A guru’s “emotional” return…How to write for a blind speaker…And a memorable lesson for executive communicators

No one has taught more executive communicators their business than Jerry Tarver, retired professor of speech communication at the University of Richmond. Tarver came out of retirement at the 2009 Speechwriters Conference in Washington in February to give a talk about the need of speakers and their communication aides, according to a report from conference attendee Liz Mitchell, “to be more comfortable that emotion plays a larger part in communication than logic.”

Mitchell’s report:

Stating that “Western culture has been designed to systematically lie to you about this,” [Tarver] noted we have the word “rationalization” for justifying an emotional decision via logic “but none for making a logical decision and using emotion to justify it.” …

Asking, “Where does logic fit into planning our communications strategy?” he answered, “We have to think about how people will feel about our messages. … We have to present plausible, coherent ideas—our speeches need to appear reasonable even though we know that isn’t going to be what moves audiences.” Among a few caveats: “I don’t want to imply emotion can be used to persuade anybody of anything at anytime . . . you can’t change people’s minds on things that go against their moral code.”

For more on the Speechwriters Conference, visit freelance speechwriter Ian Griffin’s blog Professionally Speaking, and scroll back into mid-February entries.

Ever wonder how New York governor David Paterson deals with speeches? His novel method is found in a profile of his speechwriter Ben Cady, in the University of Buffalo alumni magazine The Spectrum. Paterson does not read Braille, Cady says.

“Instead of giving him the text, he does all his speeches from memory. I pick up the phone in my office and dial a special number and read the speech.”

Paterson then listens to this speech and memorizes it from the recording, according to Cady.

Reading the speech into the phone, Cady says, “holds you to account much more than just handing someone a text.”

Shouldn’t every CEO stand up and say something dramatic one of these days? A week after the Pfizer speech to which we devote three pages of this newsletter (see cover, pages 4-5), a similar speech was given, this one by ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva. At the International Petroleum Week conference in London, Mulva called for unity in his industry, saying in part:

Nearly everyone agrees that renewable energy and lower carbon footprints are needed. But those here tonight realize that fossil fuels will remain essential for decades to come. Unfortunately, the public views oil companies as the people standing spread-eagled to cast shadows on solar panels. They don’t want to hear what we have to say. So our ability to influence public opinion and government policy is declining.

Keep speaking in such colorful terms, and more people will want to hear what you have to say. (Download Mulva speech here.)

And finally, to return to Tarver’s point, about the importance of emotion in speeches: In a lecture at a conference in Copenhagen, former President Clinton speechwriter Tom Rosshirt put it succinctly. “They remember if they liked the speech long after they’ve forgotten what was in the speech. And that means we remember feeling more than we remember fact. So if you can put the fact inside the feeling you have a chance to say something that won’t be forgotten. And one of the best ways to put the fact inside the feeling is to tell a story.”

Is your speaker on YouTube? Chicago mayor Richard Daley has launched a brand new YouTube site, to share his speeches and his (less bumbling) public appearances. Does your client have a site on YouTube? And if not, why not? We’d like to do a story on the subject and we’d like your input: [email protected].

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