From scribe to sage in three easy steps

Speechwriting is not just a one-level process. And it’s not just about writing. As a freelance speechwriter, I often find myself taking on more of a counseling role—and it’s a role I really enjoy. It also deepens the nature of my client partnerships and makes my clients more likely to hire me again. In my next few posts, I’d like to share some of these ancillary but essential actions that I believe add real value to all my working relationships.

• At my first meeting with a new client, I try to set the tone that I am a peer, not just a hired hand. One way to do this is to address them by their first name. (Obviously, that won’t be appropriate in every situation.) I have stepped into a precious position of being able—and expected—to offer honest feedback to this busy and important person. And the higher up my client resides on the executive ladder, the fewer folks he or she has who are willing or able to give this to them. (See my colleague Tim Hayes’ excellent post on this topic.)

I’m not hired to be a secretary or a sycophant—I’m hired to help this person communicate as powerfully as possible. That automatically lifts me up to their level, and most of them are grateful for the company. Remember, it’s lonely up there.

• I make every effort to reinforce our (secret) identity as a team. The speechwriter’s traditional space is under the radar, and I have no problem with that. But I also want my clients to feel that this is a partnership. I am not the subject matter expert—they are. My value lies in being able to help them express their erudition effectively. (Not to mention alliterating absolutely astoundingly.) Neither of us can do this job without the other. Is it always an equitable partnership? Of course not. But the ideal dynamic is one of interdependency, not just passing drafts back and forth.

• Throughout the span of our project, I stay in touch selectively and strategically. I ask my client for the top two or three things they would like my help with and then make sure my communications with them always reference at least one of these topics. They’re busy … I better be contacting them with something that’s relevant and useful.

For example, I’m working with a wonderful client who wants to improve the storytelling in her speeches. So I keep my eyes peeled for resources that speak to that topic and try to forward her a juicy tidbit every couple of weeks. Not too often, or I’ll seem like a pest, no matter how relevant or valuable the information may be. I just want my clients to know that I think about them even when I’m not working directly on their projects. And of course, absorbing these resources make me more valuable to all my clients.

I like to say I have the world’s shortest mission statement: “I’m here to help you.” Everything else flows from that. Every time we connect, I ask my client directly: “Is there anything else I can help you with?” And then I listen and follow through. That’s the glue that holds relationships together.

Allison Wood runs Letter Perfect Speechwriting and Presentation Coaching.

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