Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Spotlight: 10 Steps to Writing a Vital Speech by Fletcher Dean

We're doing another new feature here on the BloGG: book spotlights! Our inaugural title is 10 Steps to Writing a Vital Speech by Fletcher Dean, one of the most seasoned and successful speechwriters in the world. This detailed, comprehensive, definitive guide was published by Vital Speeches of the Day, the most respected brand in the field. It's a fantastically thorough resource, and of course would make a terrific gift for any public speaker or communications pro on your holiday shopping list. 

Gotham Ghostwriters asked Fletcher Dean a few questions about his speechwriting life and his writing process. 
How did you get your start as a speechwriter?
It was entirely unplanned. I was an English major who turned to journalism to make a living, then I traded that for a better-paying job in corporate America doing mostly internal communications work. They thought I was a good writer and offered me a chance to do speechwriting, a position I hadn't even known existed in the company. Obviously, that was a career-changer for me, and I’ve never really looked back. I've been speechwriting for almost twenty years.

Do you have a favorite speech you've written? 
One of my favorites was written for Earnie Deavenport, the former CEO of Eastman Chemical Company and true Southern gentleman. He was scheduled to give a speech in New York almost exactly a year after 9/11, just blocks away from Ground Zero. For many attendees, this was their first time in New York since 9/11, so terrorism was front and center in their thoughts. We used that mind-set to our advantage, crafting a speech titled “Terrorism Is Not Our Greatest Threat.” It captured attention from the very beginning because it begged the question: if not terrorism, what is our greatest threat? This was a rare case where the first words I wrote of the speech were the title.

Putting the mechanics of the speech aside, what makes up your routine when you sit down to write? 
I divide my process into several steps. Sometimes they overlap, but I make sure to hit all of these at some point and in this order: 
  • Learn as much as possible about the audience and its concerns. 
  • Learn as much as possible about the topic. 
  • Discover the common problem or concern. 
  • Determine what we want the audience to do or believe about that problem.
Once I've accomplished all of that, I begin to craft some key messages and put that into a format that engages the audience. Then I write. Then I edit. And re-edit and re-edit and re-edit some more. I edit more than I write. Sometimes I think the job should be called “speech editor” instead of “speechwriter.”

Your book is very comprehensive, but can you suggest any other resources for speechwriters or aspiring speechwriters?
The Internet has not only revolutionized the way speechwriters do their jobs but also the way they interact with and learn from one another. There are several good blogs out there—from Jeff Porro, Nick Morgan, and Vital Speeches, just to name a few—that showcase real writers doing real work. There are many, many more, and the Internet is facilitating the development of a real community of speechwriters. That’s the easy way to learn about the profession. Then think seriously about some training. I started going to the Ragan Speechwriters Conference years ago and highly recommended it. (Full disclosure: I’m speaking there again in 2012.) There are also some good speechwriting coaches out there, like Joan Detz in Philadelphia and Wendy Cherwinski in Ottawa. Finally, though it may seem cliché, you learn by doing. There is no better way to learn to write than by sitting down and writing.

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