Now, here are some handy tips on how to get the most from your speechwriter.
1. Your speechwriter is your number one fan. She is also your most severe critic. This paradox is precisely why she will do a great job. Only by recognising your flaws and weaknesses – only by understanding the deepest doubts and objections you will find in your audiences – and then believing beyond all reason that you can overcome those problems - can she find the words to help you triumph in public conversation. It can make her a pain in meetings. But don’t take offence. It’s why she’s good at her job.
2. Don’t spin the speechwriter. On the contrary, bring your speechwriter to the top table and help her understand the real story. The more deeply your speechewriter understands your true circumstances – warts and all - the better the speeches will be. She’s a professional. She knows how to tell the truth – even the unpalatable truth - in a way that not only protects your interests but actively advances your cause.
3. Your speechwriter is, quite frankly, a basket case. He may be arrogant enough to write himself into the role of the leader, but is also self-aware enough to know that he doesn’t have a leadership bone in his body, probably due to introversion and anxiety issues. In his portrait of US Presidential speechwriters, White House Ghosts, Robert Schlesinger depicts a litany of speech-writerly morbidity including, ulcers, boils, alcoholism, heart attacks, pneumonia, eyestrain, gall stones, and plain old emotional burnout. I know of no serious speechwriter who isn’t, as Ronald Regan’s speechwriter Peggy Noonan put it, “pale and nervous.” Please, be gentle with your speechwriter, especially if you want him to stay sober.
4. Your speechwriter is an incredibly hard working and dedicated member of your team. It just doesn’t look that way. When he’s in the café down the road, or has his feet up on the desk with his eyes closed, or gazes off into the middle distance during team meetings, that means he’s thinking. Thinking equals working. Somewhere in that mind a speech is brewing.
5. As the senior writer in any business, your speechwriter is also what the great writer Saul Bellow might have called your ‘first class noticer,’ particularly alert to any shifts in the world or your enterprise that will affect your narrative, for better or worse. Your speechwriter is perhaps better placed than anyone else to look at the longer term and bigger picture. So she is not just your ‘word-smith’ she is also your ‘idea-smith’. Let her frame your actions within the bigger social and economic picture to convey your powerful vision and purpose.
6. Don’t just take the speechwriter’s first draft and assume that’s the best he can do. The first draft is a true essay – a trial, an attempt. Sometimes it will go too far, on other occasions it may be too timid. Perhaps it will still only circle the key point. That’s OK, it’s what first drafts are for. Great speeches are the product of serious collaboration between the speaker and the speechwriter. Now is the time for you to knuckle down, together.
Speechwriters are creative idealists. They won’t fit into your culture, especially if you are a corporate. They won’t toe the line. They won’t blend into the hierarchy. They will always take an irritatingly high-minded view. But that’s why the speechwriter is your leader’s best friend. Because they still believe in the higher purpose. They keep the faith. And they know that individual leaders can still change the world, using the power of words.
Do you have a speechwriter in your world? Or are you a speechwriter yourself? How do you care for your speechwriter?