Six Steps to Building the Brand with Speeches

Executive Speeches, February 2000 | Go to article overview

Six Steps to Building the Brand with Speeches


Thank you Mark, for that kind introduction. I'm glad to be here with you today. Outside of baseball, politics, movies and modern literature, there's nothing I'd rather talk about than speechwriting.

For as long as leaders have used rhetoric to move fellow citizens to action, word specialists, bearing an assortment of job titles, have assisted them in forming their thoughts and phrases.

In the Fifth Century, the theologian Saint Augustine wrote: "There are men who can speak well but can not think of anything wise to say. If they take something eloquently and wisely written by others ... and offer it to the people in the person of the author, they do not do wickedly."

One need only skim through John Bartlett's Familiar Quotations and William Safire's Lend Me Your Ears, Great Speeches in History to learn that speeches have influenced the course of history.

Since the industrial revolution the importance of speeches, in popular, business and political culture has grown. And, today, what was once the communications vehicle of elites, politicians and revolutionaries has become a necessity of everyday business.

In the last quarter of the 20th Century, an emerging, global business culture, and a ubiquitous media, make it essential for competitive organizations to send executives out to speak to important target audiences.

The number of speakers and speeches has soared. With this trend, has come an increased need for quality speechwriters.

While many of you have substantial writing credits, most public relations practitioners rarely write speeches--and don't often have the time to think about the speechwriting process and how it relates to empowering the brand.

Writers new to the speechwriting craft--who've just walked over from journalism or writing press releases and annual reports--tend to create monotone scripts, with little regard for the nuances of the speaker's voice.

Of all the forms of writing used in public relations, speechwriting is arguably the most demanding. But contrary to myths--often spread by practitioners--speechwriters are made, not born.

Speechwriting is a learned craft, not an art or some derivative of a science. And, speechwriters come from many academic backgrounds.

A short list of some of the better known people who've spent at least part of their ghostwriting speeches, includes: Alexander Hamilton, Mark Twain, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Pat Buchanan, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Peggy Noonan, Judge Robert Bork, Bill Moyers, William Safire, James Fallows, Larry L. King, author of the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Ben Stein of the Comedy Central's Win Ben Stein's Money.

It's no coincidence that the best-of-breed writers of this genre cut their speechwriting teeth in politics. At the presidential, gubernatorial, and even mayoral levels, speechwriters grind out three, four, and five times as many speeches, each year, as their corporate counterparts.

While writing for an elected official is demanding, on the whole the speechwriter, because of the sheer volume of work and the constantly changing political terrain, often gains more creative freedom than his corporate counterpart.

Yet, before running down to sign up for the staff of a newly elected official heading to Washington, Tallahassee or Duval Street, keep in mind that the turnover is very high.

In both the corporate and political world, speechwriting is often a stepping stone for those who want to move up within, or higher ground outside an organization. One of the reasons speechwriters have this mobility is the amount of access good speechwriters get ... to very smart executives.

A few years ago, I wrote for Dick Yarbrough, chairman of communications for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. Dick's previous day job had been at BellSouth, where he served as senior executive vice president, in charge of corporate communications. …

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