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SpeechList moves to Social Signal!

SpeechList, my free newsletter about the craft of speechwriting, has officially moved to Social Signal with issue #7. Along with the usual news, tools and practical tips, this issue has a feature article on breaking into speechwriting:

Maybe you've written a few speeches for yourself or others that went over well. Maybe you're just attracted by the glitz and glamour of the profession. (Maybe you just fell over laughing.) Whatever the reason, you want to start speechwriting professionally.

But where to begin? Unlike aspiring doctors, bike mechanics and chefs, speechwriters don't have a prescribed course of study and internship. There aren't a lot of jobs out there labeled "speechwriter", and no one career path to follow.

The bright side is, that means there are a lot of ways into the business. Here are five tips for anyone who wants to make the leap into professional speechwriting.

Check out the latest issue here – and if you want to subscribe, just click here

SpeechList Issue #1: Why give a speech?

Issue 1 - June 8, 2005

by Rob Cottingham
(c) Rob Cottingham 2005


  1. Welcome to SpeechList: Writing To Be Heard!
  2. Feature article: Why give a speech?
  3. Off the cuff
  4. Your turn
  5. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news


1. Welcome to SpeechList: Writing To Be Heard!

Welcome to the inaugural issue of SpeechList: Writing To Be Heard. (Hang onto it; it's sure to be a collectors' item and will one day fetch a pretty price on eBay.)

Here's what you can expect from SpeechList:

  • A regular feature article focusing on a practical aspect of speechwriting.
  • Occasional news and commentary from the world of speechwriting.
  • Selected feedback from readers.
  • Easy unsubscribing if you decide SpeechList isn't for you.

I'm your host, Rob Cottingham -- a speechwriter and public speaker with experience writing for national and provincial political leaders, corporate CEOs, union leaders, community activists and innovative thinkers and commentators. My politics skew left, but you should be able to get something out of SpeechList regardless of your political stripe -- and no matter whether you're priming a politician, pumping up your sales reps or persuading your town council to put a crosswalk on your corner.

2. Feature article: Why give a speech?

Most successful companies and organizations understand marketing and public relations. They know it's important, even vital, to have some say in how people perceive them. And they want to have some influence over the issues that affect their organization.

They'll advertise, lobby, send direct mail, write op-ed pieces, harass assignment editors -- but in a surprising number of cases, they won't seek out opportunities for their leadership to speak in public.

"That's just not our focus," one company's communications and marketing director told me. "We prefer to find other ways to communicate." This from a company whose CEO is by no means shy or a poor speaker, and whose retail branding is tied very closely to her. And it's not as though giving speeches would preclude other communications options. So why the reluctance to send her to a podium?

If you're trying to make the case in your organization for landing more speaking engagements for your leadership, you may be running up against the same thing. So here are five good reasons for your president, chair, leader, secretary general or troop leader to grab a microphone:

1. To put a personal face on the organization

Our strongest, deepest relationships are with other people, not organizations. Introduce an audience to a human being instead of a logo or acronym, and you can break down a lot of potential hostility, skepticism or apathy.

2. To communicate messages that advertising and PR can't deliver

From damage control to reassurance in a time of crisis, there are a lot of messages that work far better face to face than they do in a news release or a TV ad. Being physically present and hearing a group's leader speak directly to you can be far more immediate and personal -- and far more persuasive.

3. To build your organization's profile

Having a representative speaking publicly raises your group's profile. It increases the chances that those in the audience will remember your organization's name, and what you do. Others, even if they don't end up attending themselves, may see the material promoting the event and remember who was speaking. Maybe best of all, much of this profile-building work is often all done by your host.

4. To identify your organization with a cause or issue

Eighty per cent of success is showing up, Woody Allen once wrote. When it comes to caring about an issue or cause, ratchet that up to 90%. Conveying your organization's belief in a particular cause starts with personal, public commitment from the people at the top -- the kind of commitment that can come through loud and clear in a good speech.

5. To build bridges, trust and relationships

There's a level of trust that comes with having met somebody -- even when you've been among 500 people meeting that somebody all at once. Part of the reason is that it takes trust on a speaker's part to get up in front of an audience; even in the most adversarial of situations, that trust is going to be reciprocated (grudgingly and in small doses, maybe, but still reciprocated).

6. To enhance your organization's prestige and authority

Looking at the speakers list for a conference, you make a few assumptions about the people speaking. One of them is that the people on the stage belong there -- that the conference organizers have decided these people have expertise, experience or wisdom worth listening to. That prestige gets attached to the organizations those people come from, too.

And here's a special bonus reason: it's cheap as hell, and you can repurpose speeches in any number of ways. They can become newsletter articles, op-ed pieces, or letters to members or clients. You can post audio or video clips on your organization's web site, or include them in a corporate video. Excerpts can make their way into annual reports and other publications. You can send courtesy copies to prospects and current clients as a way of maintaining the relationship.

Accepting a speechwriting engagement isn't cost-free, of course. It takes time and resources to prepare a speech, and the attention of your group's leadership is usually at a premium. You also need to assess the potential pitfalls in a specific invitation: a hostile audience, a low turnout, a poor performance.

But the decision to seek out speaking engagements should be an easy one. They're a low-cost way of delivering a real boost to your group's communications goals.

3. Off the cuff

Recent speechwriting posts at Rob's blog, One Damn Thing After Another, at http://www.robcottingham.ca/roblog

Know your audience

A huge part of defining your agenda is knowing what you can realistically accomplish and to know that, you need to know your audience. - Read the post

It isn't an invitation. It's a bargaining position.

Entertainment mogul David Geffen once gave Lynda Obst a key piece of advice: never go into a meeting without an agenda. He didnt mean a schedule. He meant that, before you walk into a meeting, you should know what you want to achieve. It's good advice for anyone hoping to make it in Hollywood; it's even better advice for anyone giving a speech. - Read the post

Should you stay or should you go?

Some advice on accepting invitations to speak as a member of a panel. - Read the post

4. Your turn

If you've enjoyed what you've read here, if you've disagreed with something, or if you have something to add or an idea for an upcoming issue, please drop me an e-mail at feedback@robcottingham.ca. I'll include a sample of the feedback I get in every edition.

5. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

Know somebody who'd be interested in SpeechList? Please forward this message to as many people as you'd like.

SpeechList Issue #2: 5 kinds of jokes that don't work... and 5 kinds that do

Issue 2 - July 5, 2005

by Rob Cottingham
(c) Rob Cottingham 2005


  1. Welcome to SpeechList: Writing To Be Heard!
  2. Feature article: The fine art of the opening joke
  3. Off the cuff
  4. Your turn
  5. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

1. Welcome to SpeechList: Writing To Be Heard!

Welcome to the second issue of SpeechList: Writing To Be Heard. I'm glad you've signed up.

If you're new to the list, or if someone has forwarded this copy to you, here's what you can expect from each issue:

  • A regular feature article focusing on a practical aspect of speechwriting.
  • Occasional news and commentary from the world of speechwriting.
  • Selected feedback from readers.
  • Easy unsubscribing if you decide SpeechList isn't for you.

I'm your host, Rob Cottingham -- a speechwriter and public speaker with experience writing for national and provincial political leaders, corporate CEOs, union leaders, community activists and innovative thinkers and commentators. My politics skew left, but you should be able to get something out of SpeechList regardless of your political stripe -- and no matter whether you're priming a politician, pumping up your sales reps or persuading your town council to put a crosswalk on your corner.

2. Feature article: The fine art of the opening joke

So two speechwriters walk into a bar...

There's a good reason that the established wisdom around public speaking tells you to begin with a joke. The right joke can get you off to a roaring start:

  • It signals to the audience that they can at least count on being entertained.
  • It establishes common ground between you and the audience. Shared laughter can be a powerful bond.
  • It humanizes you, and tells the audience that you have both wit and a sense of
  • It relaxes the audience and gives them an implied permission to respond to
    what you're saying. And it relaxes you; getting a big laugh at the outset is tremendously reassuring.
  • It can signal the theme of your speech in a memorable way (one that people are
    likely to repeat outside the auditorium or banquet hall).

But beware. The wrong joke can tell an audience something much different about you, and set you up for a fall.


A Vancouver professional society recently sponsored a breakfast presentation. Every audience member had risen early and paid good money to hear what they had every reason to expect would be some valuable information.

The speaker was introduced, went to the podium and said, "Actually, I haven't always been in this industry. I was in the submarine business until it went under."

(The speech, need I add, had nothing to do with submarines.)

Pity the speech hadn't been at night; at least there would have been crickets chirping to break the ensuing painful silence.

It's not as though the right opening joke would have saved an otherwise mediocre presentation. But the wrong one made an already-nervous speaker even more anxious -- and if there's one emotion audiences can't help but share with you, it's anxiety.

What's more, it signaled to the audience that their expectations of a professional, useful presentation were about to be dashed. (As it turned out, that's just what happened.)


Because jokes aren't meant seriously, they can slip into a final draft without the vetting you ought to give them. Don't let them.

I've seen the news coverage of major speeches focus exclusively on a single joke that, taken out of context, reflected badly on the speaker. That's especially dangerous when you're writing for a controversial public figure or organization under a lot of scrutiny.

Ask yourself: could this joke come back to haunt me... or hurt my client?

Here are a few tips that have worked well for me over the years. Of course, humour is more of an art than a science, so there are exceptions to most of these rules... but they can help ensure you open with a bang instead of a bomb.


  • Sarcasm.
  • Offensive jokes.
  • Jokes unrelated to the event, the audience, the theme or the speaker.
  • Jokes that require long, complex set-ups.

And, as much as it pains me to admit it,

  • Puns.


  • Modest jokes. A successful chuckle is better than a failed belly laugh, especially at the beginning. Don't feel like you have to bring the house down. Last week, Nelson Mandela started his Live 8 speech with just a hint of levity: "As you know, I recently formally announced my retirement from public life and should really not be here."
  • Short jokes. A long, meandering joke - especially at the beginning - only serves to confuse listeners, who will start wondering what your speech is actually about.
  • Topical jokes. Find a joke that relates to something that will already be on the minds of audience members. It can be about the venue, a recent news item or a timely piece of pop culture; as I write this, a joke about high gas prices would probably go over well.
  • Gentle, good-humoured jokes. Self-deprecating jokes work well at the outset; they express a certain level of trust in your listeners. Save the devastating, hilarious attacks on your opponent or competitor for later in the speech, once you've banked some goodwill with your audience.
    Bill Clinton remains a master of poking fun at himself. Receiving an award a few months ago, he said, "One of the things that I had to deal with, when I left office was what I was going to do. I was too young to quit, too inept to play golf, too out of shape to play saxophone and too much of a Calvinist to lay down."
  • Jokes that relate to your main theme. Even seizing on a key word or notion from the joke can give you the transition you need to use your joke as a springboard into the rest of the speech.

3. Off the cuff

Recent speechwriting posts at Rob's blog at http://www.robcottingham.ca :

Speechwriter Terry Edmonds, out from behind the curtain

You've heard Terry Edmonds, even if you've never heard him. He's written speeches for Donna Shalala, Bill Clinton and John Kerry, and now he has a wide-ranging interview at Gothamist.

click here

Government speechwriting has its rewards

The thought of working for government fills some writers' hearts with terror. "Work within a bureaucracy? Have my words and imagery dulled down and bowdlerized by the forces of unimaginative conformity? Never!"

That's the stereotype... but as Sally Kearns points out over on the Washington Speechwriters Roundtable, the stereotype is often far from reality.

click here

4. Your turn

If you've enjoyed what you've read here, if you've disagreed with something, or if you have something to add or an idea for an upcoming issue, please drop me an e-mail at feedback@robcottingham.ca. I'll include a sample of the feedback I get in every edition.

5. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

Know somebody who'd be interested in SpeechList? Please forward this message to as many people as you'd like.

SpeechList Issue #3: New life from a used speech

Here's Issue #3 of SpeechList, the speechwriting newsletter. Get yours fresh from the keyboard by clicking here to subscribe.


Issue 3 - August 4, 2005

by Rob Cottingham
(c) Rob Cottingham 2005


1. Opening words
2. Feature article: Resurrected rhetoric - Six uses for a dead speech
3. Speech of the month: London Mayor Ken Livingstone
4. Off the cuff
5. Your turn
6. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

1. Opening words

This issue's feature article was spurred by a suggestion from Chris Carder, CEO of ThinData, one of Canada's e-marketing leaders. He suggested a look at how you can connect a speech to your online presence -- something that deserves a more in-depth look in a future issue.

But the idea of extending the impact of a speech struck a nerve. For all the work we do preparing for them, speeches go by with unnerving speed. This issue, I try to suggest a few ways you can get the most from your next big speech -- well beyond the actual delivery itself. And some of those ways involve the Internet... so thanks, Chris.

When you check out these ideas, don't overlook the single best way of getting more mileage from a speech: delivering it again. Not the whole thing, word for word; but if you've written a speech that eloquently conveys your organization's strategic message, key passages ought to find their way into address after address. (Provided, of course, that they're to different audiences.)

* * *

By the way, the Vancouver Courier recently ran a good long article on speechwriting from a number of perspectives -- speechwriters, to be sure (including me), but also politicians. There's some good advice in there; check it out.

2. Resurrect your rhetoric: Six uses for a dead speech

The lectern has been disassembled, the coffee cups are cleared and the crowd has moved on to their afternoon agenda. The major speech you worked on for weeks is over, and you can't help but think: is that it?

Well, good news: I may have the cure to post-podium depression.

Here are half a dozen ways a speech can keep on speaking for your organization long after the mike's been switched off.

:: 1 :: Build relationships

Take the speaking text, reduce the size of the typeface to something reasonable like 12 points, and suddenly you have a document that you can send -- printed or electronically -- to selected prospects, clients and stakeholders.

Want to make it even more effective? Include a brief personal note from the speaker explaining why she thinks the recipient would be interested in seeing it, and inviting comment.

You've just helped maintain some of your organization's key relationships -- but you're only getting warmed up.

:: 2 :: Lead thinking

Somewhere out there is a publication whose audience would be interested in what your speaker had to say. It could be a trade magazine, a portal web site or a major daily newspaper.

Find out if they accept outside submissions, and if so, whether they'd be interested. Once you get the green light, do a light rewrite to make the speech print-friendly, trim unnecessary niceties ("It's a thrill to be back here in [TOWN]") and speaking cues like "(pause)" or "(acknowledge hosts)"... and fire it off.

Now your speaker is a thought leader, and the day is still young. Next?

:: 3 :: Start conversations

If your organization has a blog, web site or newsletter, use the speech to spur a dialogue with the public. You can post the full text somewhere else and link to it; here, post the really provocative, insightful passages, and ask readers for their comments.

Whether you adopt a wide-open, take-all-comers policy or just select a few of the best responses and print them, state your policy clearly and be sure to thank people for their contributions. Your speaker can reply to some of the key points, and keep the conversation going.

Great: now you've engaged your audience, and maybe even picked up some useful ideas from them. Don't stop now; you're on a roll.

:: 4 :: Make news

If you wanted news coverage of the speech, you've already dispatched a media advisory out a few days beforehand, called through your list of assignment editors and reporters, and sent around a news release and a pointer to a "Check against delivery" copy of the text as soon as the speech began.

Um, right?

Okay, let's say you didn't. Maybe this speech wasn't the stuff of breaking news. Or someone dropped the ball and the release is still sitting in their outbox. This speech can still do you some good with the media.

Write up a cover note highlighting the speech's key message, and send the text to your media hotlist. Even if it just goes into their files, you've reminded them that you exist and have something worthwhile to say. That could well pay off down the road when a reporter is looking for someone to comment on a related story.

Now that you've massaged the media, are you going to quit? Not a chance.

:: 5 :: Make noise

See, you thought ahead, and arranged to have the speech recorded -- maybe even videotaped. Now's the time to get those files digitized and onto your web site.

But take pity on your audience, and give them the greatest hits. Offer the whole speech if you want, but give them the option of listening to just the best one- or two-minute clips. Be sure to offer the written text as well, both for the hearing-impaired and for people who prefer to read. If the speech included a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, add that, too.

(Incidentally, if your organization happens to produce a podcast, or if you know a podcaster who might find these clips useful for theirs, that's one more way to get the word out. And if you said "Wha'a?" when you read the word "podcast", drop by Tod Maffin's web site and look for the headline "What is a podcast?")

So, you master of multimedia -- got a little more energy left? Because that speech has one more trick left to show you.

:: 6 :: Talk among yourselves

Communicators often forget one of their most important audiences: the organization itself. Staff, members, activists, volunteers -- keeping them informed and engaged is critical.

Depending on the speech and its content, you may not want to distribute the whole thing; even internal audiences have a finite attention span. But there's a good chance they'll want to know about the key messages. Internal newsletters, intranets and bulletin boards are all potential vehicles.

And if any of them will be speaking publicly on the issues the speech deals with, you'll want to distill the text down to talking points. Now, where you started the day with only one messenger and one audience, you may have several... or several dozen.

:: One last thought ::

Consider the days, sometimes weeks you spend hashing out a speech. Now consider that most substantive speeches last about 20 minutes.

In raw time, that's a pretty big loss. Any of these six steps can help you recoup that time -- and start earning a dramatically better return on your investment.

A good speech draws on your key messages and strategic goals, making it an important communications asset. With only a little extra effort, you can put that asset to work for you again and again -- magnifying its impact and reaching far beyond its first audience.

:: How about you? ::

Got a favorite technique for wringing a few more echoes from a speech? Drop me a line at feedback@robcottingham.ca and let me know.

3. Speech of the month

Shortly after his city was attacked in a series of devastating bomb blasts on July 7, London Mayor Ken Livingstone delivered a short statement.

Short -- but nothing short of stunning. Short on bombast and long on resolve, it captured the spirit of an outraged city and galvanized its people.

And it's a reminder that words make a difference. They can provide hope and comfort, give a positive purpose to diffuse fury, and draw us together when we need unity the most.

If you haven't already, give it a read. There's a copy here.

4. Off the cuff

The latest issue of eCatalyst kindly recommends SpeechList as an important part of this balanced communications breakfast, and I���m happy to return the compliment.

eCatalyst's publisher, IMPACS, helps non-profits build their communications capacity. And eCatalyst, a free e-mail newsletter, brings you fabulously useful information about PR and communications every month. Pitched to non-profits, eCatalyst is great for anyone who wants to learn more about getting the word out. Subscribe for free here.

* * *

As always, you can find the latest speechwriting posts from Rob's blog here.

5. Your turn

Last month, we looked at the fine art of the opening joke. Several readers responded with their own examples.

From Vancouver tech PR guy (and ace blogger) Darren Barefoot:

"I recently gave a talk as the 'lunchtime entertainment' at an annual marketing conference. I happened to learn that the previous (year) they'd had some of those wacky fire dancers, which hadn't gone over so far. I opened with something like 'I understand that last year in this slot you had some fire dancers. If I get dull, I can swallow a sword, but hopefully things don't come to that.'

"It hardly brought down the house, but I believe it had the desired effect."

And from rabble.ca columnist Scott Piatkowski:

"I recently took part in a press conference announcing the launch of Grand River Transit's Bus'n'Bike program (Waterloo Region is now the only community in Ontario with a bike rack on the front of every bus in its fleet (feel free to chime in with how long the GRVD has had this). I spoke after a politician, a transportation bureaucrat and a hospital executive, on behalf of the Cycling Advisory Committee. I opened with the following joke, which given the context of the event and the quality of the air that day, went over great:

"'Thank you. Can I just check... can everyone hear me through the smog?'

"I think I broke your vetting rule, though, as I thought of it about 30 seconds before I went up to the podium."

* * *

If you've enjoyed what you've read here, if you've disagreed with something, or if you have something to add or an idea for an upcoming issue, please drop me an e-mail at feedback at robcottingham dot ca. I'll include a sample of the feedback I get in every edition.

6. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

Know somebody who'd be interested in SpeechList? Please forward this message to as many people as you'd like.

SpeechList Issue #4: Speech structure 101

Issue 4 - November 14, 2005
by Rob Cottingham

(c) Rob Cottingham 2005


  1. Opening words
  2. Feature article: Speech structure 101
  3. Catch Rob at the Ragan Speechwriting Conference, February 8-10
  4. Your turn
  5. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

1. Opening words

SpeechList is back after our late-summer early-fall break. And whether you're mulling over launching your campaign for the upcoming Canadian federal election, eyeing a U.S. Congressional seat in the 2006 cycle, or wondering how to write that speech your Grade 10 history teacher just assigned you, we're here to help.

This issue, we'll get down to the very basics: structure. We aren't the first; the ancient Greeks dissected speeches into parts with names like proem and peroration. If your ears pricked up during that last sentence, good on you. (And let's sit down sometime for coffee, and bore the daylights out of everyone within earshot.) But if your eyes glazed over, never fear; the secrets of speechwriting structure are as simple as, well, telling a story.

Finally, a big welcome to the subscribers who've signed up since the last issue. The list has nearly doubled since August, and shows no signs of letting up. The more the merrier: feel free to pass this issue on to anyone you think would be interested. And as always, drop me a line with any questions, comments or suggestions you might have.

2. Speech structure 101

Want to know the one word that can solve most of your speechwriting problems before they ever arise?


A good, solid structure can help you hold your audience's attention, amplify your core message and give you (or your speaker) a new sense of confidence. A weak structure - well, that can have your audience scratching their heads, checking their watches or heading for the doors.

What makes structure so important?

Put yourself in your audience's position (never a bad idea when you're approaching a speech). They're surrounded by distractions -- clinking teaspoons, other audience members whispering, the limits of their own attention spans.

And if those attentions happen to wander, there's no way an audience member can rewind your speech or flip back through the text until they pick up the thread of your argument again. If they lose their way, they stay lost.

Chances are when that happens, they won't be paying attention to the rest of your speech, either. And whatever they remember about those 20 minutes, it won't be your message.

A clear, simple structure can give your audience a roadmap -- something that can keep them from losing track in the first place, or help them find their way back if they do. It can let them focus on your message, instead of wondering what it i.s

It can do you a big favour, too. Structure lets you know when you're going off the rails -- when you're reinforcing your central argument, and when you're straying from the topic, wasting time and weakening your speech.

So what is good structure?

There's no great mystery to structure; it's just the way you organize information in a speech.

Really compelling, memorable structure, though, relies on a certain kind of internal logic. And the kind of internal logic that human beings keep coming back to again and again -- across time and across cultures -- is story.

Aristotle set out the basics of story about 2,300 years ago, in a work he titled "Poetics". He divided dramatic narrative into three acts: Act One, the beginning; Act Two, the middle; and Act Three, the end.

Those terms have survived to this day; if you listen to a Hollywood executive talk about what went wrong (or right) about a movie, you'll often hear them talk about "the first act turning point" or "a second act slump".

So in drama,

  • Act One sets up the main character's dilemma, and commits them to resolving it.
  • Act Two develops the underlying conflict between the main character and whatever forces stand between her or him and the resolution.
  • Act Three resolves the conflict and shows us how the character has changed along the way, often hinting at the character's ultimate destiny.

One of the things that dramatists learn early on is that the closer they keep to the main character's central dilemma, the more unified, seamless and compelling the resulting story.

You can do the same in a speech. The beginning establishes the theme of your speech and the central idea. The middle explores the idea, and walks the audience through a logical chain that proves it. And the end restates the idea and considers its implications -- including a possible call to action.

Let's look at how that works.


No part of your speech does more work per second than the opening few minutes. You have to:

  • Engage your audience and find common ground
  • Set out your central theme, and point the speech toward your key idea
  • Tell your audience what they can expect -- and at least hint at the structure

Many speechwriters will tell you that once they have the beginning, they have the speech -- because the seeds for the second and third acts are sown in the first.

Entire books have been written on how you engage an audience, especially the art of the opening joke. (SpeechList looked at opening jokes in our second issue.) We'll be taking a look at other techniques you can use, including anecdotes, statistics and quotations. Suffice to say that great speeches almost always relate any opening ice-breakers to the theme of their speech.

Speakers are often very explicit in how they tell an audience what's in store, putting all their cards on the table. "I want to talk to you today about the future of public transportation in our city. And I want to touch on the three improvements essential to making that a healthy future: wider reach, higher density, and better infrastructure."

In about 20 seconds, this speaker has told the audience to expect a general discussion of public transit's future, then an in-depth examination of three areas. And there's now an implicit promise that, once the speaker has finished talking about better transportation infrastructure, it won't be long until the speech ends.

Sometimes an opening is a little more playful, and the speaker uses tools like suspense and curiosity to keep the audience engaged. "Let's take a ride, then, into the future of public transportation. And along the way, we're going to stop at three stations that we have to pass if we're to reach our destination.... Our first stop is Expansion Station. Let's have a look around."

Similar to the first opening we looked at, this one establishes a slightly more whimsical tone, and while it deals three cards on the table, it leaves them face-down for now.

You don't always have to tell the audience to expect a set number of points. Although it's an easy, effective way of establishing a structure, you sacrifice a sense of spontaneity. (I was at a speech once where the speaker promised to enumerate the five key elements of hope. By the time he got to tenet number eight, hope seemed like an awfully distant prospect.) Especially with shorter, less formal speeches, you can often get away with a more general statement: "So what's it going to take to keep public transit alive and well for decades to come? Well, a few answers come to mind."


The middle of your speech is where you develop your argument, and tell the core of your story.

Sound simple? The fact is, this is the most dangerous part of the speech. By definition, an audience knows when a speech has begun; and if you give them even a hint, they'll know when it's wrapping up. But the middle of a speech is the place where they can't see either shore. And unless you give them an occasional glimpse of the map, their inner children will spend much of your speech asking "Are we there yet?"

That applies even to the most entertaining speakers. You can have your audience rolling in the aisles or moved to tears -- and some little part of them will be wondering how long before they can stretch their legs.

So give them a reminder now and then, especially when you move from one section of your speech to another: "But even if we widen the reach of our transportation network to every neighbourhood in the area, all we'll have done is stretch ourselves too thin... unless we address density. And that's the second key improvement I want to address this morning."

Note, too, that the speaker is drawing a logical connection between those two issues. There's an underlying logic to this speech, and that's far more powerful than a simple shopping list. A story beats a list any day.

The power comes, too, because sticking to the underlying logic of your argument prevents you from bringing in extraneous material that distracts from your central point. Remember that "second act slump" screenwriters sometimes talk about? That's when they lose track of the story in a tangle of subplots and scenes that seem just too clever to cut. Speechwriters have the same problem, with the same solution: go back to just telling your story.

In a longer speech, take pity on your audience. At about the three-quarters mark, give them an indication of how far they are from the end: "That brings me to my last two points."

Your final point should link explicitly to your theme. Unlike a news release, where you put the most important information as close to the beginning as possible, you should feel free to make the final point of a speech the most dramatic and significant one. Often, that can be your springboard to a stirring, effective conclusion.


Tell them what you're going to say, say it, and tell them what you've said: that's the conventional wisdom about speeches. So close, but so terribly far from what works.

If all you do in a conclusion is recap everything the audience has already heard, you may help them remember your argument when they leave. If you're a good enough writer, you may even dull the pain of repetition. But you'll lose out on much of the power that a good speech can give you.

By all means, sketch out the argument you've just made for them. Bring it all together. But then, take it to the next step, and tell your audience what it means. What are the implications of your argument? And what action does it demand of them?
This -- the call to action -- is what your speech has been building to. You may be calling for the defeat of a particular piece of legislation: "Let's get out there and call every legislator we can reach, change every mind that's open to listening, and send this bill back to the scrapheap." You may be asking an audience for money: "These are all good ideas -- but good ideas won't happen, good ideas can't happen, if good people don't back them up when the need is greatest. Tonight, I'm pledging a thousand dollars. Who will join me?" Or you may simply be asking them to remember a great person or an important event.

Passion goes hand in hand with action, and the conclusion of a speech is a natural habitat for strong emotion. Don't be afraid to express how you feel. Leave your audience feeling the emotion you want them to feel whenever they think of this issue.

At which point... end it. I've seen more speeches ruined by speakers who bring the crowd to the feet... and then ramble on for three or four minutes about some minor point they wanted to cover off. Dramatists call it anti-climax; I call it poison. Hit the emotional high point, thank your audience, and get out of Dodge.

And in that spirit --

3. Catch Rob at the Speechwriter's Conference in Washington, DC

Exciting news: I'll be presenting at the 2006 Speechwriter's Conference in Washington, DC from February 8-10, 2006. It's put on by Lawrence Ragan Communications, giants in the corporate communications field. And David Murray, the conference organizer, has assembled a terrific program with some truly impressive speakers.

I'll have more details in the next issue. In the meantime, you can find out more at http://tinyurl.com/bsy7q .

If you want to kick-start your speechwriting career, this could be a great way to start. And if you register before December 9, you can save $100 on registration -- visit http://tinyurl.com/bzx84

4. Your turn

If you've enjoyed what you've read here, if you've disagreed with something, or if you have something to add or an idea for an upcoming issue, please drop me an e-mail at feedback@robcottingham.ca. I'll include a sample of the feedback I get in every edition.

5. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

Know somebody who'd be interested in SpeechList? Please forward this message to as many people as you'd like.

SpeechList Issue #5: Seven steps to powerful quotations

Issue 5 - January 25, 2006


1. Opening words
2. Feature article: Can I quote you on that?
3. Catch Rob at the Ragan Speechwriting Conference, February 8-10
4. Your reading list
5. Ever thought of blogging?
6. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

More...1. Opening words

Welcome to the fifth issue of SpeechList - and a special welcome to our passel of new readers!

Not long after Issue 4, I sent everyone a request for topics you'd like to see covered in upcoming issues. You came through in spades, with at least two years' worth of solid ideas. And we start off this issue with a feature issue inspired by an ace communicator in her own right, Roseann Moran, who writes "I would like to see something about the use of quotes and maybe some resources for good quotes." I hope this issue fits the bill.

You'll also find a few reading suggestions, and my pitch to try to convince you to give blogging a spin. Plus, from our shameless self-promotion department, details on my upcoming presentation at the 2006 Ragan Speechwriter's Conference, running February 8-10 in Washington, DC. And — despite my unabashed partisan convictions — you'll see me say nice things about a prominent member of another party. We're nothing if not broadminded here at SpeechList.

So make the most of that openminded spirit: send your suggestions, comments, questions and tips to speechlist@robcottingham.ca. I'd be delighted to hear from you. Thanks!

2. Feature article: Can I quote you on that?

"All he did was string together a lot of old, well-known quotations."
– H.L. Mencken, on William Shakespeare

What is this fascination we have with quotations? Mining everything from the latest sitcom catch phrase to centuries-old literature, we love to repeat the words of other people.

Speechwriters are no different – in fact, we may be the biggest quoters out there. Maybe it's the fact that someone else has already done the heavy lifting, or the hope that our work might someday in turn be quoted. Whatever the reason, look at a speechwriter's bookshelf and chances are you'll find at least one book of quotations.

"Let no-one else's work evade your eyes:
Plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize!"
– Tom Lehrer

Why quote? There are plenty of good reasons to open up the quotation marks. For example, when...

  • someone has expressed an idea more clearly, evocatively and memorably than anything you've been able to write for the past hour
  • you're quoting someone whose opinion your audience respects, and who agrees with your argument
  • you're giving a concrete example of someone who holds a particular point of view
  • you're quoting someone who strikes a strong emotional chord -- good or bad -- with your audience
  • you're setting out common ground with your audience, via a quotation or a source they know well.

"Quotation, n. The act of repeating erroneously the words of another."
– Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Why not quote? As handy as quotations are, they exact a toll on your speech.

For one thing, you aren't giving your audience what they want. They came to hear what you have to say, in your own words. A quotation here and there is fine, but the time you spend quoting other people is time your audience won't have to communicate with you.

You also sacrifice some of your speech's power. Whether you're speaking from bullet points or a prepared text (or, heaven help us all, off the top of your head), your delivery is bound to be fresher, more spontaneous and more engaging when the text is yours. It's the difference between speaking and reciting.

Still, keeping those caveats in mind, a judicious quotation can make a real difference in a speech. But instead of just reaching for a copy of Bartlett's and using the first passage that seems appropriate, take a few extra moments to make your next quotation truly effective.

"I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have,
beautifully expressed with much authority
by someone recognized wiser than oneself. "
– Marlene Dietrich

Seven steps to powerful quotations:

1. Take the quote less travelled. Some quotations have worn painfully thin with overuse, and have earned full membership in the Quotable Cliché Hall of Shame. Pass up the tired standbys and look for something your audience may not have heard a thousand times before. (And unless the definition of a particular word is a key part of your speech, please don't quote the dictionary.)

2. Find a parallel. You don't have to limit yourself to quotations dealing with the exact topic of your speech -- and often you shouldn't. There's usually a more fundamental idea underlying your specific subject; a good, pithy quotation addressing that idea from another subject area can be a springboard to a striking metaphor or analogy.

3. Take issue. Don't just quote people you agree with completely. Instead, use a quotation as a fulcrum. "So and so said such and such. I think he was only half right."

4. Excerpt the unexpected. When we think of the sources for quotations, we think of political leaders, great works of literature... and not much else. But your audience is constantly bombarded with messages, and there are sources that may well resonate with them more strongly than some long-dead statesman. Look to books, films, pop songs, TV shows, even commercials. (One high point of a speech I wrote a few years ago was a quotation from the movie "Mars Attacks!") And try sources from cultures other than your own or your audience's.

5. Don't let your quotation off the hook. More often than not, a speaker will cite a quotation and then leave it hanging there. Instead, keep those words working for you. Echo their structure, tease out deeper meanings, explore the quotation's personal meaning to you. You'll not only amplify the power of the quotation you've chosen, but take a certain kind of ownership over it.

6. Small is beautiful. The longer the quotation, the more time you'll spend reading someone else's words instead of engaging with your audience. A short, pithy quotation packs a lot more power.

7. Trust but verify. Google searches and online sources can turn up a torrent of quotations, many of them wonderful. But a lot of the quotations you'll find online are misremembered, misheard, mistyped or just plain mistaken. (An entire book has been written on the topic: They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions by Paul F. Boller Jr. and John George.) Unless the online source is the originator of the passage you're quoting, check it against a more authoritative reference.

"I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking."
– Dorothy Sayers

Your turn: What are your favourite places to go hunting for the perfect quotation? Who's the most quotable person you know? And do you have a nominee for the Quotable Cliché Hall of Shame? Let the rest of us know at speechlist@robcottingham.ca.

3. Catch Rob at Ragan

There's still time to sign up for the Ragan Communications 2006 Speechwriter's Conference in Washington, DC, running from February 8-10. Conference organizer David Murray has assembled a terrific program with some truly impressive speakers, as well as a pre- and post-conference program of workshops and (naturally) speeches.

I'll be presenting the main conference's final seminar on Friday morning, February 10th. The topic: seven reasons to give a speech (and seven reasons not to). I'll show you how to:

  • Identify which communication situations lend themselves to speeches, and which ones don’t
  • Talk your leader into accepting important speaking engagements that he or she would prefer not to do
  • Talk your leader into taking a pass on speaking engagements that don’t contribute to the organization’s strategy

The conference offers a wide range of sessions for everyone from beginners to grizzled veterans. If you want to kick-start your speechwriting career, this could be a great way to start. Get more information at http://tinyurl.com/bsy7q.

4. Worth checking out

The Boxing Day sales were the perfect excuse for me to finally pick up a long-awaited copy of Dennis Gruending's book, Great Canadian Speeches (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2004).

I'm making my way through it now, and just read the moving speech in the House of Commons by J.S. Woodsworth on the eve of Canada's entry into the Second World War. Not only had Woodsworth lost his struggle to convince his fellow caucus members to oppose the war – a defeat that meant the end of his leadership of the CCF – but he had also suffered a debilitating stroke only days previously.

As Gruending reports, "Tommy Douglas, who sat beside him in the House on that evening, recounted how Woodsworth's wife had written brief notes in inch-high letters in crayon, and Douglas passed them to him. 'I knew that in a few minutes I would be voting against him,' Douglas told a biographer, 'but I never admired him more than I did that day.'"

The book is full of great oratory, and Gruending sets the stage well for every speech with a brief introductory passage. I can tell already I'll be diving in frequently: sometimes for quotations, and sometimes for inspiration. I'd encourage any Canadian speechwriter to pick up a copy... and those outside of Canada would find it an excellent addition to their libraries.

The holiday season also brought a copy of Nick Morgan's Give Your Speech, Change the World. Morgan proceeds from the excellent premise that the speech that doesn't change the world isn't worth giving; that is, the only goal that really matters is to move your audience to action. Morgan's challenge is to speakers themselves even more than speechwriters – for example, by calling on speakers to engage directly with audience at the outset of a speech. And he strongly encourages you to think in terms of the story your speech is telling, advice that I can second strongly.

As with Great Canadian Speeches, I'm only halfway through Morgan's book, but I'm enjoying it immensely.

5. Ever thought of blogging? Going to be in Vancouver on Feb. 10-11?

It's an exciting time at SpeechList headquarters. I've just launched a web site called Confeederation.ca, which brings together blog posts by candidates from across Canada running in the 2006 federal election.

I mention this not to blow my own horn (well, not just to blow my own horn), but because I'm finding some interesting parallels between public speaking, the most ancient of communications vehicles, and blogging, the most modern. Each medium relies heavily on an authentic, distinctive personal voice; each carries with it the possibility of direct engagement with your audience; and each offers a level of immediacy and intimacy that few other communications vehicles can hope to match.

That suggests that at least some of the skills that make you a good speechwriter could also make you a good blogger. (Maybe it's no coincidence that, during the just-completed Canadian election campaign, the only official political party blog that drew much praise at all was an irreverent offering from the party's speechwriter, Scott Feschuk. Have a look at http://liberal.ca/blogs_e.aspx - it's really worth reading.)

All of which is to say: if you're looking for a new way to get a message across, a new tool for personal expression or new opportunities in freelance writing, take a look at blogging.

One great way to start, if you're in the Vancouver area next February 10-11, is the Northern Voice blogging conference. While some of the programming is pitched to the geekiest of the geeky, there's more than enough on the agenda to keep blogging newcomers amply busy. (I'll be part of a panel on blogging and social change with my partner, Alexandra Samuel.) Find out more at http://2006.northernvoice.ca.

6. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

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SpeechList Issue #6: When NOT to give a speech

Issue 6 - May 23, 2006


  1. Opening words
  2. Feature article: Seven reasons not to give a speech
  3. Reports from Ragan
  4. Reading list
  5. This issue's tip
  6. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

More...1. Opening words

Between a flurry of conferences, leaving full-time employment and launching a new company, plus an avalanche of work, it's been a busy 2006 at SpeechList central, and it doesn't look like we'll be slowing down any time soon.

This issue's feature article is an adaptation of the talk I gave at the Ragan Speechwriter's Conference earlier this year in Washington, DC: seven reasons to give a speech, and seven reasons not to. We looked at the first half in the very first issue of SpeechList; this issue, it's time for the rebuttal. We'll look at some of the red flags that can alert you to a disaster in the offing, and – I hope! – allow you to steer clear, or at least limit the damage.

Meanwhile, a piece of news: SpeechList is moving! Instead of being housed at my personal domain, your next issue will come via Social Signal – the new company I've launched with my wife, Alexandra Samuel. You can find out more about Social Signal at http://socialsignal.com. And the list's new web home is http://socialsignal.com/speechlist. You shouldn't notice much difference, except for a few changes in the links for managing your subscription.

As always, we appreciate your comments. Send them to speechlist@robcottingham.ca (and while we'll have a new comment address in the next issue, that address will continue to work).

2. Feature article: Seven reasons not to give a speech

There are speeches where the audience goes wild with enthusiasm, your speaker knocks 'em dead, the media eats it up and everyone comes out ahead.

And then there are the other kind: the speaking invitations you regret accepting for years afterward, and the events your speaker shouldn't have touched with a nine-foot boom mike.

So how do you tell the difference?

I’d love to tell you there’s some foolproof algorithm to tell you whether your client’s future holds a standing ovation or a pratfall. But there isn’t. Here’s what you can do.

Figure out – subjectively – two things.

One, cost versus benefit.

Consider the cost of accepting the invitation: your time, the speaker’s time, research time, travel costs, attention distracted from other things.

Balance that against the benefit: everything from prestige to goodwill to the ability to convey a message you need to deliver – all measured against the organization’s strategic communications goals.

Number two, risk versus opportunity.

What could go wrong, from embarrassment to hostility? And what do you get if everything goes right, from great media coverage to a big new sale?

Compare those two pictures. If you’re travelling a huge distance to deliver a speech that will take weeks to write on a topic your client barely cares about ... to a crowd of thirty belligerent cranks at an event that the media wouldn’t cover if they all spontaneously combusted... this might not be the event for you.

Here are seven reasons why you may not want your client to head to the podium.

1. The event's too low-profile

A leader’s time is valuable. Staff time is valuable. If you’re using it for an event that won’t get you the payoff you need, that’s a mistake. And the profile of the event reflects on your speaker, too; if you’re doing parking lot openings, that sends a signal to others who might invite you.

2. The event’s too high-profile

Sometimes you need to keep your head down, whether it’s because of legal difficulties, PR problems or an impending major announcement. If your organization is following a low-ball strategy, then a leader’s speech to a high-profile event may not be a great idea.

3. The wrong audience

Maybe these folks are hostile, maybe they’re aching to hear something you just can’t tell them, but there are some audiences you just don’t want to talk to.

That said, there are times when you can actually get a lot of credit for bearding the lion in its den. You’ll get grudging respect from your opponents, and props from the media for having the nerve to show up.

4. The wrong agenda

They have your speaker scheduled too late in the day to get coverage. Or right before a huge, contentious resolution debate that has them distracted. Or on a panel with someone you simply don’t want to be associated with. These can all be deal-breakers if the convenor isn’t willing to budge.

5. The wrong timing

I can’t tell you how many invitations I’ve seen for hour-long speeches, or 45-minute speeches with 15-minute Q-and-A sessions. Short of some very special circumstances – say, if you're writing for Steve Jobs at the MacWorld keynote – don’t do that to your speaker. They’ll have a bored, restless audience and a long, meandering speech. If you can’t negotiate the time down, that’s a deal-breaker.

6. The wrong messenger

You don't always have to send the CEO, senator, president or board coordinator. Sometimes an event is better suited to a staff analyst, a board member or a vice-president in charge of a specialized area.

7. A better opportunity

This is my favourite. Being able to tell a boss or client, “I don’t want you taking this gig, because there’s this much better one at the same time” — that’s golden.

Those are all solid reasons not to accept an invitation. But when it comes time for you to make your choice, let me make my pitch for erring on the side of yes. Speeches are a chance to connect with an audience, build a relationship, maybe move them to action – and there’s nothing like the opportunity to lead.

Your turn: Do you have a personal early warning system that tells you an invitation to speak could be inviting disaster? A story about how you or your speaker turned a catastrophe around? Let our readers know at speechlist@robcottingham.ca!

3. Reports from Ragan

The Ragan Speechwriter's Conference earlier this year in Washington, DC was a terrific opportunity: a great way to pick up new ideas, connect with like-minded people and share experiences. My blog has notes from three of the sessions:

The fiery muse of Tack Cornelius

Tack Cornelius, a 22-year veteran of the speechwriting game in the political and corporate arenas, gave us three advice-packed hours. He conveyed an abiding passion for great writing and compelling images; his wide-ranging presentation returned constantly to the power of a single vivid, evocative metaphor and the importance of feeding your creative muse.

Read the full report

David Kusnet, authenticity, and the end of Big Speechwriting

Former Clinton speechwriter David Kusnet kicked the main conference off with a keynote that suggested we're all about to lose our jobs. Okay, not exactly – but if he's right, we'll all be doing the job of speechwriting much differently in the future.

Read the full report

Jeffrey Denny wants to save you from bad commencement speeches

I remember the speech at my university graduation only dimly. Something about barely being able to stay awake through it… and wishing the damn thing would end. That was nearly 20 years ago, and according to Fannie Mae speechwriter Jeffrey Denny – who took us on a ride through the worst and best of commencement speaking in 2005 – they haven’t improved a bit since.

Read the full report

4. Reading list

Kamran Nazeer's Send in the Idiots is his memoir of the school for autistic children he attended – but it's much more. Nazeer tracks down his former classmates, and finds many of them have achieved remarkable success.

One of the most interesting profiles is that of Craig, who was the speechwriter for a 2004 Democratic presidential hopeful. Nazeer offers a fascinating account of a typical (for Craig) speechwriting job interview, both from Craig's point of view, filtered through the perceptions and processes that autism imposes, and the perspective of the potential employer, misunderstanding (and even fearing) Craig's responses. It's a look at how a talent for helping others connect with their audiences can coexist with a condition that creates a deep divide with the outside world.

If you haven't seen it already, the New Yorker profile of President Bush's former speechwriter, Michael Gerson, is a revelation. The intimacy between some presidents and their speechwriters is legendary (think John F. Kennedy and Ted Sorensen), but Gerson's spiritual relationship with Bush is extraordinary. No matter how you feel about the Bush administration, this is a rare and valuable look at how personality, belief and politics intertwine in the Oval Office.

5. This issue's tip. This issue's tip.

You've just made a telling point, and you really want it to sink in. How do you do it?

Here's a technique that Van Jones, the founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, used in a speech I heard him give recently.

You repeat the phrase. You repeat the phrase. Word for word.

Repetition works best with short, simple sentences: "Failure is a better teacher than success. (pause) Failure is a better teacher than success." This is a technique best used sparingly and judiciously – but it can be very powerful.

Advertisers and PR professionals know that repetition is one of the keys to any message's success. For you, it's a signal to your audience that this is a phrase worth remembering – as well as a tool to help them do just that.

6. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

Know somebody who'd be interested in SpeechList? Please forward this message to as many people as you'd like.

SpeechList Issue #7: Five ways to break into speechwriting

Issue 7 - September 5, 2006
by Rob Cottingham
(c) Social Signal 2006

1. Opening words: Speechwriting life

This issue, we'll look at some answers to the question I get asked more often than any other: how do I break in to professional speechwriting?

Maybe it's surprising there's so much interest in our field. Authenticity is valued more and more highly, and can be hard to reconcile with reciting a script written by someone else. And with the decline of formal oratory - especially, but not exclusively, in politics - you might think professional speechwriting is going the way of the fax machine: not exactly extinct, but much less significant than it used to be.

Yet even in this wired age, face-to-face communication remains important. Audiences and speakers alike continue to seek out its intimacy, immediacy and richness. If, as Woody Allen once said, 80 percent of success is showing up, then in-person presentations are going to keep happening.

Maybe busy leaders, executives, activists, parents and advocates would write every word themselves in an ideal world. But that's not what I'm seeing. Instead, I'm noticing more and more people trying to carve out time by focusing on their core strengths and outsourcing everything else. And if they don't happen to be great writers - or even good ones - well, that's when our phones start ringing.

There's life in speechwriting yet. Helping people say what's really on their minds is no impediment to authenticity; with many speakers, it's downright mandatory. So to everyone who's champing at the bit, ready and willing to jump into this business, welcome aboard.

2. Feature article: Five ways to break into speechwriting

Maybe you've written a few speeches for yourself or others that went over well. Maybe you're just attracted by the glitz and glamour of the profession. (Maybe you just fell over laughing.) Whatever the reason, you want to start speechwriting professionally.

But where to begin? Unlike aspiring doctors, bike mechanics and chefs, speechwriters don't have a prescribed course of study and internship. There aren't a lot of jobs out there labeled "speechwriter", and no one career path to follow.

The bright side is, that means there are a lot of ways into the business. Here are five tips for anyone who wants to make the leap into professional speechwriting.

  • Talk it up. The very first thing to do is to let people know you're looking for assignments. Ask them to tell their friends and colleagues. Look through your contacts for anyone who could arrange an introduction to a potential client, and make the call.
  • Give a little bit. Find a cause, a candidate or an organization you support personally, and offer to write a speech for them either for free or at a steep discount. Then make it the best speech you possibly can. What could you get out of it? Three invaluable things: a superb piece for your portfolio, a new and grateful addition to your professional network, and a speaker who gives your name when people ask, "Who wrote that terrific speech?"
  • Carve out a niche. What issues or topics do you know really well? What genres of speech are you best at ‚Äì keynotes, roasts, lectures? Letting people know that you have a special area of expertise allows you to define a market all your own. And when you're just beginning, a distinct identity goes a long way to helping you stand out from the pack.
  • Write to be noticed. Find opportunities to write for publication ‚Äì especially the kind of publication that will be seen by your prospective clients. Columns in trade magazines, op-ed pieces in newspapers and other publications give you exposure and credibility, not to mention the chance to develop your skills in a sideline.
  • Stake out your online turf. I've been headhunted three times purely on the strength of my web site and blog. Blogging is a particularly easy way to begin building a compelling web presence. And if you've followed the third tip, and carved out a distinctive niche for yourself, then writing about topics within that niche will help establish your authority... not to mention making your site a magnet for people searching about those topics.
       However you approach your online presence, be sure your site includes your latest contact information and a professional profile establishing your speechwriting bona fides.

It can take some time to build up your clientele, but don't let that discourage you. Speechwriting's one of those fields where talent can take you a long way... and talent plus a little marketing savvy can take you even further.

Your turn: How did you break into speechwriting... or are you still trying? What's worked for you, and what would you steer clear of? Let us know at speechlist@socialsignal.com!

3. Feed your toolbox! New resources for speechwriters

When it comes to communications tools, you don't get much older than speechwriting... yet the newest technologies can help us out a lot. The right tool for your next speech may be as close as your nearest Internet connection.

So starting with this issue, we'll be profiling some of the best online resources for speechwriters. And we'll kick off this feature with a bumper crop of tools, blogs and reference sites.

Let Google be your secretary: Reader Dennis Jordan emailed to say, "Google's new Notebook application is an excellent tool for writers. It let's you clip and organize bite-sized bits of web content nearly instantly. Today, I've clipped one new word ('sclerotic') for a vocabulary; your comment on repetition (quoting a 'Van Jones'); and the titles of two books I want. Great tool! http://www.google.com/notebook."

Find that factoid: Ian Griffin's blog, Executive Communications, ran a recent series on search tools for speechwriters. Google isn't the only game in town, and when you're trying to track down that elusive quotation, anecdote or statistic, it may not always be your best bet. Ian explains in parts one, two and three.

Stay in the loop: You already know about SpeechList (and may I just say, what fine taste you're demonstrating). But there are a number of other resources and sites by and for speechwriters. Check out Colin Moorhouse's free newsletter duo, Fearless Freelancing and We Need a Speech, and get his best speechwriting and freelancing tips delivered straight to your inbox. (And while you're there, have a look at Colin's speechwriting blog.)

Mingle and mix: There's a terrific group blog at the Washington Speechwriters Roundtable. You'll find plenty of advice and commentary from professionals writing for everyone from senators to lobbyists to non-profits, updated frequently.

Got a tool you can't live without? A web site you check compulsively? Sharing is good for your karma - tell us about it at speechlist@socialsignal.com.

4. Speechlist's new home

There have been one or two small changes behind the scenes. SpeechList, and my speechwriting practice, have a new home: Social Signal, the company I helped to launch at the beginning of the year. Our focus is on online community, but we have a healthy respect for the power of face-to-face communications and leadership... hence SpeechList's new presence there.

I hope you'll check out Social Signal — and drop by our blog. You'll find lots of information on the social web, as well as back issues of SpeechList and more.

5. This issue's tip

Your client is hot to trot with a new speech assignment. Great! But when you asked them what the speech is about, all you got was a meandering series of barely related ideas, factoids, anecdotes and arguments. So what are you going to do?

Here's a way to focus your client's attention: ask them what they want the audience to do after the speech.

Writing that information down and giving it to the speechwriter accomplishes two things:

One, it gives the writer the kind of specific direction she or he needs to do the job right the first time.

And two, it forces the client to confront just how pointless their speech may actually be - and jolt them into embracing something a lot more powerful.

6. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

  • Want to sign up for a free subscription to SpeechList? Visit SpeechList.com for details.
  • And please feel free to pass this newsletter on to anyone else you think might be interested!

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