Friday, March 5, 2010

Sorensen Speechwriting Award Winners

Our congratulations to Brenda Jones, winner of the second annual Sorensen Speechwriting Award, for her work on the keynote address delivered by Rep. John Lewis on the 60th anniversary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Kudos also to the two speechwriters who received Honorable Mention: Grant Neely for “Why Business Must Change to Earn Back Trust,” delivered by Jeff Kindler, chairman and CEO of Pfizer; and LeeAnne Petry for “Leading through a Fundamental Business Transformation,” delivered by Paul A. Laudicina, managing officer and chairman of A.T. Kearney.

Michael Long from the White House Writers Group penned an excellent tribute to the three honorees over at Ragan, which included some valuable insights from these writers about their craft.
“The speech is a tool… [and] a springboard that elevates the speaker beyond the words to the point where he can touch the audience,” says Jones, who writes speeches for Lewis, a civil rights icon. “People invite our bosses to speak because they want to hear from them, not from us. I embed myself deep within that speech, so I am visible only to [the speaker].

“If you can’t explain what you’re trying to say in a couple of clear sentences, it’s probably because you don’t know,” Neely adds. “That’s why people fall into the seductive embrace of passive [verbs] and words like leverage, maximize, utilize, strategize and synergize. They’re meant to obscure ideas, not express them.”
We were particularly impressed by Jones' deconstruction of what she described as her "impossible task" in connecting the civil rights movement to architectural preservation.
“My job was to craft an address set in Nashville, which is almost a second home to my boss,” she says. “His experiences there are the foundation for all that he accomplished as a participant and leader in the civil rights movement and as a member of Congress.”

 Lewis was returning to the campus where he was a student during the sit-in movement in the 1960s.

“Because my boss is trained as a minister, he likes to discuss philosophy… to prick an individual’s conscience and inspire them to do what is right. For a while, I was stumped about how to create the intimate connection … using the seemingly impersonal topic of architectural preservation!”
Her solution was to cast the physical characteristics of the historic location as a metaphor for the struggles of the era:

How do you tell the story of a nation? Is it only present in the splendor of well-designed walls or carved in elegant stone? Or can a simple, plain edifice act as a witness to the power of a people to overcome the trials of humanity? … The majesty of the building was not around us, it was in us, and those walls witnessed the spirit we had within. 

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