“How can I write compelling speeches for a speaker I never get to meet?”
Sometimes the question comes up at the beginning of one of the speechwriting courses we teach, sometimes in the middle, and sometimes at the end. But it always comes up.
In the moment, I choose to receive the question as a good-faith query. Though at cold objective distance, I suspect it’s sometimes offered, perhaps subconsciously, as a passive-aggressive fuck-you to hotshot speechwriting teachers talking about hotshot speechwriters and the hotshot leaders they write for.
It’s the miserable speechwriter to the tight-lipped mid-level bureaucrat or the cowardly corporate executive, saying, “Let’s see how you’d do if you lived in my world, Mister Smartie.“
Nevertheless, I’ve always tried to answer the question in good faith. After 30 years around speechwriting teachers, I’ve become enough of one myself, that I have what at least sound like answers to just about every speechwriting question.
Except this one.
This one sounds to me like, “How do I square a circle?”
And I’m just about through trying to answer it, pretending to answer it, apologizing for not really being able to answer it.
You know what I’m going to do?
I’m going to create a 350-page Official Professional Speechwriters Association PDF manual for speechwriters who want to know how to wheedle ideas, coax stories, wrench humor out of clients who won’t give them the time of day. How to bring out the warmth and humanity of clients who care so little about the audiences they’re about to bore that they won’t spend 30 minutes with a person who is paid to write down their ideas as if they had them. How to squeeze communication out of a stone.
And when speechwriter asks The Question in the speechwriting seminar, I won’t try to answer it live. I’ll say the question is so common, it’s covered.
I will paste the link to the downloadable manual in the chat.
The speechwriter will download it, after the session, amazed that we’re offering such a hefty document for free.
The speechwriter will pour a big cup of coffee and sit back to read.
Every page will be blank.
I hope the speechwriter will laugh. And then laugh some more. And then break into a chortle, and then a maniacal, high-pitched cackle, drawing attention and concern from surrounding cubicles—or, if at home, surrounding cats.
And depending on how that manual goes over, we will issue another, of similar length and substance, titled: My Client Has No Arms or Legs, Yet Insists on Using a Lectern. Any Tips?