I have often been asked how do I write in the “voice” of my clients? The short answer is that I don’t even try. Here’s the scoop – an extract for an article I wrote dealing with that very question.
“Since I have clients across North America, there are many CEOs I never meet. In fact, some of them don’t even know I am writing for them.”
“And I am often asked the question “How do I write in their voice?” The answer to that is that I don’t even try.”
“I write in a style that is or should be ‘every person’s voice.’ That means keep the sentences shorter rather than longer, in the active voice, and simple.
“With new clients I also ask to see the last three or four speeches they gave, and that they liked.
“Next, I check their press releases to see how they are quoted. Be careful here, since press releases are notorious for using quotes that were never actually given, but presumably at least have been signed off by the person being quoted.
“When I don’t get to meet the speaker, I am usually dealing with the director of communications or public relations. They are usually delighted I am doing the work. One less piece of work they have to bother with. And they usually hate speech work since it is very labor intensive, and they have so many other headaches to deal with. So they tend to be my best ally.
“However, sometimes even they don’t have easy access to the CEO. In many companies the communications function is ignored until there is a crisis but that’s another problem. I once was dealing with a very nice communications director but she was just guessing at the message. The alarm bells were going off in my head but I ignored them. The result was disaster. The CEO was not happy. And for the only time in my speech career, I lost a first-time client. I swore that would never happen again.
“So, I refuse to take on a speech-from a new or current client-until and unless we agree on message. If they are unsure of the message, that’s fine. Walk them through the process. Then if I am still unsure that they are convinced of their own message-I e-mail them a note confirming my understanding of the messages they want in the speech (never more than two or three). And then I get them to sign off on the agreement.
“Remember if you’re a freelance speechwriter it’s always your fault even if it’s not!”