Four industry pros share their best practices for writing inclusive, interesting messages that have staying power.
Good speechwriting requires a knack for storytelling and an ear for spoken language, but it’s also a skill that can be honed with practice.
Here are three tips speechwriting pros shared during Ragan’s Speechwriting and Public Affairs Conference on March 31:
1. Don’t be afraid to get personal.
The best speeches and public remarks come from a place of connection, says Katye Riselli, speechwriter for former First Lady Laura Bush.
In speeches Riselli helped craft for Bush, she would lean heavily on Bush’s personal experiences and anecdotes to create context for the overall purpose of the speech.
It’s not so much about what gets said, but rather how it’s said, Riselli advises.
It can be difficult to personalize speeches if you don’t have direct access to your principal. In those cases, David Levey, a veteran speechwriter and public affairs officer, recommends reaching out to their close friends and confidantes.
Getting familiar with a principal’s former speechwriter is what helped Alexandra Robinson, a deputy speechwriter for U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh.
“It made it so much easier when I came on board,” she says. “Even though I was starting from scratch, I really wasn’t. I felt like I had an ally who was able to get me through what I needed to learn.”
2. Inclusive speeches are better speeches.
Shannon Marone, public affairs manager with Brunswick Corporation, says inclusive writing starts with people-first language.
She advises using terms like “we,” “us,” “together,” and “collaborating,” in her words: “not making it about just the person who’s speaking, but drawing the audience in.”
Research is key. Consider reaching out to the organizer of the event your principal is speaking at to get a better idea of who your audience will be and what will best resonate with them. Knowing the makeup of the audience makes it easier to create a personal story, Robinson says.
According to Riselli, using inclusive language gives a speaker the opportunity to say “I see you” to audiences.
“In our world today, we’re more wired for connection, but people are lonely,” Riselli says. She argues that inclusive language builds trust by developing a shared identity—a “we.”
3. Use repetition to generate “earworms.”
“One of the tricks of the trade, for speechwriters, is repetition,” Levey notes. And the magic number in his view is three: “to be able to say things three times in three different ways, with the same meaning or with the same keyword.”
This repetition is what helps to create buzzy sound bites and shareable takeaways for audiences and media to repeat following a speech.
The key to repetition is to keep is short and sweet, Levey says. “No one asks for a refund because a speech was too short.”
He advises reiterating your key message at the beginning and the end of speeches, because that’s when people will be listening most intently.