At the White House, even the most rudimentary speech is read by about a dozen people (if not more). This is also a terrible process for any writer since their words are invariably dumbed down by some political operative or second-guessed by some literal-minded lawyer, or rewritten by some staff person with a literary bent who has the great American novel in his desk drawer.
Matt Latimer, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush,
Politico, July 16, 2016
… the timeworn method of repeating a clear message can still, over time, change minds and then outcomes.
Jeff Shesol, Five Myths About Political Speechwriting, Washington Post, July 2016
When the insider books about the Trump campaign start popping up late this year, it will be fun to find out exactly how those lines from Michelle Obama’s speech made it pretty much verbatim into Melania’s. My guess is a Trump speechwriter or researcher started off with a great idea – Let’s look at past speeches by would-be first ladies that were well received. But somehow the writing and vetting process got so messed up that what should have been background research became lines in final script.
I’m sure that whoever worked on the speech is scared to death of hearing “You’re fired!” from The Donald himself. But for the speechwriting profession as a whole, I think the Melania flap is very good news.
Why? Because it underscores that fact that – even in an age when new forms of communication seem to pop up every minute – the prepared speech remains critically important. Social media, of course, has become an extremely powerful tool. But when people are deciding whether someone has what it takes to be a leader, they want to see and hear how that person does at a podium. That’s why the speeches of aspiring leaders (and even their spouses) are scrutinized so closely. And that’s why they should be.
Business executives and political leaders who want to inspire audiences should be sure to include strong speechwriters, and great presentation coaches on their communication teams. Oh yeah, and you should invest in some good plagiarism detection software, too.
My thanks to John Mattone for profiling me as part of the “Expert Interview” feature of his blog. Mattone is a powerfully engaging, internationally-acclaimed keynote speaker and top-ranked executive coach. He is also widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on corporate culture, culture transformation and leadership. (You can learn more about Mattone’s experience and publications here.)
His interviews highlight experts who help executives take their leadership skills to the next level. It was a great interview to do, and I hope you find it useful.
Here’s a preview:
When should leaders and executives consider hiring a professional writer?
Whenever executives find they are not engaging their key audiences — inspiring them, moving them to action, persuading them — it’s time to hire a pro.
You’ll find the whole interview here.
In this space, we profile top executives who use the spoken word effectively as part of their corporate communication strategy.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Mike Daniels, the former chairman and chief executive of Network Solutions, the Northern Virginia-based domain registration company. Daniels, a true pioneer of high tech in the Washington, D.C. area, currently sits on the board of directors of Blackberry, CACI International and Mercury Systems, all publicly traded technology companies.
When I talked to Daniels, he was vehement about vital link between the spoken word and the success of a CEO.
“It’s remarkable,” he said. “If you have two growth companies headed by equally smart guys, where one can deliver an enthusiastic speech, lay out the mission of the company and encourage people to work smarter and harder and the other can’t…it makes a world of difference to the success of the company.”
In a recent article in the Washington Post, Daniels shared more great insights about the role of public speaking in corporate success.
“Many of the technology people who are very smart and great technologists are not able to communicate their ideas,” Daniels told the Post. “They tend to be introverts focused on the technology. You need to lift your head up, see the strategic picture.” But the ones who became successful leaders, he said, “have had the skill to communicate their message and the mission to their employees.”
Daniels knows what he’s talking about, since he’s known just about all the technology greats: Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Jeffrey P. Bezos, the late J. Robert Beyster, (founder of Science Applications International) and of course, the late Steve Jobs — “the best I ever saw in Silicon Valley in 40 years.”
Daniels shared with the Post that his own public speaking skills date back to his schoolboy days, when he won first prize and a cool $50 cash in the local Rotary Club’s debate contest. After that, he entered every oratory contest he could and became skilled enough to win a debating scholarship to Northwestern University.
When I interviewed him, I asked him whether most companies realize how important a CEO’s communication skills are.
“Based on my forty year business career,” he said. “I’d have to say it’s an underappreciated asset. While many organizations recognize how important speeches are, many others don’t.”