How to write speeches for leaders during a pandemic

Do you write speeches as part of your role?

If so, getting to know who you’re writing for is essential.

Over the past year, many internal communicators have found themselves creating key messages, talking points and content for leaders.

I’m not a fan of ghostwriting (where speeches or text are officially credited to another person as the author).

However, many internal communicators are asked to write speeches for their leaders and there are times e.g. when communicating change, when narratives have to be consistent.

But what if you joined the company during the pandemic and have never met your leader/s face-to-face?

If your role has evolved to include this skill, how can you get the cues and clues you need to write successfully?

The best speeches are those that make an emotional connection with the listener and that are genuine and thoughtful. As a keynote speaker myself, I weave stories and anecdotes into every talk I give, and only accept a handful of opportunities each year.

You need to draw out leaders’ compassion and empathy to make/maintain connection with employees. Their words and actions need to be aligned, with no integrity gap between what they say and do. They need to be trustworthy, relatable and most of all, human – showing their vulnerability and vision in equal measure.

That’s always important, but in 2020/1 it’s been critical.

I’m delighted to welcome Caroline Waddams to the All Things IC blog today to reveal her advice on this topic.

Caroline, @CWaddams, has been an internal communication practitioner for over 15 years helping organisations transform the way they connect with their people through inspiring and engaging communications. During this time she has worked for organisations such as Premier Foods, Network Rail, Capgemini and Vodafone Business.

Her specialisms include developing IC strategy, transformation and change programmes, leadership comms and employee engagement.

She went freelance in July 2019 and is currently back at Network Rail supporting their leadership communications. Caroline has been a Board member for the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) since May 2018. She is also an IoIC judge for their national awards and a mentor for the Mentoring Programme supporting fellow members in their professional careers.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: How to write a speech.

Caroline Waddams

I’ll hand you over…

How to get to grips with speechwriting during a pandemic

During the pandemic last year, I started drafting speeches for our CEO for internal events. Something I had not done before and initially felt very ill equipped to do.

But rather than thinking I’m must absolutely nail each speech, I told myself I’m mastering a new skill and treated each one as a learning experience.

Twelve months down the road, I’m still learning and would definitely not class myself as an experienced speech writer. But I love the challenge of getting a brief, doing my research and then putting pen to paper, or these days, fingers to the keyboard.

So, what have I learnt?

1. Know your stakeholder
Get as much exposure as you can to them. This was not possible during the pandemic, so I joined as many virtual events the CEO was speaking at and made copious notes of what he was saying and how. A turn of phrase is often gold dust that you can re-use in your speech.

2. The sound of their voice
I have tried to imprint on my brain the sound of his voice, so when writing now, I can almost him saying the words.

I ask myself, does that sound like him, would he say it like that?

And don’t forget you are writing for listeners, not readers.

3. Get to know those who work around them
If it is tricky to get in front of your stakeholder, talk to those who have more day to day access. They can often provide invaluable insights to your speaker.

4. External speeches
Another great way to get familiar with the language your speaker uses and the current topics they are speaking about is to read other recent speeches they have made.

5. Adding sparkle to your speech
• Use ethos, logos and pathos to add credibility, logic and emotion to your speech
• Use metaphors but sparingly; I think Professor Jonathan Van-Tam (UK Government’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer) uses metaphors to great effect
• Have a memorable close. Take a look at the closing few seconds of Obama’s last speech! See the final few seconds of the clip below or online.

6. On the day
They may not follow the speech word for word, so I find it useful to make a note of what they actually say for future reference.

And don’t forget the wonderful words of Maya Angelou: ‘At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.’

Good luck with your speech writing.

Post author: Caroline Waddams.

Thank you Caroline. What do you think of what you’ve read? Feel free to comment below or you can find Caroline on Twitter @CWaddams or on LinkedIn.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: How to write a speech.

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First published on the All Things IC blog 23 May 2021.

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