Three Ways to Make Executive Communications Connect

The Big Boss has a Big Speech to deliver.  Engineering, marketing and other functional silos elbow their way to the trough; each tries to ramrod bragging points into the piece for reasons more internal than external. 

We’ve all been there. Speechwriting seldom happens in a vacuum. Internal constituencies force one’s hand; the trick is to write something that checks these boxes artfully without metastasizing into long-form marketing copy resplendent with jargon-addled marketing gauze.

Here are three simple ways to trim the fluff and write memorable speeches:

1.  Make It Personal for the Speaker in Ways Unexpected for the Audience

This first shortcut requires interest in and curiosity about your speaker. It requires the speechwriter’s connection to and camaraderie with the speaker.  In speaking with the then-Global VP of a major luxury brand, talk turned to racing and motorcycles; the speaker, sensing my zeal for 1970s two-stroke motorcycles, explained that in his youth, he screamed around rural England on just these kinds of bikes. 

Remembering our nods and laughs, in the first draft of a big speech on the advantages of being an early mover in the luxury EV market, I dropped in a black and white picture of a “hole shot”—one motorcross bike having leaped off the line ahead of everyone else—with a script noting the speaker’s power-peaky, reed-valve youth and how his company had an analogous jump on the competition.

He loved it: authentic, enthusiastic and above all, unexpected. Serious question: Who doesn’t like two-strokes?   

2.  Ditch the Adverbs and Adjectives

This is a rookie to low-intermediate writer’s shank from the tee box into the heather.  We all fall prey to “more adverbs; more adjectives.”  Tell me a story that makes me believe and care. Full stop. 

Do yourself a favor.  Watch Kurt Vonnegut’s 4-minute “The Shape of Stories” for a Master Jedi-level tutorial.

3.  The Composition of Delivery: The “Space Between the Notes”

Vary sentence, paragraph and idea length.  Not every speechwriter has the pleasure of writing for Churchill (no one did) or early Reagan.  Just as “music is the space between the notes,” a good writer deliberately lets ideas ring out. . .  reverberate. . . by starting and ending thematic ideas, subjects and key points with shorter sentences that naturally allow the speaker to take a breath. This allows ideas to sink in before moving along.

Staying with the music metaphor, the sense of challenge and solution, of exasperation and exultation, should ebb and flow in order to not just deliver the “company mail,” but to make people actually feel something if possible.  How does that happen?  Start and end with people.

If you’d like help with an upcoming speech or presentation, please contact us, we’d love to help.

Chris Terry is a 26-year public relations veteran, Founder of Weber Shandwick’s Automotive Practice and former speechwriter for Ford CEO Mark Fields while serving on the Product Communications staff at Ford Motor Company. Chris is known for creative storytelling, idea generation and media relations expertise based on over two decades of experience with OEMs and suppliers.

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