I read an article today describing the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) capable of writing political speeches. It described the efforts of a gentleman at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who had programmed a computer to generate political prose based on the "n-grams" approach, which focuses on analyzing sequences of words or phrases. It essentially puts words together in traditional order, making word selections based on sentiment.
I think this is great, but I would like to recommend a few other features to anyone working to create an actual robot speechwriter. Properly programmed, genuine speechwriting AI should be able to:
Figure out what a leader wants to say. Oftentimes speechwriters don't get the extended face time they'd like and, instead, work from notes passed along by an administrative assistant, details gleaned from a static-ridden voicemail or intuitive responses to directions like "something inspiring, cover the talking points, no more than 6 minutes."
Integrate changes from every person in the leader's orbit. When a speech is making the rounds for approval, you'll get inputs and opinions from everyone and I mean everyone in the leadership hierarchy. The CFO will tweak numbers, the sales guy will insist on the marketing tagline and the general counsel will call for language so formal and detailed that even the most affable leader will start to sound like an actual robot. The speechwriter's job is to keep his or her eye on the prize (a speaker who is heard, understood and appreciated) while seamlessly weaving these inputs into the script.
Keep it fresh. If an organization has properly focused messaging, the leader will be called upon to repeat the core message again and again and again. A speechwriter is responsible for not only keeping the message clear, but also to "re-skin" it with new examples, updated metaphors and current data that will make it feel fresh, no matter how many time the audience has heard the boss speak.
Coach the boss on delivery. There are some important nuances to presentation that can turn a great text into a cringe-inducing nightmare for the audience. Whether it's mispronunciations, inadequate eye contact with the audience, starting the next line during applause or laughter, or lapsing into a reader's monotone, a trusted speechwriter will walk the boss through the text a time or two to punch up the presentation for the best result.
Don't take it personally. Actually, this is one area that computers will likely do better than human speechwriters. One of the great challenges of the profession is to pour oneself into a text, engage in the preparation, guide the creation of multimedia support content, then watch a leader who either didn't prepare, is nervous or gets distracted as he or she crashes and burns in front of an audience. As speechwriters, we are driven by the desire to help our speakers soar, so it kills us when they limp along. So, good presentation or bad, a speechwriter needs to own the outcome and get the boss ready for the next address.
When they can work in those modifications to their software, I'll be first in line to invest. Until then, I'll keep listening to my clients and setting them up to succeed in the speaker's arena.
Andrew Barlow is the founder and CEO of Overflow Communications, LLC (www.overflowcommunications.com) in Austin, TX.