It’s difficult sounding engaging, persuasive and original. Just ask Gordon.

speech writing

Last week, many people started to question whether the earth orbited the sun and if thunder wasn’t created by the hammer of Thor when they woke to discover that the British Prime Minister doesn’t write his own speeches. It would appear that in a schedule that includes managing record levels of immigration and stopping Iran developing a nuclear bomb that the PM is also expected to compose a couple of thousand words for the next day’s conference.

Appearing statesmanlike, eloquent and credible doesn’t come naturally to anyone, not even Tony Blair. As with other forms of copywriting, it takes practice, time and a lot of redrafts to compose a speech that makes an impact, communicates your key ideas and persuades people to buy into whatever it is you’re selling.

Writing engaging speeches that hit all the right notes and sound genuine isn’t easy. Being able to make them sound original every time is even harder.

The perception that Gordon Brown routinely shuts his door and tells his secretaries to take messages for the rest of the afternoon was shattered by sharp eared pundits drawing similarities between his words and those of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. The central figure tying these men together was Bob Shrum, a political consultant and speech writer employed by all three.

Hovering critics swooped upon the similar structure and devices used in Shrum’s speeches, provoking cries of ‘spin’ and Brown being a ‘copycat prime minister rehashing old material’ from the opposition.

Criticism of Brown’s speech highlights the difficulty of sounding genuine and trustworthy whilst also fresh and original, a very difficult combination to master. Being able to adjust your tone and language to suit your audience is a prerequisite for any writer. But being able to eliminate every metaphor and turn of phrase from your vocabulary once its been used is unrealistic.

Writers never stop learning from new points of reference and developing an awareness of what devices to use to trigger emotional responses. It would appear that Shrum’s crime has been to use the same devices twice in the last decade, and as a result headline hungry commentators are suggesting that Gordon’s credibility is damaged and that he can’t be trusted.

Whenever you’re employed as a copywriter by a business you need to be able to assess the desires of your audience and how to meet these by communicating the benefits of your offer. Every writer will develop their own tried and tested tactics for achieving this, which in Shrum’s case was the recounting of a personal story and referring to a national hero.

Just make sure you keep adding to the tricks in your bag and don’t rely on the same metaphors and the same turn of phrase too many times. But twice in a decade should be ok.

2 Comments. Leave new

I used to write speeches for executives, but decided it was about the most thankless work I’ve ever done.

Tight deadlines, a constant stream of rewrites (right up until delivery), and the thoughtful input of the executive — and two dozen colleagues, relatives, and maintenance staff.

Give me a blog any day… 😎

Hi Tom,

I had thought about eventually giving speech writing a go. But I can imagine, as you say, it can be frustrating when clients want to constantly edit what you’ve carefully written. I think I’ll stick to just helping with the odd best man’s speech for now.

Thanks for taking time out from the big move to leave a comment.


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