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Executive Speech Prep Team Effort: Coach and Writer

Many thanks toJeff Porro for submitting this great post. Jeff is a Washington, DC-based speechwriter for Fortune 250 CEOs, diplomats, and other government leaders, as well as executives of some of the nation’s leading trade and professional associations. He is also an award winning screenwriter and a PhD with 20 years of experience in research, public policy, and business. Learn more about Jeff at and



As a speechwriter who works with executives, I’ve found that far too many corporate and nonprofit leaders are unfamiliar with a couple of basic facts of life about speeches: a terrific speech or presentation is a performance: and an effective performance takes teamwork.  



Think about the other kinds of performances that have moved you: a great play, a great movie, even a great stand-up comic. Chances are you were very aware of two key elements that made the performance memorable. The script was terrific, and the performer knew how to deliver his or her lines convincingly.


What you may not have been aware of was that the creative people behind the performance worked closely together as a team. They brainstormed, interacted with one another, blended their different perspectives and made changes to improve the performance. I was part of the writing team for the film, The Great Debaters. But when they were shooting the movie, the actors, screenwriter and director Denzel Washington collaborated almost every day. They adjusted the original script in order to make dialogue more effective and move the film forward more smoothly.


Preparing an excellent presentation takes that kind of team effort, too. You need a good speech writer and a good communication trainer. But the key is that the writer and trainer must have a working relationship with you that allows for feedback, interaction, and changes.


The speechwriter’s first job will be to prepare a script that does more than convey information. As Lee Iacocca once said, “You can deliver information in a letter or tack it up on a bulletin board.” The script should make it possible for the executive to convey important information in an engaging way. The speechwriter won’t get that done alone in a room somewhere pounding away on a keyboard.


Enter the presentation coach. The best trainers do not try to force every speaker into one mold. They help executives translate their strengths in the board room and as leaders into strong presentation skills. They also help you discover and overcome your presentation weaknesses so you can come across in presentations as genuine, relaxed and passionate.


To achieve this goal, the trainer typically will work with you in coaching sessions, using video so you can see where you need help. Here’s where the teamwork comes in — the speechwriter should be there. Being part of the training will give the writer insights that are invaluable to polishing the script. For example, it may turn out that you can not tell a joke, but are comfortable with self-deprecating humor. There may be certain phrases that look good on paper, but which you have trouble saying comfortably.


Armed with insights from the coaching session, the writer gets a sense of the executive’s presentation personality and can incorporate that into the first draft.


Once the first draft is done and the first round of presentation training is finished, the team process should resemble even more closely the interaction that goes into making a movie. As the executive practices the talk, the writer should be prepared to make changes—cutting back sections that drag or changing words you repeatedly stumble over.  If there are parts of the speech you are struggling with, but which absolutely have to be included, the trainer can help you develop ways to become more comfortable.


The team should mark up the ‘performance script.’ This is the actual script the speaker will be using in front of the audience. The markup should include simple reminders to the speaker of the way he or she should use body language to engage the audience. For example, the speaking script should list the gestures to be used at key points, remind the speaker when to speak more loudly, or when to lower the volume, when to pause, when to make direct eye contact, etc.


The writer and trainer can work together with you in other ways, too, of course. What’s most important is that all those involved realize that the team effort will be interactive and iterative process. The writer will change the speech draft based on input from the executive and the trainer. The trainer will adjust his coaching based on how the executive responds and on what the writer suggests, and so forth.


A team effort can help ensure that presentations that absolutely have to succeed do succeed.

October 26th, 2009 | Permalink | Trackback | Bookmark and Share

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