Speech research: How much is too much?

These days, I seem to be having trouble saying “enough is enough” to myself when it comes to doing research for a speech. Do you have this problem too?

I recently was hired to write a speech on the “The Future of Work,” for the head of HR at a global corporation. The speech is being given abroad next week to an international audience of internal HR professionals. 

I was delighted with the assignment and the topic. A good part of the speech focuses on macro trends in the makeup of the labor force, the HR organization and the use of technology in the workplace going forward. 

I began by researching the web sites of McKinsey, The Harvard Business Review, TIME, Newsweek, Business Week, The Economist and more for articles on the future of work.
The speaker wanted to use clips from the old “Jetsons” TV shows to talk about examples of technologies that seemed far-fetched at the time, but now are in use—thank you, YouTube (I didn’t forget copyright issues).

I researched the space program because the speaker wanted examples of its real-life benefits. I now know that scratch-resistant lenses, cordless power tools and athletic shoes are by-products of space flight—but not “Tang” or GPS, as my speaker had hoped.
The International Labour Office had a 2010 report on “Global Employment Trends;” the Rand Corporation had produced “The 21st Century at Work” study, and The Forum for the Future of Higher Education had written on “Educating Americans for Tomorrow’s Global Labor Market.”

I researched the use of avatars in the workplace in a piece by Stanford’s Byron Reeves, author of Total Engagement: Using Games and Virtual Worlds to Change the Way People Work and Businesses Compete; and found articles on leading the virtual workforce, using social media to keep remote workers connected and building trust and respect with a globally dispersed workforce—all on the IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) web site.

At referenceforbusiness.com, I found a report on “Trends in Organizational Change;” at workforcemanagment.com, I uncovered “Fast Forward: 25 Trends That Will Change the Way You Do Business;” Michigan University’s Ross School of Business updates its “Human Resources Competency Study” every five years; I read the latest one.

The United Nations published a “World Population Study to 2300,” which turned out to be an excellent source of how changing population trends will impact the global workforce.

HR Magazine featured a piece by The London Business School’s Lynda Gratton on “The Future of Work;” The Partnership for the 21st Century (p21.org) posted “Executives Say the 21st Century Requires More Skilled Workers,” based on a survey conducted by the American Management Association.

At humanresources.about.com, I read articles titled, “A New Role for HR: Support Your Company’s Brand,” and “Are You Ready for an Agile Future? The Agile Organization Embraces Change.”

My husband, who’s studying for his master’s in library science, has been telling me about “transliteracy.” Transliteracy will be a valuable skill in the new decade as ideas migrate across multiple social media platforms, including podcasts, digital video, virtual worlds, microblogs, wikis and social networking.

The transliterate organization will have the capacity to get the information it needs when it needs it by communicating and interacting across all these platforms. I researched this interesting facet of the future of work and included it in the speech.

Finally, it seemed to me, no speech on the future of work would be complete without reference to Tom Friedman’s best seller, The World is Flat. Not having time to read the entire book for the purposes of this speech (I’ll get to it, Tom, I promise), I found several sites with meaningful summaries. I extracted information relevant to the speech and quoted it.

All this research doesn’t even include what I found on the company’s web site itself, including excellent reports and studies it had done; audio and video from its archive (two of which were so “on target” they ended up in the speech); and the company’s annual report.       

It also doesn’t include the research I did on the use of technology in today’s world – how many “tweets” and texts are sent daily around the globe. How many people are up on FaceBook, eBay and the World Wide Web. How many have purchased iPods, iPhones and even iPads. 

It also doesn’t include all the links I followed, some promising, some not, as an idea or piece of information in one place put me in mind of others that begged to be explored. 
Let’s face it, I’m an information whore. I’ll go anywhere with anyone if I think it will give me a great “nugget” for a speech.  

Believe it or not, this speech had a five-day turnaround. Yikes! Research took two full days; reading it all (I print out almost everything I research so I can underline what’s important, make margin notes about which section of the speech it will support, etc.) took another day-and-a-half, and writing the speech itself, about two days. Then I sent it off.

I would have liked at minimum another two days—to sleep on it, to let it percolate in my head, to revise/tweak it, to read it aloud again and again to see how it sounded, felt, tasted.

Alas, this is my tale. I would love to hear yours. How do you know when to pull the plug on your research when time is at a premium yet you want to make the talk as “meaty” and excellent as it can be?

I’m all ears … at least until I get back to researching the current speech I’m writing. It’s also a fascinating subject—how the Midwest economy might be revived in the face of globalization, the decline in family farms and the loss of its manufacturing base. I have my work cut out for me.

But I’m a happy camper because I’ve got a two-month lead time.

Cynthia Starks is a freelance speechwriter based in Central Indiana. She may be reached through her blog.

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