This is the second installment in what’s becoming a series of responses to reader questions. The two questions selected for this blog are ones I’ve received over the years.
Question #1: My CEO wants me to write a speech for him to give to an industry group. I’ve never written a speech before. Where do I start?
– Ashley M.
Response: The best place to start is to have a meeting with your CEO if possible. At that meeting, come armed with as many questions as possible. In order to do that, you need to do your homework first. Find out when the speech will be, how long is it expected to take, who is the audience, the format (speech, keynote, panel, formal or informal, etc.), if visual aids are expected or required, if your speaker likes to read from a script or note cards, and what guidelines the host has provided in terms of speech topics and themes.
If other speakers will be at the event, find out who they are and what they will be speaking about. The more you know about the venue and the context, the more you can hone in on your approach.
In your initial meeting with the CEO, work to determine what areas of focus should form the substance of the speech draft. Play the role of reporter, asking questions and posing scenarios to get the CEO’s input. It’s best to have a recorder with you so that you can gather the information most efficiently and better focus on covering all of your questions. Later on playback, you can study the speaking style and word choice that comes most naturally to the CEO.
The next step is one not every speechwriter follows, but I do. I like to personally transcribe the recording from the meeting. It’s tedious work but for me it helps me truly immerse myself in the subject matter and better pick up on the tone and feel of the speech from the start. Usually by the time I’m done with this task, I have a feel for how I’d like to approach the speech creatively.
Other tip is to study any videos of your CEO from other speeches.
Next, start writing. Create an outline and develop that into a first draft. Don’t let the lack of certain details keep you from writing as complete a first draft as possible. Just bookmark spots where you think data, statistics, stories and anecdotes may better fill out and humanize the speech at that point.
This is your “Swiss cheese draft,” which will not be ready for review until you’ve gone back and done the necessary research and thinking to fill in those holes. From there, you will need to go through an arduous editing process, until you are most comfortable with the feel of it. Keep in mind, you are writing for the ear and the eyes of the audience. Keep your words short, direct and active. Create visuals through active verbs and strong imagery. And above all, humanize the speech with stories the tie directly to the speech’s theme.
That’s an overview. If you have any specific questions on this, feel free to let me know off line and I’ll be glad to respond.
Question #2: A newspaper recently ran a story based on an interview one of their reporters did with a senior manager at our organization. The published story seemed to infer that a comparably sized competitor of ours is bigger than us. My boss wants me to request a correction in the newspaper. Will they run it?
– Michelle D.
Response: Probably not, and even if they would, the correction itself is not likely to be seen by many of those who saw the original article, making little difference.
At the same time, the one group of people who will notice this gesture are a few editors and reporters in the newsroom, who may react in different ways. One or two may respond the way your organization hopes and realize the story may not have been as accurate as it could be. But others may not react as constructively.
Any time you interact with the media, the best approach is to think of the long term. Determine how “egregious” the immediate story may be, and then decide if it’s worth adding any tension to the relationship between your organization and the news organization involved. Just as we constantly work to build positive relationships with the media, some organizations have a tendency to undermine that when they become unnecessarily demanding or critical of certain news organizations.
In cases where the error is truly damaging to the organization, such as alleging or implying unethical behavior on the part of senior management with no substantiation, then you may be obligated to demand corrective action from the news organization. But in this case, the nature of the offense does not seem to warrant spoiling the waters of your relationship with the news organization.
If you have a question you’re like to discuss one-on-one or see addressed in this space, please get in touch.