As part of our Professional Development Series, the Brussels New Generation (BNG) welcomed Ryan Heath to give us a unique insight in to the mysterious profession of speech-writing. Ryan’s extensive experience in speech-writing for the previous President José Manuel Durão Barroso and his Vice-President for Competition, Neelie Kroes, meant he was the perfect person to share his top tips with young professionals.
After listening to Ryan’s interesting stories about his experiences and some great tips on writing speeches, I have chosen five of his top tips to share.
- Be aware and be available – Before writing the speech, you must spend time with the speaker to come to an agreement on the concept and the precise message the speaker wants to deliver. Don’t write a speech based on your views on the subject, it’s likely to differ from the views of the speaker’s. Prior and post speech, spend time together to give feedback on what both of you could improve on; there may be words they pronounced wrongly or a part of the speech that did not work well with the audience.
- Build trust with your speaker – Get to know your speaker. Understand how they speak and how they wish to deliver a point. Listen to the speaker’s life stories over coffee. Not only will you be able to add them to the speech to make the speaker more relatable, you will also allow the speaker to trust you, which is vital for their confidence in delivering the speech you have written for them. Ryan believes that ‘speech-writing is about helping someone to be their best authentic self,’ so make sure you know what that is.
- The needs of your speaker come first – Ryan perfectly summed this up by quoting one of his inspirations Peggy Noonan, speechwriter to Ronald Reagan – ‘your style should never be taller than you are’. Write in a way that best suits your speaker. Don’t try to project a character on to them that does not suit. Some people are simply not funny, so try to avoid adding humour to their speech at a conference about Capital Markets Union in front of 200 people.
- Don’t be a Russell Brand – The audience is only likely to give your speaker 8–10 minutes of concentration. Don’t write a 30 minute speech, with long and complicated paragraphs which will leave the audience feeling like a confused Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight interviewing Russell Brand. Use obvious language and help the audience to listen to the key message by saying, ‘Now I am about to tell you something important’.
- Think about the little things – Standing on stage can be stressful so think about the steps you can take to make it easier for the speaker. Use bullet points, big font and number the cue cards. It is also important to think about the environment in which the speech is delivered. Delivering a speech at a conference in Brussels is likely to have translators present so provide copies of your speech to them to make it easier to translate the speaker’s message.
The BNG have many more great professional development sessions planned for 2015. The next session is on how to ‘Manage your career’ with Beverley Robinson. This event is open to young professionals aged 35 or below.