I’m still unpacking – physically and mentally – from Ragan’s 2011 Speechwriters and Executive Communicators Conference in Washington, DC last week. But on the plane ride home and in the subsequent few days, I have come to a few conclusions – lessons, perhaps – about the conference and attendees.
1) Speechwriters are good people – Everyone I met was willing to talk, share ideas and solutions for whatever problems the attendees wished to bare. They gave freely of their time and their knowledge and have made this my favorite conference over the years.
2) Speechwriters are interesting company – Whether it was in a side-conference at the event itself or in a restaurant in another part of town, the speechwriters I met were fun to talk with and inherently interesting people. Perhaps it’s because the best speechwriters are already intellectually curious and well-read individuals, but the range and depth of conversations was inspiring.
3) Speechwriters are in demand – This was the first Speechwriters conference I’ve attended where recruiters showed up with positions to fill. There were two that I met and a few others who weren’t there but asked that their positions be shared.
4) We can do more – Perhaps it’s because the turnover rate for speechwriters seems so high – at least 2/3 of the attendees were new to the conference this year – but it was obvious to me that to add real value, we can do more than be “just” speechwriters. Many attendees – myself included – are interested in how to write better speeches. But too often we look at the individual speeches (the trees) and fail to see how they fit in with the rest of the organization’s executive communications strategy (the forest). Pete Weissman, Boe Workman and others shared great advice on this during the Executive Communicators track.
5) Best tips – There were several but a couple hit home for me:
a. Rob Friedman, from Eli Lilly, urged us to not only take the hill, but make sure we take the right hill when it comes to speechwriting. Lots of people can write nice speeches but are we giving it to the right audience for the right reasons?
b. David Murray, the esteemed editor of Vital Speeches, gave his always entertaining Speechwriting Jam Session during which he reminded us that we need to talk beyond our base. We should, in other words, quit preaching to the choir that already believes in our message and start preaching to the non-believers, too.
c. Michael Field, from Johns Hopkins, showed us in his “So You Want to Give a TED Talk” presentation that the best speakers and the best speeches are about ideas and not products. If you haven’t seen the TED commandments about giving speeches, look it up.
d. The best tip I didn’t hear in a session? As one attendee mentioned, some of the best conversations didn’t happen in the organized sessions but in the hallways and after-conference get-togethers. And it was in one of these that I was reminded how important it was to have collaborators, people with whom you can safely trust your ideas (and early drafts) and who you know will provide you with solid advice in return. Set up a quid-pro-quo arrangement with someone – even if they are outside your own organization – and watch your speechwriting improve.
If you have never attended the conference - and speechwriting is even part of your responsibilities - hold a place on your calendar for next year's event. You won't be disappointed. You might even be inspired.