There is no such thing as a speechwriter anymore

Complaints are common among speechwriters.

And one of the commonest is: I’ve got no time to write speeches anymore. They’re making me do a million things, and I can’t concentrate on the writing.

Three words, people: Get over it. The horse has left the barn, Elvis has left the building, the monkish speechwriter has left the monastery. Companies value erudition and fine writing much less than they used to, and they demand more varied skills from their communicators.

However, I do have a few words of advice on how to reorganize your multitasking reality in a way that you feel like something more than a communication short-order cook, fielding media calls one minute, cranking out intranet articles the next, doing your best speechwriting in the car on the way home.

In short: Integrate your work by using every bit of discretion you have to focus holistically on the executive communication process. For an organization of any size, it’s a huge job, more than enough fruitful work for anyone who wants to focus on it. And work where writing is, properly, the beginning but not the end.

You look at the executive team, you look at the publics the organization needs to reach, needs to interact with. You see infinite possibilities, far beyond the speeches, white papers and op/eds you’ve been churning out all this time.

Do the execs need a little help with their town hall meetings with employees, brown-bag lunches. Have they all had speaker coaching? (And have they seen themselves on tape?) What about media training—you don’t want to wait for a crisis, do you? Do the CEO and CFO handle analyst calls as well as they could? Who manages their communication schedule to make sure the speaking requests they accept are strategically significant, the trips they take are efficient uses of their time? Do the best global speaking forums know about the smart speeches they give? And has anybody done any polling or focus groups to figure out how well the CEO is coming across to key constituencies, and what he or she might do to be more appealing or persuasive?

Lots of these things are none of your business—not yet, anyway; the employee communication people think they “own” the town hall meetings and brown-bags, and the IR people can handle the analyst calls, thank you very much. Fine. Go where you’re wanted.

Or create an executive communication vehicle where none existed before. Get these execs doing some regular blogs, podcasts, webcasts; you’ve got to get them interacting with their constituencies, regularly.

Or maybe you do a video blog for employees: Every Monday morning you walk into the CEO’s office at 7and record a three-minute show, “On My Mind and On My Agenda.” Edit only slightly or not at all, and slap it up on the intranet, allowing readers to comment.

For a few minutes of the CEO’s time and an hour or so of yours, you’ve given employees weekly contact with the exec, and given the leader a convenient and intimate way to get important ideas across to his or her people.

At first, this executive communication work will be overtime. But you know how these things go. Eventually, the executive will come to rely on you for this stuff. And the more execs rely on you … the more they rely on you. Until one day you’ve got yourself a job—a better job than you ever had before. You’re more than a speechwriter, you’re much more than a communication generalist. You’re director of executive communication.

You’re in charge of nothing less than the human voice of the organization—where it appears, when it speaks, what it sounds like, what it says, and in what context. You’re also in charge of helping executives better understand how their ideas are received by employees, customers, shareholders and even government types. You’re applying old rhetorical skills to a modern era via new media. Markets are conversations, and you’re in charge of the conversation—helping keep your company relevant in its marketplace, introducing it to new markets.

And if you don’t like that job … well, call me, because I know a lot of longtime speechwriters who would kill or die for it.

Repeat after me: There’s no such thing as a speechwriter.

David Murray is editor of Vital Speeches of the Day.

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