Wednesday, January 09, 2008
As hired pens speech writers are always faced with the dilemma of how hard to push back when we think a client is being unreasonable.
I am talking about the CEOs who have given no thought at all to what they want talk about at the one and only meeting you are going to have with them. Or the ones who won't read their drafts out loud at least once before they face their audience. Or those who want to review the draft with you before they have even glanced at it - resulting in a lot of time wasted as he/she edits and re-edits on the fly. Inevitably mudding the waters.
You may want to push back at all this. Resist. The truth is, no matter how inefficient we think their process is, it is their process, and their money and we need to adjust accordingly.
Where push back is more important and where you must take a stand is in the text itself. I have always believed that if the speech in the first instance meets the needs of the audience rather than the needs of the speaker to deliver his favourite message, your client will be very well served indeed. So you have to push back when he/she want to say everything. To talk about process. To talk features over benefits. About internal restructuring. About all those things most audiences have no interest in. When this happens I can pretty well tell you by exactly which paragraph the audience will begin to fall asleep.
So, when it comes to the process of getting from first draft to final product it is their time - billable time at that. So give in to the inevitable.
When it comes to the structure of the speech, the matter of messaging, story telling, and keeping the musical thread consistent, you push back hard if they resist. Push back hard enough to where one of you is going to fire or fire on the other with the aforementioned pistol.
Then you know you have done your job.
Changing The Music
As writers -- fiction or otherwise -- we tend to fall in love with our words. Then we hate them. And then we love them again. That's when we want to reach for a pistol or at least a good editor.
For speechwriters, the issue becomes really problematic. Even though we know better we too often fall for our exquisite turns of phrase, for words we know are about to leap off the page - proof positive of our verbal eloquence and elegance.
But our job is to write for the ear, and to listen for the rhythm and the music. So now a seed of doubt is sown. Do all those wonderful words add up to anything close to a musical score?
And what if you are writing classical music and your speaker is a country and western sort of guy? You want Beethoven's Fifth and he wants "She Stomped On My Heart But It Keeps on Beating Just For Her".
So when you think of your speaker's voice - it is not just a matter of the words you choose but the notes you don't. And ask yourself if your client is a classical, jazz or country and western or rhythm and blues sort of speaker. And if the rhythm of your wonderful words doesn't match his/her personality you must change the music no matter how much the new score might set your teeth on edge. He has to conduct after all, not you.
And what to do if your guy is tone deaf with no sense of rhythm at all? Reach for the pistol.