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Check Against Delivery

Some idle thoughts about the freelancing trade we ply.

Those of you who write government speeches are familiar with the term “Check Against Delivery” that goes on the title page of speeches. In the pre-Internet days it was a signal to the media that there might be a difference between the written speech handed out at an event, and the one that was actually delivered. It also allowed the speaker some leeway to deviate from the distributed text as the mood or circumstance might dictate. And there was no electronic version of the speech. Just hard copies handed out to reporters who usually dumped them in the waste basket on their way out the door.

Fast forward to the common practice of government departments, and private sector corporations to post their speeches on their web sites. Question. Which speech is put up on the site? The speech that was signed off on – the one that cleared all the approvals – the safe speech? Or the one that was really given – where the speaker wandered off to unrelated tangents, told inappropriate jokes, or otherwise went off-message?

Sometimes the matter can be of little consequence. But at the very least it can present administrative headaches for the communication team.

On the other hand, it may be that even the speakers themselves don’t want the “as given” speeches up on their web sites. They might have stuck their political feet in their mouths in one fashion or another and in the harsh light of the following day, they might well want the text as-written to go on-line and pray that no one calls them on the difference.

In this digital world, once you release anything into the Internet ether, the anything can end up anywhere. So be careful out there.

In my earlier days I used to consider going back to school to get a graduate degree. Now that I am in my later days – I don’t think would have the intellectual energy to do the mountains of academic work involved. Especially all those research papers. To which my partner replies, “What are you talking about? You’re a speech writer. All you do is research and write papers.” I denied it all. But on reflection, she has a point. As she usually does.

It sort of hit home with me in an indirect way. Speech writers are incredibly scrupulous in their research. They want to be squeaky clean about not putting incorrect information in their clients’ mouths. The consequences of factual error can be enormous. But the academic analogy really hit home when I started to footnote all my sources in both the web site and hard copy versions of my speeches. Just as noted in the article above, the Internet has changed everything.

Not only do you have to be incredibly rigorous in your research and attributions of sources. You have to be seen to be rigorous. Play it smart. Footnote your sources.

We have all heard the cliché about some people fearing public speaking more than the fear of death. This week CNN did one of their highly dubious online polls asking which people feared more – Height. Germs. Public Speaking. And Death. Fear of heights came first. That I can understand. But fear of death and fear of public speaking tied for second? I remember reading somewhere that “risk taking” behaviour is genetic. Some people think nothing of flinging themselves out of an airplane and all the while having an unshakable faith that their parachutes will open. They think it is fun! Yet they are petrified at the thought of getting up in front of a group of people and saying a few words. They would prefer to die!

I have seen smart articulate people almost melt into a pool of butter when they stand up and address a group of their own staff for heaven’s sake. So I guess the perception of risk – like beauty – remains in the eye of the beholder and in our genetic coding.