More Speechwriting Tips

More speechwriting tips from the Congressional Research Service:

An effective…speech is defined not by rules of rhetoric, but by the character of response it evokes.

So true! In fact, I would argue this is the metric of success for all persuasive communications. Another tip:

Ideally, a speech draft ought to be reviewed three times: by the writer, by the prospective speaker, and by a disinterested third party. Of these three, priority should ordinarily be given to the speaker. The revised product is likely to be more effective. With speeches, as with food, however, too many cooks are undesirable. Moreover, time seldom permits this much critical evaluation and rewriting. It may even be easier to provide for some appraisal of the speech’s impact and audience reaction after delivery. For example, it is said that Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s speech writers would follow his delivery of a speech word by word, noting those phrases or ideas that were well received, or others that created problems.

This reflects my personal experience as a speechwriter; I also found that three lines of review were best. I sometimes had to go through more lines of review than that, which at times led to deteriorating quality, but I found ways to work with that challenge by better focusing what others could review and what they could not.

For example, as the primary speechwriter in my office, I soon began to see myself to be the final authority for prose and style, other than the speaker himself (the third-line reviewer). In terms of messaging (i.e. Is this line persuasive? Or is it confusing? etc.), I would defer to the second line reviewer. If they thought a message was off I would revise it. And finally, for accuracy of information on particular data points, I would defer to our subject matter experts. If they disagreed with a meaning or statistic, I would immediately correct it.

But if a coworker offered advice on what I considered to be my area of responsibility — the prose and style — I would listen carefully and consider it, but I would not necessarily change my approach. At first I would do so to try and please them, but I quickly got out of that habit after I made a number of stylistic changes against my better judgment that the speaker later disapproved. Soon I realized that only I was accountable for that element of the speech, so when in doubt, I would have to go with my own judgment. Otherwise, I wasn’t doing my job.

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