From the archives of The Influential Executive, 12/2008
How a communicator helped the banking industry through the last big mess
Frightening though our current economic meltdown is, it’s not the first such crisis in living memory. In a segment on public radio recently, veteran speechwriter Henry Ehrlich (author of Writing Effective Speeches and The Wiley Book of Business Quotations) recalled his experience during the debt crisis of the 1980s, when he worked at Citibank with William R. Rhodes, chief negotiator for the banks.
On NPR’s “The Story,” host Dick Gordon drew from Ehrlich a series of reminiscences of what it was like to write speeches in a “tinderbox” environment.
Ehrlich spoke with pride and satisfaction over his role in staving off a market panic.
Among his recommendations:
The important thing is to avoid panic and buy time.
Indicate a sense of history. “We have been in tough spots before; we got through them; we’ll get through this one.”
Establish a semantic framework to convey progress. Ehrlich did this by quoting alarming headlines from newspapers through history to show that his speaker was familiar with the worst-case scenarios, and then showing that the world hadn’t ended.
The full segment can be heard at: http://thestory.org/archive/the_story_608_The_Writing_On_The_Wall.mp3