Ragan Speechwriters Conference: Day 3

The third and final day of the Conference. As always at these events, my brain has reached overload by this point. Here’s my ‘class notes’ from the sessions I attended Friday. I’ll write up my subjective impressions and report on hallway conversations and networking on the flight home.

Breakfast Panel What’s going on in the speechwriting world?


David Murray, editor, Speechwriters Newsletter
Rich Greb, facilitator, Chicago Speechwriters Forum
Jan Cook, founder, Washington Speechwriters Roundtable
Dana Rubin, founder, New York Speechwriters Group

Warning! We’ve been outed! Thanks to Rob Lowe and the West Wing, people know about speechwriters – we’re more visible now than ever. But speeches are not going away and blogs will never replace speeches (according to David Murray). That said, here’s my blog on the main points I captured from the free flowing early morning panel discussion and audience Q&A:

  • Experienced speechwriters usually charge $80-$150 hour or if, as they prefer, they bill by the project, expect to pay $2,000 – $6,000 for a 20 minute full-text speech.
  • Local guilds in Washington DC, New York City and Chicago offer both good networking as well as a source of job leads. No chapter exists in Silicon Valley, yet…
  • One corporate speechwriter describes the perception of her job by fellow employees as being similar to the girl in Rumplestiltskin:

    They bring me facts of straw and ask me to spin them into golden speeches by morning. No-one has any idea how I do it.

    Aim to move from being ‘just a speechwriter’ to a strategic communications consultant. Consider:

    1. Writing executive thank-you letters and even greeting card text (it’ll go to the most important people in your executives life).
    2. Avoid devolving into a service-function or a utility in your organization. Make sure your projects are properly managed in terms of time, scope and quality and don’t hesitate to ask for the resources you need to deliver professional results.
    3. Plain don’t call yourself a speechwriter. Better to state I help gather information. I’m working on special projects for the CEO. I’m a researcher.

    It really was worth getting up at 4am west coast time to listen to the dialog this morning.

    Steve Soltis The new state of the art: How UPS is reinventing the most-benchmarked executive communication program in the world

    Steve is the director of executive communications at UPS. He truly is more than just a speechwriter. His talk was clearly the highlight of the conference. Almost 10 years ago he created an executive communications program at UPS that remains a high-water mark in the business world. His staff:

  • Identify key messages every year and embed them in fascinating speeches
  • Filter speech requests and assign them to the right executives
  • Effectively measure the impact of the Exec Comm function.
  • Steve described the process whereby he leveraged transformations at UPS (such as district managers renewing their focus on customer service, or the move to the company being an enabler of the global supply chain) into effective messaging. His guiding objective is to

    Position UPS executives as thought leaders and powerful brand ambassadors through public speeches, events, by-lined articles, Op-Eds, White Papers and other repackaging channels.

    In other words: find the downstream potential in each and every speech – maximize every second of the executives time at a venue beyond what they say on the podium – turn ‘delivering a speech’ into an event rich with possibilities that gives the speech content extra bounce. Schedule meetings with press, key customers, analysts. Place senior managers closer to key stakeholders.

    The strategy of Steve’s Exec Comm Department includes:

  • Proactively placing executives in key forums
  • Producing relevant and timely speeches
  • Training executives to deliver those speeches
  • Generating media opportunities
  • Repackaging speeches both internally and externally
  • Creating integrated communications events
  • They sweat the details by:

  • Producing a regular Executive Speech Outline which gives a Readers Digest summary of senior management speeches for mid-level managers.
  • Collating a quarterly report of every speaking engagement with a listing of customers in the audience, recording who had 1-to-1 meeting s at the event, and tracking the revenue from these companies.
  • Listing media impressions (OTS=Opportunities to See – the circulation x the coverage).
  • Clearly explaining to each senior manager they support how their messages support company strategy and the intended downstream impact of specific events (e.g. a speech to the Detroit Business Council timed with UPS’s targeting of the auto parts after-market).
  • A huge win for Steve was when Thomas Friedman was researching The World is Flat and happened to Google the phrase synchronized commerce. Friedman found dozens of references to past UPS speeches that had been repackaged by Steve’s team, as this example illustrates. Friedman dedicates a section of his book to UPS, identifying them as his #8 world-flattener in a section titled What Those Guys in the Funny Brown Shorts Are Really Doing. As Steve dryly observed, you can’t buy that kind of PR. And it all began with the simple process of making the transcripts of executive speeches available online and searchable outside the firewall. Does your company do this?

    Steve produces an annual $1million event which brings world-class political leaders such as Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, President H.W. Bush, President Carter and Polish leader Vaclav Havlal together with academics and CEO’s from major customers. This is co-branded with the prestigious Harvard Business School Publishing. Very little on the Agenda overtly  ‘sells’ UPS. The goal is to stimulate dialog and debate around issues such as globalization. Funding future events is secured by the measurable $25 million incremental revenue which resulted from past events.

    By positioning his team at the intersection of creativity and strategy Steve has earned a seat at the table when senior management  frames the future of the company.

    Steve is to the average speechwriter what an army general is to an infantry grunt. He plans the campaign and grabs victories from the jaws of defeat. The rest of us dig foxholes and practice duck and cover when the corporate big guns fire. (Hey! I needed a coupla good military analogies being so close to the home of the Commander in Chief, n’ all)

    Hal Gordon What speechwriters can learn from a great American orator – Robert Green Ingersoll

    Hal is a freelance speechwriter who currently writes for Shell Oil in Houston and blogs for Ragan Communications. He’s written for both the Walt Disney World and top advisors to President Ronald Reagan (from Mickey Mouse to Ed Meese). His blog explains all about Ingersoll. Ingersoll’s best speeches show him a masterful orator and a fiercely intelligent and independent thinker. He openly wore the badge of his atheism – which in 19th Century America got him into about as much trouble as it would in some corners of the Heartland today. This speech on Chinese exclusion masterfully skewers the limited horizons and profound lack of cultural understanding in the USA. As then, perhaps now:

    The average American, like the average man of any country, has but little imagination. People who speak a different language, or worship some other god, or wear clothing unlike his own, are beyond the horizon of his sympathy. He cares but little or nothing for the sufferings or misfortunes of those who are of a different complexion or of another race. His imagination is not powerful enough to recognize the human being, in spite of peculiarities. Instead of this he looks upon every difference as an evidence of inferiority, and for the inferior he has but little if any feeling. If these “inferior people” claim equal rights be feels insulted, and for the purpose of establishing his own superiority tramples on the rights of the so-called, inferior. In our own country the native has always considered himself as much better than the immigrant, and as far superior to all people of a different complexion. At one time our people hated the Irish, then the Germans, then the Italians, and now the Chinese. . . The patient followers of Confucius were treated as outcasts — stoned by boys in the streets and mobbed by the fathers. Few seemed to have any respect for their rights or their feelings. They were unlike us. They wore different clothes. They dressed their hair in a peculiar way, and therefore they were beyond our sympathies. These ideas, these practices, demoralized many communities; the laboring people became cruel and the small politicians infamous. When the rights of even one human being are held in contempt the rights of all are in danger. We cannot destroy the liberties of others without losing our own. By exciting the prejudices of the ignorant we at last produce a contempt for law and justice, and sow the seeds of violence and crime.

    There’s a lot more where this came from here. Read it and weep.

    Dawne Simmons From speechwriter to speaker: What you can learn by taking the podium

    Dawne walks the walk and talks the talk. One of the rare breed of speechwriters who also know how to speak in public. She’s a dynamic independent consultant who participates in National Speakers Association trainings.

    Her claim, which I fully agree with, is that by mastering the art of public speaking you learn to do what you are asking those you write for to do. You step away from the computer monitor and leap the divide that’s represented by the truism: Those who can, do, those who can’t, write about it… 

    Indeed, I have often wondered how many authors of sex manuals are actually great lovers? How many cookbook editors can create a meal that would actually delight the palette? Do the editors of travel guides really enjoy exploring foreign parts? Speechwriters might be able to describe the motions, but not until they’ve assumed the position and engaged in the act with an appreciative audience can they really understand what it takes to get it up. Speaking to an audience is an act of seduction. If you’ve not experienced the sweat on your palms and the palpitations of the heart as you present your naked voice to an audience for the first time then in some real sense you are still a callow virgin.  Writing text, even if you annotate with pointers for techniques and timing, is not the same as participating in an uncensored relationship with consenting adults.

    So, where was I. Oh yes, Dawne’s class. She challenged the audience face up their fear. Toastmasters is a great place to start. There’s a club meeting near you this week, guaranteed. Being both a writer and a speaker advanced Dawne’s career. Public speaking changed from a stumbling block to a stepping stone for success. Bottom line:

    Practice both speaking and speech writing, they go together like a left and right shoe!

    Bill Crain Speechwriting (fun)damentals: How to wow audiences and win business

    Bill is an independent consultant who writes for ExxonMobile and was recently hired as a speechwriter for the government of Thailand. By the  afternoon the crowd had thinned out and I was just about to do the same . But I’m glad I stayed for this post-conference seminar. It was filled with more practical tips and tricks than  rest of the conference put together. Bill provided a great handout with step by step checklists:

  • Key steps in creating a speech
  • Openings with Pizzazz
  • Structuring the Main Body and Closings
  • Tips on delivery and speech marketing
  • He included a bonus selection of samples from commercial speeches he had written and extracts from well-known speeches by Martin Luther King, Churchill and Shakespeare.

    Bill’s work pushes the envelope when he looks at major factors reshaping speechwriting today, including those of globalization and the shift in the geo-political axis toward Asia which he and I agree is changing the form of acceptable business communication. He also acknowledges discoveries in quantum physics and human potential psychology as relevant factors. His most unique views are around suggesting meditation as a practice to unlock creativity and the power of the still quiet voice within. He has studied the Sanskrit chakra system used in Indian ayurvedic medicine and suggests the relevance of different chakras to speechwriting. Considering the ascent of the chakras from  bodily base to crown he interprets the color and quality of each for a speechwriter, suggesting we review each speech to ensure it includes at least a reference to each element.


    Chakra 1The root of the body at the base of the spine is associated with the color red and signifies the family, health and issues of physical survival. For speechwriters: how does your topic pertain to the family and to human health and safety?.

    Chakra 2The sacral area of the body and sexual organs associated with the color orange signifies sex, power and money. For speechwriters: how does your topic affect men and women differently? What are the political and economic aspects? (I would add – does the speech turn your audience on?)

    Chakra 3The solar plexus and diaphragm associated with the color yellow signifies ethics, integrity and personal will. For speechwriters: what are the ethical dimensions of this topic?

    Chakra 4The heart, chest, lungs associated with the color green signfies love, compassion and kindness. For speechwriters: to what extent is there an emotional dimension to your topic? To what extent is compassion called for? (I would add, unless your audience are automatons you must appeal to their hearts – since they can only comprehend with their head what their hearts have responded to on some level).

    Chakra 5The throat, ears, nose, teeth associated with the color blue signifies personal expression and communication. For speechwriters: what are the communication challenges in your topic? What is essential for the speaker to communicate? (I would add a big DUH! You better communicate throughout the speech.)

    I was intrigued by Bill’s groundbreaking work here. I’ve not heard of the chakra system being applied to business communications. And I assume that if Bill had more time he would have included the all important final two chakras:

    Chakra 6The brow chakra or third eye center, associated with the color indigo signifies the act of seeing, both physically and intuitively. As such it opens our psychic faculties and our understanding of archetypal levels. When healthy it allows us to see clearly, in effect, letting us “see the big picture.” For speechwriters: to what extent does your speech deal with the big picture?

    Chakra 7The crown chakra sitting on or above the physical top of the head. Associated the color violet. It relates to consciousness as pure awareness. It is our connection to the greater world beyond, to a timeless, spaceless place of all-knowing. When developed, this chakra brings us knowledge, wisdom, understanding, spiritual connection, and bliss. For speechwriters: to what extent does anything in your speech really mean a damn in the big scheme of things?

    Thanks Bill, you’ve given me a whole raft of ideas: Feng Shui for Speechwriters; Speechwriting Zen (the companion to Presentation Zen); The Inner Game of Speechwriting, and more.

    3 Comments so far
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    Nice meeting you, Ian. Let me know if you have any ideas for starting a Silicon Valley chapter of speechwriters. One comment I had regarding the advice not to call ourselves speechwriters but rather researchers: maybe I was daydreaming or reading between the lines, but my takeaway from that advice was that it would be a good way to explain why you were tagging along with your speaker when he/she was going someplace to speak.

    […] Thanks to the Ragan Speechwriters Newsletter for acknowledging my blog on their Speechwriters Conference. For those of you who want to read those blog entries, you’ll find them starting here and continuing here, here, here and here. No Tags […]

    […] As I did last year, I plan to blog my impressions of the event. In 2006 I did one long entry for each day of the conference. This year I plan to do a separate posting for each presentation – the better to link back to them later. Technorati Tags: Speechwriting […]

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