The key to effective ghostwriting is to capture the essence, the tone, and most importantly the message the speaker wants to deliver and needs to deliver, and to create and execute a process for doing so without placing undue demands on the speaker’s time and attention.
Still, while many leaders in government, business and nonprofits rely on ghostwriters to put their visions into words, in the end, both the thoughts and the words are those of the leaders. The key is to establish a ghostwriting process that is customized to the individual and his or her comfort zone.
There is no one right way to do it, but there is a set of steps that should be followed to give the ghostwriting process the structure it needs to succeed. For simplicity, I will use the term “chief” to describe the leader who will give the speech or whose byline will be used, though I understand that titles will change.
The Planning Meeting – Oftentimes, the chief insists on participating in this meeting, but there are times when he or she attends by proxy. In other words, the chief has a meeting with a senior staffer who then represents the CEO in the planning meeting with the ghostwriter. This person provides the writer with all of the initial background, guidance and internal contact and resource information needed to get started on research and writing. Sometimes, the writer plays the role of reporter, asking questions and posing scenarios to get the chief’s perspectives, personal anecdotes and insights.
This meeting is also the time to identify third-party trade organizations, subject-matter experts and others who can provide background and data to be used in the final product.
Learning the Chief’s Style – Thanks to YouTube, I’ve been able to watch executives I’ve never met deliver speeches in a variety of forums. So when a couple of execs have called on me to write for them, if I have been able to study their styles without having to actually sit in the audience and watch. Needless to say, when it comes to style, video accelerates the learning curve immensely. But so do audio recordings, previous written materials, and when possible and as appropriate the chance to sit in on group meetings to watch the chief speak.
Once the writer learns the chief’s speaking or writing style, and knows what the written document is supposed to achieve, the developmental work can begin.
Creating the Voice of the Piece – The piece should start to come together in outline form and perhaps as an abstract. While some clients don’t want to review a first draft until it is complete, I’ve had one client ask to see the text for the first 3-4 minutes of a 20-minute speech before I went any further, just to see the direction and tone. No matter what the approach, it is important as early as possible to confirm that the style and approach is what the chief wants.
Still, there are times when we don’t have all of the information we need when we need it. That shouldn’t prevent the writer from fleshing out the document in as much detail as possible, while bookmarking those sections that require more information.
The Review Process – The review process is the most important part of the ghostwriting process. This is where the writer hands the draft off to the chief, who puts a personal stamp on the work and takes ownership. He or she makes edits and provides feedback for revisions. The review and approval process gives the final work its unique distinctive voice, customized and personalized to the person who will deliver the message.