What do speechwriters have in common?

Much of the crowd at Ragan’s annual Speechwriters and Executive Communicators Conference is in Washington to learn how to write speeches. The rest of the crowd, me included, comes back every year to reconnect with their scattered tribe, and to remember what it is we have in common.

At this year’s conference, held at the Mayflower Hotel March 14-16, we remembered:

Speechwriters like words. “People forget the words,” said keynoter Marc Schumann. “People memorize the tone.” He compared speeches to speaking to a dog. If you say it in a nice doggy-loving voice, you can tell the dog, “I think you’re the ugliest dog I’ve ever seen.’”

There was grumbling afterwards. The speechwriters I spoke with were not amused.

Speechwriters could care less about technology. Rare speechwriting tech maven Ian Griffin (he does exec comms at Cisco) observed that during a recent social media conference, attendees fired off 800 tweets on and about the goings-on.

Whereas, midway through the first day at the speechwriting show, the number of tweets generated had been six.

Speechwriters aren’t only disintersted in technology, they reject it, like an incompatible organ. A young hotshot from Microsoft tried to do a session on PowerPoint. The session bombed and then technology went so thoroughly on the fritz that the audience emerged from the session almost twenty minutes late, looking dazed, like released hostages.

Speechwriters crave recognition. During the conference, we announced the winners of the Cicero Speechwriting Awards. During a session, I was stopped by a woman who whispered her name in my ear and told me she was a Cicero winner.

“Congratulations,” I said, shaking her hand.

“Can I hug you?” she asked.

And did.

Speechwriters pride themselves on their intellectual evenhandedness—sometimes to a fault. Former President Reagan scribe Clark Judge, now the partisan boss of the conservative White House Writers Group, startled his fellow presidential speechwriting panelist by acknowledging President Obama’s sincerity.

Obama “believes what he says,” Judge said. “I think he’s wrong. I’m a Republican. Duh. But I do think he believes it.”

But in their effort to appear at all times fair and balanced and emotionally neutral, the panel—which consisted of three former Republican scribes and three Dems—left some members of the audience wanting to scream.

Luckily, a cocktail party directly followed after the presidential panel, and the screaming commenced immediately.

And if you don’t like the current crop of speechwriters, just wait five minutes. So many people come and go from this profession that two thirds of the Ragan show is made up of people who for whom it’s their first, and maybe their last acquaintance with this gang.

Fletcher Dean was at a table selling and signing copies of his book, 10 Steps to Writing a Vital Speech. A young British bloke walked up, apologized that he was not attending the conference or even staying at the Mayflower.

He’d driven a lorry and been a police officer in Britain, but was at loose ends at the moment.

Would this book help him learn how to be a speechwriter?

And with that, he plunked down his $39.95.

Welcome to the tribe, guv.

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