It’s a prize writing assignment, but one not without risk. A CEO wants you to write a speech for her, and you’ve never written for the head honcho before. Where do you start?
If possible, have a face-to-face meeting with the CEO. Meeting face-to-face is important on a number of levels. First, you can more carefully study the CEO’s nonverbal cues and speaking patterns that will factor into your thinking on how to craft the speech. Also, you can study speaking patterns.
Does she use short sentences? Does she use metaphors? Does she have any catchphrases?
Whether or not you include any of this and the draft you create, it’s important to know what you may have to work with or work around.
1. Do your homework
It’s a good idea to do as much research as possible in advance of that meeting, not only on the topic for the speech, but also on the venue, the audience, and of course, on the speaking history and preferences of the speaker.
Get the basics on when the speech will be delivered, the venue and the format. Will the speech be a keynote, a panel discussion or something else?
Find out if you will need to think about multimedia or other visual aids that could be required.
Whether you learn this from someone else or in that meeting with the CEO, it’s critical to determine how your deliverable should take shape in the form of a script, a slide deck or note cards. What does she like to use when giving a speech?
As you do your research, I’ve found it’s good to spend a little time on YouTube as well. The speaker may have already given speeches that have been captured on video. A good review of two or three prior speeches will enable you to start to think in your speaker’s voice.
Will there be other speakers at the same event? Learn as much as possible about them and what they will be speaking about.
2. Determine how the CEO will define success
When you sit down with the CEO, the first priority is to see how she will define success for the speech. What does she want the audience to think, feel or do afterward? How does she envision that happening? What issues, solutions, questions or subjects must be discussed to get there?
For this CEO meeting, your job is to play the role of internal journalist, asking questions and posing scenarios to get the CEO’s input. Make sure to record this discussion, because chances are, you will get no small amount of priceless content for your draft, if raw, from the CEO herself.
At the same time, as you listen later to that recording, you will further be able to internalize the CEO’s speaking style and word choice, all before you even start to write.
3. Get writing
Everyone has their own writing style, so while your approach may work better for you than mine, when I write speeches I almost always start with a detailed outline.
This is how I frame the speech and spend a good deal of time planning out how the speech will arch and flow.
In most cases, the initial draft of the speech is missing certain information or details that eventually will find their way into it, such as certain data points, quotes, or details. Bookmark those places, and keep writing until you’ve framed out the entire speech in that first draft. Don’t let the lack of a data point prevent you from creating a holistic structure for the speech.
Once you get that initial draft completed, you can go back and revisit specific sections to see what information or anecdotes may help advance the message.
After that, the process will be a familiar one. Editing – insert, delete, add, change, bolster and supplement.
As you write, don’t forget that you are writing for a live delivery. Don’t burden your CEO with long and complex sentences, multi-syllabic words that could trip the speaker up, or too much unfamiliar jargon or data. And don’t submit a speech manuscript for review without yourself first reading it aloud to see how it will sound in front of a live audience.
The key is to make sure that the in the end the speech can be delivered easily and effectively well within the comfort zone of the speaker.
The article by Tim O’Brien was first published at MUCK RACK
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