I’ve attended enough gatherings of speechwriters to know that our profession tends to skew toward quiet, reserved types:
We like the hushed company of a keyboard.
We’re able to articulate big ideas in beautiful prose—so long as someone else delivers.
And happy hours find us clenching cocktails with white-knuckled resolve to be witty and social. We’ve got the witty part down; it’s the social component that trips us up. I don’t know about you, but my happiest hour is when I’ve logged the requisite mix and mingle time and can retire to bed and a good book.
Don’t get me wrong: I love us!
I relish the time I get to spend with my partners in scribe. I learn from you, laugh with you, commiserate and enjoy long neglected comradery. Look up from your iPhone and I might even venture out of my solitary corner to join you in yours.
So, in defense of introverted writers everywhere, let’s consider the perks of being a wallflower—and why we’re better equipped than we think to mix and mingle—and enjoy one another’s company!
We’re inherently curious—about most anything: We want to know how in the heck the caterer stuffed ricotta, olives and walnuts into a lowly fig … why the freelancer from Portland is giving the cold shoulder to the linguistics professor … and what’s up with the disco-dancing actuaries partying in the adjoining room?
We’re great listeners. We’re skilled in asking questions, interviewing tough subjects, leaving expansive white space for our principals and bar partners to fill. We’re genuinely interested in others—and frankly a little reluctant to talk about ourselves. In my mind, that reticence is a benefit, not a liability. Because after all, the best conversationalists are the best listeners.
Our powers of observation are of Marvel Comic proportion. We notice minutiae that others miss: The DJ’s tribal tattoo (we’ll look up the Mayan symbol later—or refill our wine glass and ask.) The flirtation happening among the wait staff. A parking lot altercation observed from the ballroom balcony. A menu misspelling. (We, of course, can master hors d’oeuvres and prosciutto without spellcheck.)
We’re writing all the time. We may not be overtly scribbling on the proverbial cocktail napkin, but you can bet your Raspberry Mojito that we’re taking notes and collecting ideas that will show up somewhere, somehow. Viewing drama play out from a distance gives us perspective—and plots and personalities we’ll pursue later.
We don’t steal anyone’s thunder. We’re used to working behind the scenes, scripting the stars and leaving applause, laugh lines and admiration to others. Heck, making others look and sound good is our bread and butter! So, at social events, we are the most polite and appreciative audience you could hope for. We’re not going to interrupt, one-up or out-do. And if a story’s good, we’ll give it a glowing promo—and retell it with constructive edits.
Our security deposit is safe. While our louder, party-loving PR peeps may get rowdy and raise the roof, I’ve found my fellow speechwriters to be exceptionally gracious and gentle-mannered. We’re not going to allow ourselves to be over-served, skinny-dip in the hotel pool, or brawl about whose shareholder meeting address sucked—entertaining as those character eccentricities might be.
Finally, we’ve got a great sense of timing. We love rhythm and cadence. We know how to stretch a pause. Tease a punchline. Our phrasing and staging expertise has taught us how to make an entrance: we drift—rather than jump—into parties and conversation. We move cautiously, adroitly. We await openings and introductions.
And, perhaps most importantly, when we’ve had quite enough, we know how to map—and make—an easy, inconspicuous exit!
Editor's note: The author will be among the "wallflowers" gathered from around the world at the 2017 World Conference of the Professional Speechwriters Association, Oct. 16-18 in D.C. A few seats remain at this conference, which is nicknamed "Speechwriters in the Sunshine," for reasons that this video from the 2015 event makes clear.