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“We have to make an effort in the United States,” a trembling Robert F. Kennedy told a grief-stricken crowd after the assassination of Martin Luther King. “We have to make an effort to understand.”

A half-century later, how are we doing in that effort?

We’ve had so many “national conversations about race,” we are blue in the face. Online discussions instantly devolve into attempted rhetorical murder. People dread conversations with once-dear friends and family, and walk away shaking their heads.

As the nation staggers through one of the most contentious and confusing political moments in its history and tries to cope with a pandemic and great social upheaval, it’s time for a serious conversation about our ability as professional communicators and as private citizens to salve wounds and solve problems—in politics, at work and at home.

This is a series of talks by and conversations with people who have given their lives to communication, about how we all can make less war—and make more peace—with the words we say, and the way we say them.

“Let us not be blind to our differences,” speechwriter Ted Sorensen wrote for another Kennedy, JFK, “but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”

Let us begin today, by Communicating to Understand.

Register now.


(all times are Eastern Standard Time)


Opening remarks by David Murray, author the book that launched this conference, An Effort to Understanda free copy of which the first 200 participants will receive with their paid registration.

An Effort to Understand


Rhetoric, for Good: The Language of Leadership

Rhetoric gets a bad rap—especially lately, it’s been blamed for heightening tensions, inciting unrest and creating conflict. But rhetoric on its own is not intrinsically evil. It is morally neutral, like a pen. Yes, you can use a pen to write Mein Kampf, but you can also use it to write a letter of love. In this inspiring lecture, British speechwriter and leadership communication teacher Simon Lancaster reminds us of the amazing power of rhetoric as a force for good, bringing people together, creating a sense of sharpened purpose and common identity, making great things possible—as well as sharing some cautionary tales about how communicators can keep their integrity intact and avoid getting dragged to rhetoric’s dark side. 


Not Your Father’s “Kids These Days”: A Sensitive College Communicator’s Perspective on Talking with Young People Now

We who have long dreamed of a more connected world struggle to understand a society carved into ever-smaller and more thoroughly-policed camps: ideological, economic, racial, and so on. College students seem to be at the leading edge of this trend toward social Balkanization. But are they really the woke proponents of cancel culture their elders make them out to be? If we look past the dismissals of “kids these days,” what’s really happening on campus? Might there be more hope for dialogue across difference than we believe? Jim Reische has spent his career encouraging better communications and understanding at schools across America. He’ll share his experiences and host an open discussion as we look toward the future by better understanding the kids of today. 


What in the World Can Business Do About It?

Veteran corporate speechwriter and speaker Janet Stovall thinks business has a better chance than any other social sector to “dismantle racism”—and she said so in a now-famous TED Talk. Meanwhile, Bob Feldman thinks business can “improve civil discourse and reduce polarization,” and he conducted a global study that proved it and built a high-powered organization that supports it, The Dialogue Project. Stovall isn’t so sure “civil discourse” is what’s called for at the moment, but she wants to talk to Feldman. And Feldman, among nearly two million admiring viewers of her TED Talk, wants to talk to her. Join them in a serious conversation about what business can do (and what it can stop doing) to improve conditions in the society they operate in.


Through a Different Lens: Examining Conservative Perspectives Within the Communications Community 

“It wasn’t a space where I felt I could be candid,” said a conservative participant at a speechwriting conference recently. “I truly felt like unless I was nodding my head in agreement I would be labeled.” No one who believes in dialogue wants any well-meaning communicator to feel like that. It’s not only right to make “an effort to understand” the thinking of those with whom we might disagree, it’s also key to simply being effective writers and communicators. In this session we give voice to a panel of communicators who have worked for well-known conservative political leaders and then spent several years working outside the political arena as well. Arboreal Communications founder Brian Forest, formerly chief speechwriter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell, leads a panel that includes former speechwriters for Romney-Ryan Lindsay Hayes (head of Redpath Writing), President George W. Bush Noam Nuesner (principal at 30 Point Communications), and several Bush Administration cabinet officials Jean Card (principal at Jean Card Ink and co-host of the Bipodisan podcast).


A Saner Way to Climb: One Black Woman’s Journey to the Top of the Communication World

Over three decades, Charlene Wheeless rose steadily through the ranks of corporate communication. In almost every job, she was the first Black woman to (fill in the blank)—including in her current role, as chairman of the Page Society. When Wheeless became chief communications officer of a global infrastructure company several years ago, she thought she had reached the mountaintop. Then, breast cancer—a long, vicious battle turned her world upside down. Returning to work, she found herself bewildered by the absurd amount of work she used to do, and enraged by all the years she’d spent “turning myself inside out” to conform to corporate life. She wondered, “What did I give up for this level of success?” And she started over, as she says in her new memoir You Are Enough! “Reclaiming your career and your life with purpose, passion, and unapologetic authenticity.” In her first major speech about her journey, Wheeless will share what she learned—in vivid detail and with concrete advice, for everyone managing a career now, and a life.


What Have We Learned Here? What Will We Do? A Q&A with David Murray.

David Murray drew on his life in communication to write his book, An Effort to Understand. “Every time I’m with communicators, we all shake our heads and pound the drinking table about the stupidity of politicians, the blindness of CEOs, the incuriousness and insensitivity and stubbornness of everyday citizens,” Murray says. “All these conversations have one overarching them: ‘If only these people understand what we understand … we’d all understand each other better and the world would be a much more cohesive and livable place.’ But is that really true?” After a day of conversation about communication—this is your chance to ask yourself, and ask David about what better communication can achieve, what it can’t, and how to know the difference.


Jean Card

Jean Card

Jean (Jeanie) Card’s political views have been shaped by the two halves of her life: Growing up in a blue-collar, small-business family in rural Vermont; and living and working in our nation’s capital. Her time in Washington, D.C. has included six years in the executive branch of the U.S. government as a politically appointed speechwriter in the George W. Bush Administration. Today, Jeanie is a public relations consultant specializing in ghostwriting and coaching (for both writing and public speaking). She has also written extensively under her own name, including four years as a weekly contributor to the U.S. News & World Report opinion page.

Bob Feldman

Bob Feldman

Bob Feldman is founder of The Dialogue Project and vice chair of ICF Next, a global consulting firm and the project’s lead corporate sponsor. The Dialogue Project was founded in 2019 to explore the role of business in helping to reduce polarization and improve civil discourse around the world. The results of the study were announced in October 2020 and received widespread media attention.

Brian Forest

Brian Forest

Brian Forest is founder of Arboreal Communications, a communications firm specializing in messaging, writing, and executive positioning. He has provided strategic messaging support to principals at the highest levels of business and government, from presidents and prime ministers to senators and CEOs. Before opening Arboreal, Forest wrote for Sen. Jon Kyl and served as Sen. Mitch McConnell’s first chief speechwriter as majority leader. He previously led strategic messaging for a major Washington business trade group and has worked in a variety of roles spanning PR agencies, campaigns, journalism, academia, international institutions, and the White House.

Dr. Lindsay Hayes

Dr. Lindsay Hayes

Dr. Lindsay Hayes is the President and CEO of Free the Facts. Previously, she served as a writer and communications consultant in the White House, the U.S. Senate, a Cabinet-level agency, and on several political campaigns. Hayes was the director of speechwriting for Romney-Ryan 2012 and part of the McCain-Palin writing team in 2008. Through her firm, Redpath Writing, she has assisted corporate, political, and non-profit clients with a wide range of projects, including former Speaker of the U.S. House Paul Ryan’s NYT bestseller The Way Forward. Hayes holds a B.A. from Boston College and received her master’s degree and Ph.D. in political communication from the University of Maryland, where she taught undergraduate courses for over a decade.

Simon Lancaster

Simon Lancaster

Simon Lancaster runs Bespoke Speechwriting Services Ltd and has written speeches for top politicians and the CEOs of some of the biggest companies in the world, including Unilever, Rio Tinto, Nestle, HSBC and Intercontinental Hotels Group. He is the author of ‘Speechwriting: The Expert Guide’, (Hale, 2010) ‘Winning Minds: Secrets from the Language of Leadership’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and ‘You Are Not Human: How Words Kill’ (Biteback, 2018). Simon is an Executive Fellow of Henley Business School and lectures at Cambridge University. Simon regularly appears as a media pundit on oratory and his ‘Speak Like a Leader’ TEDx talk has been watched more than 3 million times on YouTube.

David Murray

David Murray

David Murray is author of the new book, An Effort to Understand: Hearing One Another (and Ourselves) in a Nation Cracked in Half. Murray heads the global Professional Speechwriters Association and comments daily on communication issues on his popular blog Writing Boots. He is an award-winning journalist and is editor and publisher of Vital Speeches of the Day, one of the world’s longest continuously published magazines. The founder and owner of Pro Rhetoric, LLC, Murray lives in Chicago with his wife, Cristie Bosch, and their daughter, Scout Murray.

Noam Neusner

Noam Neusner

Noam Neusner is a principal at 30 Point Strategies. He has experience in speechwriting and speech preparation, editorial thought leadership and strategic communications planning. Neusner draws on nearly three decades of communications experience in the private sector and the U.S. government and as a journalist. This knowledge and his strong writing skills enable him to help clients to shape opinion, inform the public and achieve their goals. He worked in the White House under President George W. Bush, first as a presidential speechwriter and later as director of communications at the Office of Management and Budget.

Jim Reische

Jim Reische

Jim Reische is Chief Communications Officer at Williams College. Jim previously served in similar roles at St. John’s College and Grinnell College. Before that he was, successively, executive editor of the University of Michigan Press and senior editor and assistant campaign director at Michigan’s Office of University Development. In addition to his writing support for college officers, Jim has published under his own byline in Call to Action, Inside Higher Ed’s blog for communications professionals, and in The New York Times. He has co-chaired CASE’s national conference for media relations professionals several times and co-facilitates a higher education speechwriters’ group affiliated with the Professional Speechwriters’ Association. He also co-organizes the biennial meeting of communications leaders in NESCAC, the New England conference of liberal arts colleges and universities.

Janet Stovall

Janet Stovall

Janet Stovall is a Senior Client Strategist for the NeuroLeadership Institute, a global research firm that advises leading companies on a range of issues using science and data to drive performance. At NLI, Janet focuses on Diversity and Inclusion initiatives. Previously, she served as the executive speechwriter for the CEO of UPS and Senior Director of Social Impact and The UPS Foundation. Prior to joining UPS, Janet founded and served as principal of The Point Communications, a marketing communications and PR consulting firm. For more than 20 years, she developed, implemented, and managed marketing strategies and executive positioning projects for leading U.S. companies, advising, scripting, ghostwriting articles, books and presentations for some of the country’s leading thought leaders. Her work has been published extensively in Vital Speeches of the Day and has garnered numerous awards. She is a frequent speaker on issues of diversity and inclusion, and her TED Talk on that subject has been viewed nearly 2 million times.

Charlene Wheeless

Charlene Wheeless

Charlene Wheeless is a renowned communications expert, author, and speaker with more than three decades of experience in business, corporate affairs, and communications. She leads her namesake communications and business advisory firm, Charlene Wheeless LLC and is the senior advisor for equity and justice at APCO Worldwide, a global advisory and advocacy communications consultancy. A key voice in shaping the future of the communications profession, Wheeless is the chairman of the Page Society, the world’s leading professional association for senior public relations and corporate communications executives. Wheeless has been named by PR Week magazine as one of the 50 most influential PR professionals in the industry for five consecutive years. As a C-suite leader, Wheeless has lived the experience of being a Black female executive at several global organizations. The accumulation of her skills and experiences has positioned her as a cornerstone in ensuring anti-racist practices, inclusivity, and diversity in corporate environments. Her debut book, You are Enough! Reclaiming your Career and Your Life with Purpose, Passion and Unapologetic Authenticity is slated for publication in early 2021.


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First 200 registrants receive a free copy of David Murray’s forthcoming book, An Effort to Understand. Books will be shipped in March 2021.

$395 for corporate professionals

$295 for communication professionals at nonprofits, universities, government entities and PR agencies

$95 for individuals

Phone registrations please call 312-585-6383.

Credentials to access the event will be sent the week of March 22.


Cancellations Policy
Sorry, no refunds will be issued on Communicating to Understand registrations. In the event of cancellation, your payment will be credited toward a future Pro Rhetoric product or program.



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