Highlights of the 2015 Ragan Speechwriters Conference

Capitol BuildingSilicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable joined David Murray on a conference call earlier this week. This is the second of two edited highlights of the call. In part one David talked about the way the profession has changed.

In this second edited highlight, he reviews the highlights from the 2015 Ragan Speechwriters Conference which took place in Washington DC last week.

David shares how impressed he was with the keynote by Rod Thorn, a Communication Executive at PepsiCo. In his talk Rod, who came from the humblest of origins, tells how he comes to understand his ultimate worth: “I am the people I’ve been flying over.”

David also comments on the initiative that Mark Buchanan shared about the ways they are changing the way people at Cisco write and speak. His team is helping people use language in simpler, more distinctive ways.

Finally, he touches on the presentation by Monique Visintainer, an Executive Communications Manager at Microsoft, who discussed how best to organize executive communications plans and set goals in the corporate setting.

To hear what he said, click on the podcast icon below.

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The changing world of speechwriting

Speechwriting TodayMembers of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable joined Vital Speeches of the Day Editor David Murray on a conference call earlier this week. This is the first of three edited highlights of the call.

David is executive director of the Professional Speechwriters Association and was the MC of the recent Ragan Speechwriters Conference. He’s been a fixture on the speechwriting scene since the early 1990′s.

In this part of the conference call, David reflects on the changes in the profession of speechwriting since the days of the “pipe smoking, erudite and slightly eccentric” gentlemen speechwriters of the old school.

To hear what he said, click on the podcast icon below.

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Lady & the Champs Speakers’ Conference

Lady and the Champs
This Saturday, February 28 & Sunday, March 1, 2015 award-winning keynote speaker and speech coach Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE hosts a weekend of intense learning that can transform your speaking. Fripp will host World Champions of Public Speaking Mark Brown, Ed Tate, Darren LaCroix and other world-class professional speakers.

If you are too busy to travel to Las Vegas this weekend–or just allergic to slot machines and poker tables–you can take advantage of an opportunity to attend virtually by registering for streaming media access to the event. For under $200 you’ll have access to the program materials for a full year.

The Crimson King

As an added bonus Patricia’s brother, renowned guitarist Robert Fripp will deliver his unique message. As much as Robert Fripp is internationally-known for his brilliance with the guitar, he is a superb and entertaining speaker. Robert is equally comfortable discussing the history of religion with a country vicar as he is discussing world economics with world leaders.


These two days feature presentations focused on building speaking skills and the business side of public speaking. Topics include:

  • Cultivating successful disciplines and habits to prepare for a speech
  • Box-Office hit storytelling
  • Delivering interactive speeches for audience engagement
  • The locker room speech: How leaders can inspire action
  • The making of million-dollar story
  • …and much more

Follow the event on Twitter with the hashtag #LadyChamps15.

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American ingenuity: Bicycle Blender Gypsy

Bicycle BlenderHats off to Mark Harris, a nomadic 70-year-old man riding across America on his bicycle volunteering his time on organic farms in exchange for room and board and living on a raw food diet.

With classic American ingenuity, Mark has attached a kitchen blender to the rear of his bicycle and whips up his next meal while cycling the highways and byways.

You can see Mark in action blending his next meal in the video below and follow his adventures on his Transcendental Art of Bicycle Blender Touring blog.

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Toastmasters Kicks Off World’s Largest Speech Contest

Toastmasters LogoThe world’s largest speech competition has launched with more than 30,000 contestants in 126 countries vying for the title of World Champion of Public Speaking. The Toastmasters International Speech Contest begins with participants practicing and giving their presentations in local clubs as they polish their oratory skills while advancing to area, division and district levels. The competition culminates with the World Championship of Public Speaking on Aug. 15 in Las Vegas.

Speak Now…

A panel of experienced Toastmasters judges evaluates nine contestants from different parts of the world, all of whom have advanced to the finals following a year-long process of elimination through club, area, district and semifinal competitions.

Criteria used in judging includes speech content, organization, voice quality and gestures.

“The speech contest is one of the highlights of the Toastmasters experience,” says Toastmasters International President Mohammed Murad. “Speakers from all over the world compete in the contest. Win or lose, contestants benefit from taking their public speaking skills to the next level.“

What’s said in Las Vegas…

Ninety-one district semifinalists will compete during the Toastmasters 2015 International Convention held Aug. 12 – 15, in Las Vegas, at Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino. Finalists will make it to the final round on Aug. 15, where the winner is crowned the Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking.

To be eligible for the competition, participants must be age 18 or older, and present a five-to seven-minute speech in English on any topic. Judging criteria include speech content, originality, organization, gestures, style and timing.

“The speech contest represents the end of a great journey for contestants,” says Dananjaya Hettiarachchi from Columbo, Sri Lanka, who is Toastmasters’ 2014 World Champion of Public Speaking. “To begin at the club-level and proceed through the area, division and district contests takes a lot of confidence, practice and, most importantly, self-determination.”

Take a look at Hettiarachchi’s inning speech from the 2014 World Championship:

Lady and the Champs

Later this month you can catch up with past winners including 1995 World Champion Mark Brown and 2001 World Champion Darren LaCroix who will be conducting a public speaking workshop with National Speakers Association past-president Patricia Fripp Feb 28 – Mar 1 in, where else, but Las Vegas!

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Changing the Corporate Conversation

Change the Corporate ConversationThere are over 11 million corporate meetings every day in the United States, yet how often do we walk into a corporate meeting wondering why we are there? Or walk out angry that we’ve wasted another precious hour and accomplished nothing?

What makes for a good conversation, or a meaningful meeting? Why are good conversations so elusive? How can we use our communications and leadership skills to ensure that more conversations at work excite participants, enable them to connect deeply with each other, and enhance organizational productivity?

These were some of the questions raised in an NSA/NC Salon held last Sunday, hosted by Wendy Hanson, featuring Chapter President-Elect Jim Ware.

Jim is the author of Changing the Corporate Conversation (forthcoming) and a former Harvard Business School professor who has spent his entire career teaching clients how to invent their own futures. He is the founder and Executive Director of The Future of Work…unlimited, Global Research Director for Occupiers Journal Limited, and a Partner with the FutureWork Forum. He is also a co-founder of the new Great Work Cultures movement.

Jim believes that as leaders in organizations and communications specialists we all have an opportunity — and responsibility — to focus our energy of drawing out the unique insights and experiences that each of us brings to the workplace. Teams that understand the power of collaboration, rooted in authentic conversation, make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

The Social Construction of Reality

My own interest in conversation pre-dates my life in the corporate world. Reading C Wright Mills in my Leicester University Sociology class left an indelible impression. His 1940 paper on Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive explains the social, rather than the psychological, reasons people say what they do in conversation with others. Certain statements will be acceptable in some contexts, not in others. Indeed, as I’ve written here before, the ‘technology of interaction’ in meetings points to a whole raft of unstated assumptions, social norms, cultural influences and power relations underpinning conversations.

Want to see these social forces in action? They’re not difficult to spot. It’s as simple as watching when an idea voiced by a woman in a meeting is ignored, while the same from a man is applauded. Or listening to how much more loudly people laugh at the boss’s jokes than yours.

Talk Talk

Following Mills, sociologists such as Garfinkle and Goffman developed the sociology of conversation analysis. In formal meetings, as well as informal interactions, responses which agree with the position advocated tend to be offered sooner than statements that disagree with those positions. One consequence of this is that agreement and acceptance are easier alternatives and a natural outcome of many meetings.

Fair Warning

So, next time you’re in a meeting where they call for ‘honest feedback’ just remember the warning of the French philosopher:

Voltaire quote

But I digress.

To hear some of what Jim shared at the meeting, click on the podcast icon below.

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Screenwriting and Storytelling Secrets for Speechwriters

StorytellingMembers of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable joined speechwriter, screenwriter and author Mike Long on a conference call earlier this week. This is the second of two edited highlights of the call. In part one Mike talked about becoming a freelance speechwriter.

In this second edited highlight, Mike talks about how his experience as a screenwriter helps him write better speeches and the core elements essential to any story. To hear what he said, click on the podcast icon below.

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Becoming a Freelance Speechwriter

FreelanceMembers of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable joined speechwriter, screenwriter and author Mike Long on a conference call earlier this week. This is the first of two edited highlights of the call.

Mike is the former director of the White House Writers Group, and an accomplished speechwriter, author, essayist, and award-winning screenwriter and playwright. He has written remarks for members of Congress, U.S. Cabinet secretaries, governors, diplomats, CEOs, and four presidential candidates.

As director of writing for the Master of Professional Studies program in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at Georgetown University, he created the writing curriculum and teaches graduate courses in PR writing, speechwriting, and business and persuasive writing.

A popular and provocative speaker, he has been is a frequent presenter the Ragan Speechwriters Conference and appeared on CNBC in the U.S. and is a frequent commentator on CBC News: Morning with Heather Hiscox in Canada.

In this first of two edited highlights from the call, Mike talks about how he got into freelance writing and offers sage advice for anyone who is considering launching their own freelance career. To hear what he said, click on the podcast icon below.

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Secrets to Building a Successful Speaking Business

“The job is not doing the speech. It is getting the speech” – Shep Hyken

Shep Hyken The National President of the NSA, Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE spoke to members of the NSA Northern California Chapter on Saturday. Shep is a customer service expert, professional speaker and author who works with companies who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees.

His talk to the 80+ Chapter members and guests was a compendium of best practices he’s gathered over the 32 years he’s been a professional speaker. He shared the tips and techniques that he has used to build his own successful speaking business. His ideas ranged from the value of writing articles that will establish you as an expert in your field to how blogging, books, a website and social media are all part of a coordinated program to build momentum in the market.

Among the points I noted:

  • Consider using college interns for marketing tasks. Post openings at the business school. Ask candidates to review your website, suggest what they can do to help, how many hours they can work and what they need to be paid. Shep has been amazed by the creativity students bring to his office and the value they’ve added.
  • Re-purpose the content of your articles, blog postings and newsletters into a book. Start by listing titles onto index cards, shuffling them and seeing if there’s a structure for a book in there.
  • Transform articles into videos. Drop the text into telepromt+ so it scrolls by on the screen as you record the video on your webcam. Works best if you write as you speak.
  • Take this formula for green screen paint to Home Depot and have a gallon mixed up. Paint the wall of a spare room and put in a Sony videocam with external mic jack, some studio lights and you are set to record. Use an older version of the Sony Vegas software to edit, or the built-in software on a Mac.
  • Shep’s talk covered many more topics including the secrets of low-cost book publishing in hard cover; scripting your calls to prospective clients when using the phone to build your business; generating passive income from products, and more.

    To hear Shep in action, click on the podcast icon below. These two brief extracts of the his talk cover the ways he cultivates the ideal client and as his incredible 5-day social media publishing schedule that is a key part of his active marketing.

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    Survey: Speechwriters Seek to Turn Serendipity to Security

    Having “stumbled into” influential roles and a relatively lucrative career, members of the new Professional Speechwriters Association seek a safer, more strategic path, says the results of a membership survey.

    And what do the speechwriters say? Contrary to many other communications professions, they love their pay. But like many others in the creative class, they like the idea of their work better than the reality. And they’re unsettled about the future—a big reason they’re banding together to increase their job security and satisfaction.

    “I’ve been around speechwriters for more than two decades,” said PSA executive director David Murray. “These are consistently the most erudite, intense, joyful—and frustrated—people in the communication profession. Now that they have a platform to organize, I think they’ll realize their potential as powerful actors in their organizations and in society.”

    PSA logoMurray, the editor of the 81-year-old magazine Vital Speeches of the Day, formally launched the PSA a year ago with the organization’s first annual World Conference last May at New York University. That conference—like the new association that convened it—was the first created solely for people who do leadership communication for a living, and it drew practitioners from around the world.

    As a follow-up to the ground-breaking conference, the PSA joined with founding partner Gotham Ghostwriters to sponsor the first national survey of speechwriting pros, to get a better understanding of who they are and what they think about their work.

    Here’s a summary of the key findings from this timely survey:

    • Speechwriters are older than their colleagues in public relations, more likely to be male, better educated—and better paid. The typical speechwriter is a 51-year-old man with a Masters degree. More than half of speechwriters surveyed make more than $100K, with $23% pulling in more than $150K (half of those making over $200K).
    • Speechwriters found their way into their work through serendipity. Some speechwriters claimed a method to their professional madness, one saying he joined the business “to fuse my love of writing with my love of policy/politics.” But in a more typical answer to the question, “Why did you become a speechwriter in the first place?” one PSA member wrote that he “stumbled into the job—CEO needed a speech.”
    • Speechwriters love their work. Asked what they like most about speechwriting, speechwriters said, “shaping public debates,” “finding and telling stories,” intellectual and creative challenge and reward,” “the variety of topics and amazing people that I get to work with,” and “the silent hours when I through writing try to understand and share something important.”
    • And speechwriters hate their work. What do speechwriters like least about the job? Solitude, short deadlines, slow workflow, lawyers, leaders’ indifference. Speechwriters resent clients who “don’t care about content,” and bureaucrats who care too much. “I have to contend with constant micro-managing by people who see risk lurking in every corner and are afraid of letting the CEO take any kind of position,” one speechwriter said. “They also have no feel for what constitutes good writing yet exert a huge influence over the process.”
    • Speechwriters fear for the future. Speechwriters face new challenges, like the increasing use of Q&As and other informal presentation techniques to replace formal speeches. And they face timeless ones, like quantifying the strategic value of their work, and “the everlasting suspicion of rhetoric.”
    • And speechwriters envision a brighter future. Now that they’re getting organized for the first time in a global association, they face these challenges together, with a chance to exchange best practices and lend one another a helping hand. And that’s what they want from the Professional Speechwriters Association: Not another rigid structure in their lives, nor an elaborate guild or union, but straight-up professional development, and an expanded network through online networking platforms and “structured networking” at the PSA World Conference.
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