By Tim Hayes [www.timhayesconsulting.com]
Different speakers make varying demands on their speechwriters, which makes the speechwriting blending of science (compelling factual argument) and art (language that flows naturally to the speaker) such a challenge and such a joy to those of us who pursue this craft with energy and vigor.
Case in point. At one Corporate Communications staff position I held during one portion of my career, I wrote speeches for both the chief executive officer and the president of the same company – two different men in many aspects. As their common speechwriter, though, the difference between them that affected me most directly was the way in which they wanted their speeches organized.
The CEO wanted a full script, with every comma in place and every word locked down airtight. The president, on the other hand, liked to speak more extemporaneously and only wanted me to organize the logical flow of information into a sequence of message points. His favorite parting instruction to me, after talking with him about the general content of each speech, was, “Just keep me on the Ponderosa” – meaning to give him a set of message-driven guideposts to help him maintain a recognizable sequence of information as he made the presentation.
The interesting thing to me was that, while I knew that the CEO was reading from a prepared script and the president was just piecing together anecdotes and thoughts related to a set of message points, the audience had no idea. Each man knew his speaking preference and used it quite effectively.
As a professional speechwriter, I always liked preparing full scripts best. But I came to respect and admire the ability to weave together an informative and entertaining presentation on the fly, as well. Working without a net, as it were, made those presentations more unpredictable and exciting.
In a strange way, it reminded me of my high school days when I participated as drummer and lead vocalist in a band with three classmates of mine. We’d practice our set list of Top 40 songs every week in the lead guitarist’s basement, then play weddings, parties, and dances on the weekends.
We worked hard to recreate the sound on each song to replicate what people were hearing on the radio – not unlike having a detailed script – and we were pretty good. I made more dough playing and singing in a wedding band than my friends did frying chicken at KFC, after all.
But every now and then, while playing at a wedding reception or a dance, we’d scrap the list of prepared songs and jam to a basic four-chord R&B set, no lyrics, each of us taking solos and just having a great time rocking out. And you want to know something? Those unscripted, unpredictable jams always – always – brought the most people out onto the dance floor. Everybody had a blast, musicians and audience alike.
So the lesson, I suppose, is that while having things nailed down to the letter is good, flying by the seat of your pants can be just as good – and sometimes even better.
Copyright 2010 Transverse Park Productions LLC