Inflight refuelling & other secrets: 5 top scribes spill

What happens when speechwriters from the U.K., Europe, the U.S. and Canada gather to talk shop? A lot of cross pollination of ideas, that’s for certain. In mid-September the third annual U.K. Speechwriters’ Guild Conference took place in Bournemouth, England. I was honoured to be a speaker and lucky enough to sit in on sessions lead by some mighty impressive wordsmiths. Read the ideas shared by five keynoters below.

Martha Leyton & Martin Shovel: Speaking to The Mind's Eye
The words speakers use have a huge effect on the ability of listeners to connect with and remember ideas. Abstract terms such as globalization and new world order are cold and remote. In contrast, language that conjures up pictures in our mind's eye engages our senses, stimulates an emotional reaction and helps to make material memorable. The key is to find the right words to describe images that link to the audience's experience. For example, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown suffered a deep political wound when an opponent described him as someone who had morphed from Stalin to Mr. Bean.

Professor Max Atkinson: In Praise of PowerPoint?
The shift from chalk & talk sessions to slide presentations means presenters often dump too much visual information on the audience at one time. People prefer the presenter to lead them through the material gradually (e.g. by building slides) rather than packing each slide full of content and expecting viewers to absorb it all in one fell swoop.

Conor Burns MP: Political Speechwriting
In Burns’ view, speechwriting is a process rather than an event. As a result he is constantly gathering information, jokes and stories. He also recommends using quotations because someone at some point has said what you want to say, only better. When speaking in the House of Commons he tries to work from a few notes rather than a full script. If he loses his train of thought he relies on prompts from colleagues; a practice that is known among British parliamentarians as inflight refuelling.

David Murray: Write For Your Life: How to Transform Impossible Speechwriting Assignments Into Improbable Communication Victories
When dealing with a crisis, mention the problem, but put the emphasis on what is being done to address it. And make sure it's the leader who steps up to the microphone. People want to know that the person in charge is doing the right thing. Audiences also listen for certainty. That's what they heard in 1974 when Jimmy Carter, then Governor of Georgia, gave an impassioned speech about the importance of politics as a means of social justice. Carter’s speech so impressed journalist Hunter S. Thompson that he wrote an article about it in Rolling Stone Magazine.

Stuart Mole: The Power of The Spoken Word
Effective speeches are the bedrock of the ability of a leader to actually lead. For that reason Mole is perplexed by the tendency he witnessed in the business world to treat speech assignments casually in comparison to the focus and resources devoted to advertising and marketing. He also questions the practice of dreaming up soundbites and asking the speechwriter to put them in the speech. The process, he says, should work the other way around.

For more information about the conference and the speakers click here.