    Then give them a solution and show that it’s practical and works
1.    Then give a call to action

•    Use foreshadowing and suspense in a speech prior to telling story/sharing anecdote that will draw in audience.

•    Use concrete detail – not just a fact or statistic, but information that proves the story is true, that you were there or experienced the situation.

•    The soundbite that gets remembered isn’t always the soundbite that gets the biggest audience reaction.
o    FDR’s famous inaugural line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” was expected to get a huge audience reaction. It didn’t, even though the newspapers made it famous.
•    Biggest audience reaction came to FDR saying something about “reining in the bankers.”

•    People appreciate that you care enough about them to do some homework – bring up something local and personal. Kennedy’s going to the moon speech at Rice University included the line, “Why does Rice play Texas…” among his items he addresses with “We choose to do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard.” The audience loved the Rice comment. How did he know that? He (and his speechwriter) cared enough to learn about it.
o    Consider these the “how the hell?” moments and use them to your advantage. “How the hell” refers to the audience saying to themselves, “How the hell did he know that?” and being impressed by it and feeling appreciated.

Highlights from the Speechwriters Conference, Part 3

Here’s part 3 of my 6-part series of notes from the Speechwriters Conference I attended:

pete-weissmanHighlights of Beyond the Speech by Pete Weissman

Weissman, director of leadership communications for The Coca-Cola Company has also served as a speechwriter for a U.S. senator and the White House. He spoke on Moving from speechwriter to strategist by delivering more than words:

•    Think big! Think beyond the speech. Remember to think of the bigger picture.

•    Don’t be a scribe, be a strategist — the success of the speech depends upon it

•    The world of communications is changing rapidly, so stay on the leading edge and think how the role of the audience has changed. We’ve gone from theatergoer to the re-broadcaster model.
•    It helps us professionally to prove our value.

•    Make it easy for your main points to be carried forward by audience to others via blog, Twitter, etc.

12 strategies for going beyond the speech.

1.    Know your organization’s goals and figure out how communications can support those goals.
a.    What do people need to know to make the goal a reality?
i.    Leads to messages
1.    Leads to audiences
a.    Leads to venues
i.    Leads to choice of speaker

2.    Kill the one-off speeches
a.    Ignore the pancake breakfast meetings, etc.

3.    Think beyond the speech
a.    Coke has more than 400 brands. There was a reception before an executive club’s luncheon. Variety of Coke products brought in to give people idea of variety. Also used as part of centerpieces. No one told they were all Coke brands until speaker said so during speech.

4.    Make the picture tell the story
a.    Nothing white or bright immediately behind speaker
b.    Use more lights than you imagine you should on the speaker

5.    Own the event
a.    Be the person who knows all the details and the options
b.    Room temperature – hot rooms make audience irritable; makes Q & A testy.
c.    Think of the time of the speech
i.    Speak early; don’t be the last speaker.
ii.    Try not to speak before cocktails or a meal
d.    Own the wireless mic – don’t let speakers walk around with the mic on and talk to people or use bathroom, etc.

6.    Capture the event; there are no do-overs
a.    Do it yourself
b.    Have the venue do it
c.    Hire someone to do it
i.    Offensive move – gives you opportunities later for b-roll, pictures for annual report, etc.
ii.    Defensive – can be used to verify what speaker said or didn’t say; especially helpful with quotes used by reporters.
1.    Consider using a simple mp3 recorder

7.    Repurpose the speech
a.    Create a reprint; consider a booklet with speech and visuals to share with opinion leaders, media – post on web site, too.
b.    Don’t keep it on your web site. Share it with surrogates, sponsors, etc. Where will people go besides your web site? Put it there.

8.    Be the early warning radar of the organization
a.    Look at trends. What’s coming, what will we need to respond to?

9.    Walk into meetings as a source, not a scribe
a.    If you walk in with a pen, all you can do is take notes.
i.    Do your research and walk into meeting with recommendations

10.    Send relative articles to the boss
a.    Where’s it from, why should they see it/read it, what can they do with it when they speak to a certain audience who also may have seen it/read it.

11.    Grow your toolbox
a.    Keep growing as writer and communicator.

12.    Feed your creativity
a.    Do what you need to get into a creative mindset. Feed your soul.

Highlights from the Speechwriters Conference, Part 2

Here’s Part 2 in my 6-part series of notes from the recent Speechwriters Conference I attended…

robert-schlesingerHighlights of Robert Schlesinger keynote address

Schlesinger, an opinion editor at U.S. News and World Report and teacher of political journalism at Boston University in Washington, D.C., spoke about “the rise and fall and rise again” of White House speech writers:

•    Speeches are policy courses of events.
o    If it doesn’t work on paper, it probably doesn’t work. (Richard Nixon)
o    OSHA created based on one line in speech writer put in for Lyndon Johnson. Became a separate speech, then became a commission to study idea, eventually OSHA was created.

•    Presidents since Washington have had help with their speeches. Real, fulltime speech writers came to be with the rise of radio and TV and mass media. There are totally different speaking styles for those with and without microphones.
o    Franklin Roosevelt’s radio addresses were more informal, intimate talks because he was in your living room. Roosevelt also revolutionized how speeches were prepared by finding the right people to help him polish his ideas.
o    Eisenhower was the first president to have aide with title “speechwriter.”

•    Flares went up all over the administration when Reagan’s speeches were written. There tended to be a huge backstage fight between the speechwriters and senior staff. Speeches always wended their way through complicated bureaucracy where people thought “I can write, let me look at the speech.”
o    Reagan would have a handful of letters to Whitehouse delivered each week and he would respond personally. To help deal with the fact they didn’t often have direct access to the president, the speechwriters arranged with the president’s secretary to get copies, so they could keep up with how Reagan was saying things and what was on his mind.
o    “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  The speechwriters snuck that line in when a large batch of speeches were going to the president at Camp David, figuring senior staff couldn’t get to them all before Reagan saw them. The following week, Reagan mentioned he liked that line. The writers now had protection of the president for that idea, although senior staff still suggested toning it down. One suggestion from senior staff was, “One day this wall will be gone.”
o    In the George H.W. Bush Whitehouse, speechwriters had a position in the hierarchy just below Millie the dog. They didn’t even have enough West Wing passes for the entire staff; speechwriters were often late to meetings with the president because of this. The Bush library is full of memos asking for more passes.

•    You cannot be an effective president (or leader) without understanding the importance of giving a good speech.
o    FDR and Reagan were the greatest speech presenters, followed by Kennedy. The worst were Ford, Carter and George W. Bush.

•    The Challenge for Obama, who has a good relationship with his speech writers, will be whether he understands the limitations. The answer to everything isn’t to give a speech or hold a town hall meeting. Only the president can drown himself out at the bully pulpit.

•    The Internet is double-edged sword. Because of YouTube, you can now see an entire speech rather than just soundbites on the TV news. But you also have bits and pieces showing up more and to a wider audience than before. Also, every time someone speaks is showing up on the Internet, whether it’s a prepared speech or not. There are no private venues anymore. Someone is probably watching who will post it to the Internet.

•    Obama understands the power of words and how to use them. The question from a media standpoint will be, “Oh the president’s on the road again this week, what else is going on?” And there are only so many times you can use the same tool.

•    There are three factors for greatness when giving a speech:

o    How well the speech is delivered
o    How good the speech is
o    Are the surrounding circumstances/context/timing in the right mix for the speech to work?

Highlights from the Speechwriters Conference, Part 1

I recently attended a great Speechwriters Conference sponsored by Ragan Communications and PRSA.

There was a lot of information covered in two days that many folks in the PR industry could find useful. So, with my regards to the conference presenters, I’ve decided to post the highlights based on the notes I took.

These certainly aren’t complete in terms of what you can learn when you attend such a conference in person — and you lose out on the networking opportunities when you don’t go — but I wanted to put these notes to better use than simply ending up in a file on my computer.

I’m breaking them into segments so each blog post in this series will cover a different topic or presentation. There will be six parts and they start today, so check back all next week and see if there’s anything useful here for you.

I hope you find them helpful and if you have any questions about what my notes say or mean, please feel free to contact me.

And now, for the first installment:

tom-mucioloHighlights of Tom Mucciolo on Visuals for Presentations

Muciolo, president of MediaNet and a recognized industry expert in visual communications and business presentations, spoke about making your visuals matter as much as your words:

•    Your audience can’t read the screen presentation and listen to the speaker at the same time (unless they were born after 1987).
•    Your slides should be supportive of the speech, not replace it.
o    Think about how you can make the image effective. Presentation graphics reduce meeting time by 28%.
•    When bullet points wrap to a second line, people are compelled to read them.
•    When the slides are too well written, “I might as well just read it back,” is what the presenter thinks.
•    Purpose of visual support is to tease the audience, never please them. They should say, “I don’t completely get it, I need you to explain.”

•    Think: Purpose, movement, color

o    Every picture tells the story, not a story
o    If you can move slides around, they aren’t effective. They should tie into the flow of the presentation. If you can move stuff around, you have too much stuff.
o    For an hour-long, presentation, prepare 40 minutes of stuff.

•    Try standing 8 feet away from your laptop screen and run the presentation. If you can’t see the text, it’s too small for your audience to see.

•    The book is different than the movie, so the slides should be different than the handouts.

o    100% of info in the handouts
o    40% in your talk
o    20% in your visuals

•    The average attention span on any visual is 8 seconds. Text doesn’t guide the eye; geometric shapes do guide the eyes.
o    The eye slows down on serif type and slows down on sans serif. Emails in Arial are read more quickly; to slow down the reader and get more comprehension, use Times Roman.

•    More than seven consecutive upper case words will force the audience to read something again. This is the equivalent of speaking with no tone or inflection and you shouldn’t do it.

•    Get the focus of the audience off the slide quickly.

•    Slide content helps the audience and the speaker. Specifically, it helps the speaker to keep track of their thoughts.

•    Use the Build Sequence:

o    Line one is revealed
o    Gray out line one then line two is revealed
o    Gray second line and third one is revealed

•    Use a radio frequency remote instead of an infrared remote. Mirrors in a room can make infrared keep bouncing and keep changing the slides.

•    Text should never move!

•    You should never have to use a laser pointer. Use arrows on the screen as your laser pointer.

•    You can comprehend a complicated slide easier if you build it and the audience can watch it being built. However, they cannot subtract pieces from a complicated picture presented all at once.

•    Logos don’t belong on a template. Brand the first image and your handouts only.
o    Anything people can touch with their hands should have a logo (handouts, etc.)

•    See if the graphic you want to use can be used as part of the slide rather than as an add-on.

•    Think about color
o    Backgrounds should be dark, text should be bright.

•    Always proofread visuals backwards, one word at a time

•    Never use decimal points on visuals.