The speechwriting process usually starts with a briefing. Either in phone or in person. I’ll talk to the client about their ideas and expectations. In the process, I’ll get a sense of their priorities, and a feel for the required tone of voice. That helps me outline a structure, sample pages, and then a complete first draft.
But the speechwriting process doesn’t have to work like that...
Recently I’ve been working on a speech in a different way. Although I managed a couple of quick chats with my client, they didn’t add up to a formal briefing session. Instead, he wanted to take a more participative approach...
The back-and-forth speech writing method
My client wanted the reassurance that he could outsource the preparation of his speech, without surrendering control of the process. And with good reason: we didn’t have a lot of lead time, so the client wanted to watch the speech come together, piece by piece. This helped reassure him that the speech met his requirements at every stage.
Practically too, this way of working suited him better. In the two weeks leading up the day of the speech, my client was dividing his time between the UK and the US. So working via email on planes and in hotel rooms fitted into his schedule.
In lieu of a full briefing then, I worked through the client’s notes and threw lots of questions at him via email. We quickly settled into a ‘back and forth’ working method.
The speech as story
My client had already prepared an outline for his speech detailing the points he wanted to address. It was a good outline, and could have been the basis for a good speech. But I felt that by re-working the proposed structure, we could create a more compelling narrative.
In other words, I kept the same ingredients, but blended them slightly differently to take the reader on more of a journey. This improved the overall shape of the speech, giving it a beginning, a middle and an end. The material still touched on the same key points, but gave a clearer focus on the story we wanted to tell.
I divided the speech into three sections and submitted a draft for each, marking out areas where I needed the client’s direct input. Then he simply added in his comments and passed it back to me so that I could work his contributions into a revised draft.
The incremental approach to speechwriting
Our back-and-forth way of working made the whole process easier for my client to manage as part of his busy schedule.
It also gave his speech a truly authentic tone of voice. Working through the client’s written notes helped me to revise the language, the formality and the ‘voice’ of the speech to match his.
The revisions process was very straightforward too.
By the time he came to read the complete first draft, the client had already reviewed and contributed to the material, leading to a very quick turnaround of the definitive draft.
His added familiarity also gave him a good head start when it came to delivering the speech authoritatively.
New ways to write speeches
There’s no one definitive way to write a speech. As this process shows, it’s easy to adapt the speechwriting process in a way that works for every client.