Magazine article Communication World

Speech Writers in the Thick of It

Magazine article Communication World

Speech Writers in the Thick of It

Article excerpt


President Steve Ewing of Michigan Consolidated Gas Company (MichCon) often drops by and makes himself at home in the office of Ed Stanulis, seemingly a nobody. Then the two men hash over some weighty issues of the Detroit-based gas utility. At other times, Stanulis talks turkey with Al Glancy III, chairman and CEO.

Where does a non-management professional like Stanulis get off being such a casual acquaintance with the president?

Why does he get in to see the chairman and CEO?

... He's the speech writer. There's clout, prestige, and power in being a speech writer," Stanulis says. "The speech writer becomes a confidante and an adviser."

The clout, power and prestige of speech writing should make business communicators stand up and take notice. Business communicators sit in ideal positions to gain speech writing skills and to become speech writers. When the clout is added to a potential $100,000-a-year-plus income, no business communicator can afford to overlook the possibilities.

But while prestigious, speech writing can be thorny.

Speech writers circulate among the company's movers and shakers and get in the thick of company decisions.

"We are at the forefront of what's happening," Stanulis says. "Often, I know what will happen way ahead of some of the vice presidents."

Speech writers publicize the company's policies by preparing speeches for top management. Speech writers intimately observe policy in the making and policy carried out. In this process, speech writers can't help but learn the top-level management skill of policy formation. It's skill that can boost business communicators into the executive suite.

"Speech writing is a valuable arrow to have in your quiver if you want to be vice president of communication," says Steve Hallmark, an independent speech writing consultant based in Chicago and a former American Bar Association speech writer.

Respect Company Policy

Speech writers do more than deal with company policy. They nudge it, too.

Hallmark nudged one such vice president of a Fortune 100 company. The vice president commissioned Hallmark to write a speech on hiring the handicapped. The vice president felt "quite passionate" about the issue, but his company had no policy on it. Hallmark advised the executive to get a basic policy statement in place before going public.

But speaking engagements can expedite policy too much sometimes.

Stanulis wrote a speech for the MichCon president about a corporate policy on child care in the work place. The speech admitted that MichCon did not have a policy and then went on to support such policies. The media covered the event and reported far and wide that MichCon knew the latest about corporate policies on child care. This media coverage embarrassed MichCon because the company's own policy nowhere nearly matched the ideal reported in the media.

"Management went nuts, particularly personnel," Stanulis says. After the speech, personnel plunged into creating a child care policy quicker than it wanted to.

This kind of fallout can be unpredictable. Stanulis took the child care speech through the normal approval channels, and no one questioned it before.

Because one speech can have farreaching implications, Stanulis works with more executives than just the speaker. These other executives deal with sensitive regulatory issues, working relations with suppliers, personnel issues and marketing concerns. A speech writer must be attuned to any objections these executives have and work around them - a heavy political position.

Speeches can drive technical people nuts, too. They want elaborate, precise details in these presentations. They cringe at the speech-writing technique of using common comparisons to simplify technical terms. For example, Stanulis compared the supplying of natural gas to the merchant who wants to sell Pepsi but instead is forced to sell Coca-Cola. …

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