Announcing: A Conversation with Bob Lehrman

Bob LehrmanAs the U.S. Election Season heads into the final stretch, the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable is pleased to announce a timely conversation with renowned author, speechwriter and pundit, Bob Lehrman.

We’ll be hosting Bob on a worldwide conference call at 11:45am (Pacific) on Thursday September 1, 2016.

Robert A. Lehrman served as Chief Speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore and, in 2004, as Chief Speechwriter for the Democratic National Committee during his more than three decades of experience writing speeches. His 2009 book, The Political Speechwriters Companion is one of the best books I’ve ever read on speechwriting, period. He’s an editor of the new book Democratic Orators from JFK to Barack Obama (Palgrave/Macmillan 2016) and authored its chapters on the oratory of J.F.K. and Barack Obama.

Bob has written for political figures, celebrities, heads of nonprofits, and corporate CEOs. He created and co-teaches the political speechwriting course at American University, speaks often at other campuses, conferences, and associations, on the topic of political speechwriting, and has conducted four workshops in Hanoi for Vietnamese diplomats. Author of a number of award-winning novels, and many articles for publications like The New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Politico, Bob has a B.A. from Tufts University and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he studied with Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Yates.

The call is open to anyone interested. There’s no charge to attend. Here’s where you can find dial-in & RSVP information.

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California Dreaming

SFMOMAThere’s a shockingly misinformed review of the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the Weekend FT. The article, Westward, look, the land is bright (the title taken from a line in an an obscure 19th century poem) is written by the cosmopolitan architect Thomas Sevcik. While I can’t comment on his claims about the overall quality of the art on display in the new museum, or quibble with the cultural shift to the West Coast from the East in the U.S., there’s no way to overlook the ridiculousness of four of his ideas.

The end of art fairs

Sevcik anticipates the time when  ‘the West Coast-driven digitalisation of the art market makes art fairs obsolete’. Despite initiatives such as the Google Art Project, to properly appreciate art you still have to be able to eyeball it up close. Buyers and sellers like to sip wine and be seduced by expensive art in a face-to-face setting. Despite the success of Amazon, people still attend the Franfurt Book Fair and flock to Hay-on-Wye. A couple of years back, Jan Dalley wrote in the FT on the paradox of performance: despite digialization people still like to meet in person.

You need a humanities education to collect art

Central to Sevcik’s article is the power of money to influence art. The fact that the highlights of SFMOMA were gifted by the founders of the Gap clothing stores is consigned to a sidebar. Sevcik wonders if the titans of tech will buy art, in contrast to the East Coast plutocracy that included bankers who ‘collected art because many of them had a humanities education’. Perhaps these guys did take a few art history classes on their way to economics, finance and accounting degrees. But that does not mean everyone with a tech fortune studies nothing by computer science in college. Steve Jobs famously audited calligraphy classes at Reed College. Many of the most successful (Ellison, Zuckerberg, Gates) never actually finished college. When not collecting racing yachts Oracle’s Larry Ellison has an appreciation for Japanese art and culture.

The media is based in LA

Throughout the article, Sevcik conflates Los Angles, San Francisco and Seattle. At times he talks about the “West Coast” as a whole. Then he gets it spectacularly wrong on LA:

Most of the TV series we like so much, and virtually all globally relevant movies, are invented, written, developed and managed in Los Angeles.

Don’t tell this to Woody Allen or the Coen Brothers, the people of Michigan or Louisiana. Indeed, it’s been noted that Hollywood continues to flee California at an alarming rate.

We’re all about to become polygamists

OK, up to now the article has made some points that can be argued either way (maybe a majority of media does originate in LA; perhaps, given their wealth, tech titans don’t invest in as much art as others; and Bill Gates’ Seattle mansion does have digitized art on display) but in assessing the current ‘West Coast lifestyle’ Sevcik goes completely off the rails:

New West Coast lifestyle ideas, from questions about robots, cyborgs and space travel, to the legalization of polygamy (soon to come?)…

Say what?

I can only suspect this is either a wishful Freudian slip on the part of the author, or a typo on the part of an FT editor smoking the substance whose legalization might soon come but has nothing to do with outdated Mormon marriage practices.

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A Conversation with Sanjay Nambiar

Sanjay NambiarOn Thursday May 5, members of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable hosted a conference call with freelance speechwriter, author and publisher Sanjay Nambiar.

Sanjay is a veteran speechwriter and award-winning children’s book author. He has written speeches for CEOs and executives in a wide range of industries, from finance and technology to education and non-profits. Past clients include executives at Toyota, Comcast, and CBS among others.

He also has written several award-winning children’s books. In addition to being a speechwriter and author, Sanjay also is the CEO of SDPH Media, the company behind the multimedia global brand platform for the Super Duper Princess Heroes.

The focus of our conversation was Sanjay’s recommendations for building a freelance speechwriting business as well as his role as an author and publisher (something he has in common with other speechwriters such as Mike Long — playwright — and Justina Chen — young adult fiction author).

Sanjay reviewed the ways he built his client list that started with Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and pay-per-click ads. He also talked about the advantages and disadvantages of options such as Upwork (formally eLance), cold calling and mailing. He shared effective networking and referral techniques. We also discussed his publishing business.

To find out more, click on the podcast icon below to hear edited highlights from the call where Sanjay shares tips on building a freelance speechwriting business.

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Improving Communication is Key to Closing Millennials’ Workplace Skills Gap

ToastmastersIt’s universally acknowledged that employers seek applicants with strong speaking and writing abilities. Despite being highly educated and armed with technical skills, many millennials lack the soft skills to compete in the workplace. A survey by the Hay Group revealed that 80 percent of employers are struggling to find graduates with the soft skills they need. Communication is the most in-demand soft skill in most industries, including engineering, finance, healthcare, information technology and sales.

Soft skills are defined by Oxford Dictionaries as personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. In addition to communication, organization, writing, leadership, problem solving and customer service are among the most desired soft skills in nearly every occupation.

“Job seekers with a good mix of both technical and soft skills will have the best prospects right out of college,” says Rosemary Haefner, Chief Human Resources Officer of CareerBuilder.

To help develop soft skills, millennials and all prospective employees are encouraged to focus on ways they can build the skills they lack. An effective method of developing communication and leadership skills is to join Toastmasters International. Toastmasters offers a supportive setting where people can improve these skills through practice and become more confident communicators and stronger leaders.

Corporate Clubs

Nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies offer in-house Toastmasters clubs, including Apple, Bank of America, The Coca-Cola Company, Google and Microsoft. These employers have found the Toastmasters program to be an effective staff development tool that benefits their organization.

Many of these corporate venues welcome visitors from outside the organization, who are not employed there. I was a member of the HP Hilltop Club that used to meet just down the hall from Carly Fiorina’s office in the Hewlett Packard Headquarters building. It was open to anyone who wished to attend. I hasten to add that Carly herself was not a member.

Job Seekers

Millennials looking to advance their career should be aware that visiting a corporate club gives a unique opportunity to network with employees.

“Prospective employees, including millennials, should focus on building the skills that will give them an advantage over other candidates,” says Jim Kokocki Toastmasters 2015-16 International President. “Employers want to hire people who can communicate effectively and work well with others. Toastmasters offers a place to develop and strengthen these skills.”

If your company does not yet have a club, consider starting one. “Forming a corporate Toastmasters club is an effective and inexpensive way to develop, enhance and retain employees,” says Toastmasters Chief Executive Officer Daniel Rex. “We are experiencing record growth as an organization in part because of the large increase in the number of corporate clubs. We expect that trend to continue as the skills we teach are always in demand in the marketplace.”

Finding the Right Club

While they all follow the same structure for meetings, no two Toastmasters Clubs are the same. The members make the club. When looking for a suitable group, it’s a great idea to take the time to visit a number of different clubs. Since there are approximately 30,000 Toastmasters members in the U.S. between the age of 18 and 34 it should be possible to find a club with people of similar interests. The last thing you want is to make your Icebreaker speech on current topics to a room full of retirees.

To find a Toastmasters club near you, visit toastmasters.org/findaclub.

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Book Review: Disrupted, by Dan Lyons

Disputed Book Cover People in Limerick like to point out that Angela’s Ashes is more a story of Frank McCourt’s life in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father than it is about growing up in the Ireland of the 1930s. I’d like to point out that Dan Lyons has written more of a story about one dysfunctional and bizarre company in Boston than any ‘trenchant analysis of the start-up world’ in general.

I can claim to know what I speak of, since I’ve spent my entire career in Silicon Valley and I’m a good decade older than Dan, working in a company where many, but not all, of the employees are half my age. There’s nothing remotely similar to his experiences at HubSpot in the various marketing departments I’ve worked in.

How the mighty have fallen

Perhaps because I did not come from as a rarefied an environment as he did working for Pulitzer Prize winners and interviewing Bill Gates, I’ve never been discombobulated by the generational differences that keep Dan awake at night.

Unlike Dan, I walk to work every day past the Salesforce Tower without thinking of Marc Benioff’s genitalia.

I can converse with younger workers who are the age of my own kids without feeling demeaned by the experience.

I take pride in writing blog postings and managing social media (despite my advanced age…) for the various organizations I’ve worked for.

Bursting the bubble

That said, Lyons does get it right in his broader analysis of the tech world, specifically his telling critique of the well-funded software start-ups that are currently burning through the VC’s cash with abandon. Just this morning I heard a radio program about the dozens and dozens of new companies offering Parking Apps. How many will be around a year from now? These may well become the poster children for the coming collapse of the new tech companies just as pets.com and others were for the first dot-com bust.

Ageism in the software industry

Likewise, he’s got a point about ageism in tech. After all, Mark Zukerberg did say that young people are just smarter and the thin disguise of hiring for ‘cultural fit’ often results in clones of the founders filling the cubes. But just as guilty are the recruiters for trading floors and venture capital companies.

Vaporware

At the end of the day it’s obvious that Lyons was happier vaping cannabis oil on the west coast than eating humble pie back east. He’s one of the gang on the Sony lot in Culver City working with a team that he admits engaged in ‘trading the worst poop-related stories we’ve ever heard, and pitching jokes about enormous cocks’. One can only wonder if the culture shock he experienced at HubSpot would pale in comparison to someone whose not pickled in the same journalistic brine that formed him trying to hold their own in that environment.

Perhaps the best solution would have been for him to bond over a bong with the youngsters in the start-up, ensuring a mellow time for one and all.

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Are you missing a sense of place?

You’re everywhere and nowhere baby, that’s where you’re at
Going down a bumpy hillside, in your hippy hat
Flying across the country, and getting fat
Saying everything is groovy, when your tires are flat

– Jeff Beck, Hi Ho Silver Lining

I recently flew across the country on a business trip to Boston, the place where I spent my first two years in America. Revisiting old haunts in Somerville and Cambridge I found some familiar places that were mostly unchanged (Harvard Yard, the newsstand, the Coop) mixed together with a gentrified Inman Square and a booming Bean Town where, as in San Francisco, rising property prices are impacting traditional blue collar neighborhoods.

Since living in Boston I’ve called Portland Oregon, Bristol, Minneapolis and the San Francisco Bay Area home. Beforehand, I’d lived in Crewe and Leicester in the UK. All that moving around has left me with a distinct lack of a ‘sense of the continuing stories of a corner of the world and feeling absorbed into the pattern’ that comes from being rooted in one place as landscape architect Kim Wilkie writes in the Weekend FT.

Wilkie contrasts Voltaire’s recommendation to “cultivate our garden” in his satirical novel Candide (apparently banned in Boston as late as 1929, if Wikipedia is to be believed!) with the rootlessness of modern life:

Airbnb SloganOne of the more disconcerting advertisements I have seen recently is the Airbnb poster with the banner line “Belong Anywhere” — or perhaps belong nowhere? There is a beguiling freedom to anonymous movement. It allows you to develop individual identity and escape the preconceptions of your childhood. But at what point does freedom become rootlessness and alienation? Perhaps wandering is ideally just for teenagers, especially if you can choose which part of your life to spend as the teenage years.

Since it was partly reading Kerouac’s On The Road that made me originally want to explore America I can hardly complain. I certainly don’t feel alienated here in California where it’s more common to meet fellow immigrants than native sons.

Wilkie debates whether it’s best to cultivate a garden, or just accept that ‘many of us remain teenagers until we die’ and go with the flow. Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss would no doubt agree with Jeff Beck that everything is groovy despite life’s occasional flat tires.

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Book Review: The Big Book of Kombucha, by Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory

Big_Book_of_Kombucha_CoverHannah Crum (aka ‘Kombucha Mama’) changed my life. I bought my first Kombucha home brew ‘starter kit’ from her over four years ago and have been happily brewing my own ‘booch ever since. The Big Book of Kombucha is a big (383 page), bold and beautiful book full of a wealth of first-hand information on all aspects of Kombucha that Hannah and her partner Alex LaGory have curated over their years of involvement with the Kombucha sub-culture.

ScobysFrom the history and science of Kombucha to straightforward guidelines on the many aspects of brewing, decanting and flavoring this healthful fermented tea, Hannah and Alex cram an awful lot of really useful information into this book. I was especially impressed with the full color photographs of typical brews (taken of clear glass jars to show the yeast strands, fermentation process and various colors of healthy and unhealthy SCOBY’s). There’s ample information on troubleshooting everything from mold to poorly performing brews, as well as scientific guidelines on brew temperature, acidity, sweetness and suggested tea mixes.

Kombucha_BottlesThe second part of the book offers a huge range of recipes for flavoring, cocktails, smoothies and more. She even suggests intriguing ways to consume old growth SCOBYs (jerky, face masks etc.) This is the book I wish I’d had four years ago. I intend to take a close look at my current hit and miss production methods and implement their suggestions to improve things.

If you love Kombucha and are getting tired of paying $3-6 a bottle for the retail brands, invest in a copy of Hannah and Alex’s book and start brewing at home. It just might change your life.

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A Conversation with Matt Teper

Matt TeperOn Wednesday February 24, members of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable hosted a conference call with Google speechwriter Matt Teper.

Matt is the Head of Editorial at Google, where he is the leader and founder of the Google Ink team. The team is responsible for defining the voice of Google in major speeches, executive presentations, op-ed’s, blog posts, social media, press statements, internal news, and all manner of creative and editorial work.

Matt is also Eric Schmidt’s speechwriter.

Matt came to Google in 2012, from the White House, where he served as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief speechwriter for the first three-plus years of the Obama administration.

During the call, Matt described what it was like to work for the Vice President, the contrast between the life of a speechwriter in DC and in Silicon Valley and shared his insights about the craft of speechwriting. He also confirms that Google is not, currently, working on a time machine!

To hear a recording of the call click on the link below. Since the call lasts over an hour you might prefer to choose the Download option and listen later.

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Book Review: Illuminate, by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez

Casting Light on the Dark Arts of Communications

Any book on communications that starts out quoting 19th century French sociologist Émile Durkheim has my attention. The authors embrace his idea of ‘collective effervescence’ to describe the magic of a group sharing a common purpose.

Illuminate_CoverFor Duarte and Sanchez, the common purpose they champion in the recently published Illuminate is driven by leaders, whom they term ‘Torchbearers’, envisioning new possibilities. They ‘light the path’ as they set out to change the world and bring ’Travelers’ on the journey along with them. If this sounds like the plot to Lord of the Rings, well, in addition to Durkheim, they quote Frodo Baggins, Aragorn and the others as they motivate the hobbits to set out on the quest for the Ring.

However, this book is anything but a fairy tale.

Duarte, Inc is one of the premier communications agencies in Silicon Valley. Since it was founded in 1990, Nancy Duarte has built a stellar reputation as a PowerPoint guru (with her first book, slide:ology) and general communications consultant (cemented by Resonate, her second book). With ‘Illuminate’ she has broadened her scope to include not only presentations and speeches, but stories, ceremonies and symbols. These are all weapons in the ‘torchbearer’s toolkit’ that can be employed to affect what people think, feel and do as they move through what she calls the ‘five stages of a venture’: Dream, Leap, Fight, Climb, and Arrive. If this sounds like the content of a classic 4×5 matrix, well, you’ll find it summarized in a handy-dandy fold-out between pages 58 and 59.

A speech for all seasons

Using this taxonomy allows you to choose the right tool for the job depending which stage an audience is on the journey. While not a ‘paint by numbers’ approach to communications, after reading Illuminate you will know what to deploy if, say, you need to rally the troops. The advice is to deliver a ‘battle speech’ or tell an ‘overcome the enemy story’ or hold a ‘rally the spirits’ ceremony. What I really liked about the classification is that we’re not left with the usual Pollyanna advice that assumes everything is wonderful. Each stage addressees the negative as well as the positive. So if people in an organization are resistant to change we are told what we might hear them say (“I just don’t see how this could work”) and advised on how to craft and deliver a ‘revolution’ speech or ‘neglect the call’ story. By dealing with the dark side of communications Duarte & Sanchez have given leaders a robust set of guidelines well suited to the real world.

Peoplesoft DemiseSome of the most powerful parts of the book deal with how different organizations dealt with total failure: when PeopleSoft was bought by Oracle and the employees made the company sign into a makeshift memorial; how Coke reversed their disastrous decision to abandon Classic Coke; how Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, addressed her employees when they needed to recall faulty ignition switches that had caused deaths.

Rich Case Studies

I was struck by the degree of first-hand knowledge and insight in the case studies that conclude the main chapters. Each one includes an extensive narrative and quotes that make the study come alive. There’s a bonus a multi-point summary of highlights. Showing their Silicon Valley roots, Duarte & Sanchez’s case studies include the usual suspects— tech titans like IBM and Apple. But there’s also a floor-covering company, a non-profit, and a fast-food company. Most appropriately, the concluding study is of Duarte, Inc itself, detailing the transformation the company underwent as it pivoted to overhaul systems and improve operations.

Like her previous books, Illuminate is a beautifully designed, eminently readable, detailed account of the scenarios those of us in corporate communications face on a daily basis. Read it if your job is to enable the Torchbearer’s to ignite change, Frodo would certainly make sure it’s on his bookshelf back in the Shire.

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Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable to host Matt Teper

Matt TeperThe Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable will host a conversation with Matt Teper on Wednesday, February 24 at 11:45am Pacific. All are welcome to join this free conference call by registering here.

Matt is the Head of Editorial at Google, where he is the leader and founder of the Google Ink team, keeping participles undangled and corporate jargon untangled, in all of Google’s communications.

The team is responsible for defining the voice of Google in major speeches, executive presentations, op-ed’s, blog posts, social media, press statements, internal news, and all manner of creative and editorial work.

Matt is Eric Schmidt’s speechwriter.

Matt came to Google in 2012, from the White House, where he served as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief speechwriter.

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