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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    Book Review: A Whole New Mind, by Daniel H. Pink

    A Whole New Mind CoverAfter reading Leonardo’s Brain I was inspired by the practical advice for overcoming limited left-brained thinking in Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. While this might not enable us to evolve an integrated body and mind to the level of da Vinci, at least it offers a place to start on the journey that Leonard Shlain says is required if we are to survive as a species.

    The Conceptual Age

    The first part of the book argues that Western societies are undergoing a change from a left-brain dominant Information Age to a right-brained Conceptual Age. The abundance of material goods and information, where obscure facts can be retrieved instantly with a search engine, lessens the value placed on linear “just the facts Ma’am” thinking. Highly paid knowledge workers are being displaced by low-cost workers in Asia, and routine tasks that rewarded those who excel at left-brained logic and sequential thinking are being automated. According to Pink, the yes men of yesteryear will soon disappear (or at least, move to India and China).

    Today’s winners in the West need to explore patterns, abstractions, and designs if they are to “rule the future”. The MFA is the new MBA. The age of the image replaces the alphabetic mind. A picture is worth a thousand words. The Conceptual Age requires we cultivate creativity over calculation. The second half of the book investigates six ways to do this.

    The Six Senses

    Pink inventories six abilities we can cultivate to succeed in the Conceptual Age:

    Design or the cultivation of an artistic sensibility, shaping our environment in ways that give meaning to our lives.

    Storytelling to make our communications memorable by putting things into context, enriched by emotion and structured for maximum impact.

    Symphony or synthesis of relationships and patterns, crossing boundaries and making bold leaps of imagination. Viewing the big picture and not obsessing over details. (Indeed, he celebrates dyslexia as an indicator of superior intuition and big-picture insights.)

    Empathy imagining ourselves in someone else’s position, reading faces not just spreadsheets.

    Play as we move away from sober seriousness to experience what happens when humor suddenly returns.

    Meaning in our lives including the willingness to embrace our spiritual side.

    Practical Portfolios

    At the end of each of the six chapters in Part Two, Pink lists a portfolio of practical ways we can help to sharpen that ability in our own lives. here’s a wonderfully eclectic series of suggestions, any one of which has the capability to begin to change how we engage a whole new mind. There’s at least a dozen suggestions at in each portfolio. I especially loved:

    Design which includes his audacious recommendation that we choose a household item that annoys us in some way, sketch out an improvement and send the suggestion to the manufacturer to see what happens. (I could start with the iced water dispenser in our refrigerator which *will* leak onto the floor…)

    Story Write a 50-word mini saga (or, better yet, tell your life story in six words.) For example, this mini saga titled The Talking Fingers of my Great Greek Grandfather by Bob Thurber. Or, perhaps this 50-word extract of verse from a Welsh poet:

    ..I was young and easy under the apple boughs
    About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
    The night above the dingle starry,
    Time let me hail and climb
    Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
    And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns.

    Draw on the Right Side of the Brain.

    Empathy by taking an acting or improv class.

    Play By visiting a laughter club.

    Meaning by taking a technology sabbath one day a week.

    At the end of the day, however, muting the left brain in favor of a more integrated view of reality will probably require more profound changes than any of us are capable of in an afternoon acting or drawing class. Indeed, in the decade that has passed since Pink wrote this book, the rise of image-based communication via smartphones and internet video has started to eclipse the stranglehold the written word has on us. It remains to be seen if future Leonardo’s are being incubated in this new environment.

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    Book Review: Leonardo’s Brain, by Leonard Shlain

    Leonardo's Brain CoverLeonard Shlain’s latest, and final, book is a tour-de-force. Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding Da Vinci’s Creative Genius follows from the spirit of the author’s previous books, most notably The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image and Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light. Taken together, the three books examine the way alphabetic literacy reconfigured the human brain and brought about profound changes in history, religion, and gender relations; review the ways art interprets the visible world while science charts its unseen workings; and describe the manner in which a unique individual transcended the divisions between left and right-brained approaches to the world to achieve exceptional genius.

    A Celebration of Genius

    Shlain’s work is an unabashed celebration of da Vincis’ staggering range of achievements in the art, science and invention. Despite the five centuries that have passed since da Vinci lived, Shlain marshals evidence to show the scope of his genius resulted on the unique physiology of his brain that allowed him to achieve all he did in both art and science.

    Much of the evidence is based on the neuroscience with which the author, a practicing laparoscopic surgeon, extrapolates from the fact that da Vinci was a gay left-handed (but ambidextrous) man and a vegetarian pacifist. From both his paintings and his scientific journals, Shlain infers that da Vinci was able to transcend the division between the left and right hemispheres of his brain and achieve a synthesis that was the engine of his genius:

    For creativity to manifest itself, the right brain must free itself from the deadening hand of the inhibitory left brain and do its work, unimpeded… (p.92)

    This synthesis unleashed a creative force that allowed da Vinci to recognize novel patterns in the world, seeing with a heightened level of alertness and clarity.

    Remote Viewing

    Beyond this level of appreciation, however, Shlain proposes a truly startling argument that some of da Vinci’s work, such as the drawings of the town plan of Imola and the scheme for a canal to bypass the Arno could only have been made if he was capable of “remote viewing”, or:

    …the skill to enter a space-time consciousness, discard the rational left brain, and acquire a quantum look at the world. (p.157)

    This extraordinary level of perception might also explain how he was able to draw a bird’s trajectory in slow motion or stop time to draw water caught in midair, even drawing how it appeared beneath the surface.

    Prior Unity

    Shlain sees da Vinci’s achievements as a sign of hope for humanity at the start of the twenty-first century, experiencing a transitional stage of evolution as a species. He speculates that we are entering a period in which humanity is changing:

    The absence or presence of creativity determines what we believe…Perhaps we will develop into an improved version of Homo sapiens as more of us become less interested in power and more interested in matters of the heart. (p. 194)

    As the Western-born Spiritual Adept Adi Da Samraj has written:

    I am interested in finding men and women who are free of every kind of seeking, who are attendant only to understanding, and who will devote themselves to the intentional creation of human life in the form and logic of Reality, rather than the form and logic of Narcissus. Such men are the unexploitable Presence of Reality … They will create in the aesthetics of Reality, turning all things into radical relationship and enjoyment. They will remove the effects of separative existence and restore the Form of things. They will engineer every kind of stability and beauty. They will create a Presence of Peace. Their eye will be on present form and not on exaggerated notions of artifice. Their idea of form is stable and whole, not a gesture toward some other event. They will not make the world seem but a symbol for higher and other things.

    Shalin’s Legacy

    Shlain’s life ended just as he was finishing the manuscript for this book. The terrible irony is that he, who shared so many insights about the brain, passed away from brain cancer. The book was finished with the help of his three children: Kimberley, Jordan and Tiffany. We owe them, and their father, an immense debt for sharing his insights with us.

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    Tip: The value of blogging

    Here’s a brief video from National Speakers Association member Gerard Braud, CSP, who explains why frequent blogging is key for any professional speaker or subject expert. It’s an invaluable form of content marketing and SEO, so clients find you online.

    The proof for Gerard is that a Google search on his area of expertise “crisis communications expert” lists him at the top of the organic results (immediately following the paid ads)
    Gerard Braud Google Search Result

    This has also been my own experience with searches on “high tech speechwriter”, “technology speechwriter” or “Silicon Valley speechwriter”.

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    One-word program evaluations

    Writing in the excellent weekly newsletter SpeakerNetNews, Ron Shapiro, a speaker and consultant in career development, education and learning, shares an effective technique for collecting feedback from attendees at his programs.

    He notes that while doing an extensive survey might be nice, it would consume a disproportionate amount of time in short programs. Instead, he asks participants to summarize the program in one word on business card stock which he distributes. He then makes this feedback into a word cloud which he sends to the sponsors displays on his website.

    One Word pogram eval

    This is a creative, and fun, way to capture the essence of his programs and serves to show how the participants felt afterwards.

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    NSA logo risks

    National Speakers Association Logo

    Writing in today’s Washington Post Emily Wax-Thibodeaux highlights the oddball and usual gifts found in the gift shops of federal agencies like the DEA, CIA, Centers for Disease Control and National Security Agency. The tchotchkes on sale include NASA’s freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream with a three-year shelf life; an inflatable NASA astronaut; sheets of $2 bills from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing; and a gavel-shaped pencil with a two-headed eraser from the Supreme Court.

    The article does warn that some agencies also have safety concerns. After the Sept. 11 attacks, shops have been more careful about selling clothing with the insignia of national security and law enforcement agencies. These items could turn the wearer into a target of anti-American violence.

    National Security Agency logo

    At the NSA gift shop, near the National Cryptologic Museum, store manager Robin Bunch said she often thinks about this. So she typed up a warning and taped it to the wall:

    “Although owning an NSA logo item does not necessarily imply that one is an NSA employee, it can raise a level of interest. Consider for example where the item will be worn/used and take into account local threat conditions.”

    This might be something the members of the National Speakers Association (the other NSA, y’know, the one that SPEAKS, not LISTENS) might want to keep in mind. While our logo bears absolutely no resemblance to the other NSA and features a hand-help microphone with a cord, there are professional speakers who wear shirts, caps and bags they buy at conferences with the logo on. A past president of the Northern California chapter once told me he was boarding a flight wearing a golf shirt with an NSA logo when a guy in horn-rimmed glasses gave him a knowing wink and said “Remember back when we weren’t even able to tell people where we worked…”

    It’s a case of Caveat emptor quid emeris aut circumdatio. Loosely translated: Buyer beware of wearing what you buy.

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    TuneIn Radio: A great platform for podcasts

    TuneIn Radio

    TuneIn is a popular app available for iOS and Android devices. It allows anyone to listen to radio stations from around the world. With over 50 million monthly active users, TuneIn lets people listen to the world’s sports, news, talk, and music from wherever they are. TuneIn has over 100,000 radio stations and more than four million on-demand podcasts streaming from every continent.

    I’ve built a preliminary TuneIn playlist that includes current episodes of the Iain Anderson Show from BBC Radio Scotland, Late Junction from BBC Radio 3, and A Way with Words from NPR. In the future I expect to browse for music programs to add from Australia, Thailand and Ireland. Any suggestions?

    Podcasting on TuneIn

    While my Professionally Speaking podcast is available on iTunes in the U.S., I don’t believe this is case outside of America. So I was pleased to discover that TuneIn allows anyone with a podcast feed to upload their material so that it is carried on this platform with a global reach. I’ve now added Professionally Speaking to TuneIn.

    If you have a podcast that you’d like featured on TuneIn simply fill in this form.

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    Podcasting comes of age


    It’s been over seven years since I recorded my first podcast and six years since I posted my Podcasting 101 tutorial. I’ve been encouraged by the growing popularity of podcasts and my own playlist allows me to listen to the BBC, NPR and experts such as Wendy Hanson and Phil McKinney.

    However, it wasn’t until I read the cover story in the Financial Times Weekend Life & Arts section this week that I realized the extent to which podcasting has come of age. Sarah Gordon and Shannon Bond report on The Serial , a new weekly podcast that has attracts over 2.2 million listeners. The series has been downloaded over 20 million times.

    The Serial debuted in October 2014 and is a spinoff of the NPR radio program This American Life. The episodes are about the 1999 murder of a Baltimore high school student for which the woman’s ex-boyfriend is serving a life sentence.

    The podcast resonates with the millennial generation and has generated ancillary blogs, YouTube videos and meetup groups of listeners.

    The FT quotes Edison Research statistics stating that 39 million Americans, 15% of the over-12 population, listened to a podcast last month. Brands are increasingly interested in podcasts and popular ones like The Serial (sponsored by MailChimp) are profitable.

    Whenever I tell people about podcasting, I’m asked “How do you make money?”. My answer is that you and I can’t. The average podcaster can burnish their professional reputation and promote interest in topics and people that interest them. However, just as with amateur vs. professional sports, just because you might enjoy hitting a ball around at the weekend for fun, it does not mean you’re at the same level as a professional producer from This American Life who hits one out of the park.

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