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Speech Writing: A Forgotten Art

27 July 2003

Speech Writing: A Forgotten Art

"To me, speech writing is an art: a thing of great power and great delicacy," says professional speechwriter, Erin Leigh.

Erin Leigh specialises in writing speeches for CEO's, business executives and members of parliament. She has written speeches for some of the most prominent people in New Zealand.

"Credibility, logic and passion are key. You can't accomplish your goals unless you offer a credible presentation. This is because you can never assume people will accept what you have to say. I craft the content of my speeches in a uniquely personal way to enhance the speaker's leadership qualities, build support, convince, inform and inspire.

"A speech is part theatre and part personal declaration. It's a powerful means of communication between a leader and his or her people. Speeches are how we measure public people. They tell us who they are, where they are going and what part we will play in their progress.

"It is often speeches, not strategies, that can shape what happens," says Erin.

Erin believes New Zealand is yet to catch up with the rest of the world in exploiting the power of oratory.

"Try and think about the last time you heard a politician or CEO say something so clever and engaging it has remained imprinted on your mind? It's sad that, in New Zealand, we don't have many of our own versions of 'It's not what your country can do for you, it's what you can do for your country' or 'I had a dream'. All we've got is 'bugger' - a gimmicky one-liner coined by an advertising agency.

"Every memorable moment in history has started or ended in a speech. It is speeches, not politics that start and end wars; it is speeches, not policies that can bring about radical change within a nation.

"Imagine how different our world would be without the speeches of Kennedy, Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King - or even Hitler? It wasn't just the ideas that changed history - it was the speeches and the way in which they were delivered. They got reactions no other communication tool could ever have achieved.

"I think people underestimate the power of oratory. It's a forgotten art. I find it unbelievable that speeches aren't given fair weighting or even consideration in the marketing communications mix.

"When I watch people in leadership positions delivering mediocre speeches, I cringe. A well-crafted speech can get you a promotion, win you an election, or better still - ensure you are remembered forever.

"I see a lot of corporations focus their energy on developing strategies to achieve business objectives, only to then announce their initiatives through an uninspiring and mechanical speech. A launch speech of poor quality can often kill the entire strategy before it's even implemented.

As a professional speechwriter, Erin works with clients across all sectors.

"Clients are usually people who have both personal and business objectives they want to meet. I seek to create a response to the person - more so than a response to the speech and the message. I want people to go away thinking 'no wonder that person is in charge of this company or portfolio'.

"The success of the message depends a lot on the sincerity, commitment and confidence of the speaker. A good speech captures those qualities, which fortunately my clients possess - otherwise they wouldn't have risen to the position they are in.

Speechwriting involves a large number of tasks from audience evaluation, to message and tone attributes, to delivery techniques.

"When writing a speech my first task is to understand the audience and where their perceptions may differ from the speaker's. I need to know the audience's frame of mind - their fears, their hopes and their level of trust. My goal is to then develop a line of logic and emotion for the speech that addresses the audience's concerns and beliefs."

Erin believes 'passion' is a vital ingredient for a good speech.

"You can't deliver an impersonal and lifeless speech passionately. The words of the speech have to capture the speaker's passion for the topic. It's a big part of the power that moves the audience along the speaker's line.

"Speech delivery training helps the speaker learn how to use their body to enhance what they are saying. A well-placed gesture can have a profound affect on the success of a speech. You have to look at the speech holistically - the content, the gestures and the way the words are spoken. It's a performance."

Erin says, to become a speechwriter, you need a broad skill-set.

"It's not just about being able to write powerfully using the spoken word. It's also about understanding the art of persuasion and how to engage an audience. My combined experience as a radio and newspaper Journalist, a Marketing Product Manager, a PR Account Director and a Radio Breakfast Host has proven invaluable in this profession.

As an ex-Creative Director for Radio New Zealand, Erin believes creativity is also a crucial skill needed in speechwriting.

"It's vital you are naturally creative as you need to think outside the box - or in fact re-invent the box. Writing original and engaging speeches requires the ability to develop new concepts and ideas that inspire others and provoke thought. A creative person can do this - a non-creative person won't know where to start.

"Although I have tertiary qualifications in PR, journalism and marketing, they're not as valuable as having a good general knowledge and an awareness of what is going on around you - both locally and globally. If you're not keeping up-to-date with current issues and ideas then you're not able to communicate in context.


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