I’d know that 18-point Arial font and three-inch bottom margin anywhere.
Any speechwriter worth her Bartlett’s would. It’s our go-to formatting: large font-size to prevent speakers from squinting; ample bottom-of-the-page margins to keep them from bowing their heads too deeply.
I was seated on the aisle, seat 11D, returning home from our annual professional conference, an uplifting "tribe of scribes" gathering that always manages to fill both my heart and pen.
So, you can imagine my joy when the guy in 10C pulled a speech from his carry-on and began reading and red-penning.
It was clearly a speech of sorts—remarks composed and configured appropriately on the page I peeked at. And now, on American Airlines flight 2051, those remarks were being read and rehearsed, silently, surreptitiously. I was catty-corner behind him, but I could tell (we speechwriters are an inquisitive, sleuth-y sort). He would look down and study, then gaze forward and up. (No one is that fascinated with the oxygen mask release mechanism.) He was, I am certain, reciting to himself—and to an anticipated, rapturous audience.
Speechwriters believe in the power of moments—light-speed flashes of brilliance … connection … or simply elevating a pedestrian conversation. We know that moments, the big auspicious kind, are rare … sacred … singular.
And this, this over-the-shoulder, tray in upright position stalking I was doing, felt like a MOMENT.
We weren’t pedestrian—not by a long shot. We were airborne. Seven miles above the cobblestones of Georgetown, with velocity and altitude and a business class cocktail fueling lofty thoughts.
And what I thought, from my jump seat position behind, was that the craft of speechwriting has value—value we’re not always privy to. And that words, well chosen, have wings.
It appeared that the gentlemen in question had speechwriter assistance. Perhaps one of my conference cohorts had helped. I hoped so.
And I wished I could send whoever prepped him a picture of the in-flight run-through. Because we all need postcard reminders of why we do what we do. Not just of the podium moments, but of the longer, more laborious time spent helping principals wrap their arms and hearts and minds around words they will speak—in the hopes of moving the hearts and minds of others.
Here’s the thing, though: With or without professional support, the mere act of committing thought to the task and words to the page isn’t "mere" at all—it is a noble and mighty act that honors the listener and uplifts the deliverer.
The man I was reconnoitering and creating quite the narrative around (something else we speechwriters tend to do) may have been flying solo on this. He may have drafted his speech with no help at all. But he had something to say. And he cared enough tosay it well.
Words matter. They can heal wounds, ignite wars, lift us heavenward or drag us through the sewer.
And there are so many words now—so many words that are spat and spewed into the stratosphere with little regard as to where or how they’ll land. And we, the listening, reading, viewing masses, are left to slog through the mess of painful "off-the-cuff" rambles, reactionary Twitter posts, ill-conceived and poorly executed exchanges in every imaginable medium.
So anytime we see someone gnawing the nub of a pencil or suspending their fingers marionette-style above a keyboard, we should celebrate. They are thinking about what to say or write or post. They are respecting their audience—imagining the trajectory and landfall of their words. They are calibrating, preparing, aiming for grace notes, not gutter balls.
Anytime a principal reaches out to a speechwriter, it’s not a sign of the speaker not knowing his own mind or needing a wizard behind the curtain. It’s an acknowledgement that words matter. That audiences matter. And that speaking directly to others is the most unguarded, intimate, effective, and yes, sometimes scary as hell form of communications there is.
And anytime we see someone silently mouthing the words of a speech on a plane, head in the clouds and heart in the game, we should cheer … give him a flight attendant mic drop … and wish him smooth landing.