A few days ago, I launched SpeechList, the (free! free!) newsletter for people who write and deliver speeches. You can subscribe by clicking here.

If you’re wondering whether SpeechList is for you, here’s the inaugural issue:


Issue 1 – June 8, 2005

by Rob Cottingham
(c) Rob Cottingham 2005


  1. Welcome to SpeechList: Writing To Be Heard!
  2. Feature article: Why give a speech?
  3. Off the cuff
  4. Your turn
  5. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

1. Welcome to SpeechList: Writing To Be Heard!

Welcome to the inaugural issue of SpeechList: Writing To Be Heard. (Hang onto it; it’s sure to be a collectors’ item and will one day fetch a pretty price on eBay.)

Here’s what you can expect from SpeechList:

  • A regular feature article focusing on a practical aspect of speechwriting.
  • Occasional news and commentary from the world of speechwriting.
  • Selected feedback from readers.
  • Easy unsubscribing if you decide SpeechList isn’t for you.

I’m your host, Rob Cottingham — a speechwriter and public speaker with experience writing for national and provincial political leaders, corporate CEOs, union leaders, community activists and innovative thinkers and commentators. My politics skew left, but you should be able to get something out of SpeechList regardless of your political stripe — and no matter whether you’re priming a politician, pumping up your sales reps or persuading your town council to put a crosswalk on your corner.

2. Feature article: Why give a speech?

Most successful companies and organizations understand marketing and public relations. They know it’s important, even vital, to have some say in how people perceive them. And they want to have some influence over the issues that affect their organization.

They’ll advertise, lobby, send direct mail, write op-ed pieces, harass assignment editors — but in a surprising number of cases, they won’t seek out opportunities for their leadership to speak in public.

"That’s just not our focus," one company’s communications and marketing director told me. "We prefer to find other ways to communicate." This from a company whose CEO is by no means shy or a poor speaker, and whose retail branding is tied very closely to her. And it’s not as though giving speeches would preclude other communications options. So why the reluctance to send her to a podium?

If you’re trying to make the case in your organization for landing more speaking engagements for your leadership, you may be running up against the same thing. So here are five good reasons for your president, chair, leader, secretary general or troop leader to grab a microphone:

1. To put a personal face on the organization

Our strongest, deepest relationships are with other people, not organizations. Introduce an audience to a human being instead of a logo or acronym, and you can break down a lot of potential hostility, skepticism or apathy.

2. To communicate messages that advertising and PR can’t deliver

From damage control to reassurance in a time of crisis, there are a lot of messages that work far better face to face than they do in a news release or a TV ad. Being physically present and hearing a group’s leader speak directly to you can be far more immediate and personal — and far more persuasive.

3. To build your organization’s profile

Having a representative speaking publicly raises your group’s profile. It increases the chances that those in the audience will remember your organization’s name, and what you do. Others, even if they don’t end up attending themselves, may see the material promoting the event and remember who was speaking. Maybe best of all, much of this profile-building work is often all done by your host.

4. To identify your organization with a cause or issue

Eighty per cent of success is showing up, Woody Allen once wrote. When it comes to caring about an issue or cause, ratchet that up to 90%. Conveying your organization’s belief in a particular cause starts with personal, public commitment from the people at the top — the kind of commitment that can come through loud and clear in a good speech.

5. To build bridges, trust and relationships

There’s a level of trust that comes with having met somebody — even when you’ve been among 500 people meeting that somebody all at once. Part of the reason is that it takes trust on a speaker’s part to get up in front of an audience; even in the most adversarial of situations, that trust is going to be reciprocated (grudgingly and in small doses, maybe, but still reciprocated).

6. To enhance your organization’s prestige and authority

Looking at the speakers list for a conference, you make a few assumptions about the people speaking. One of them is that the people on the stage belong there — that the conference organizers have decided these people have expertise, experience or wisdom worth listening to. That prestige gets attached to the organizations those people come from, too.

And here’s a special bonus reason: it’s cheap as hell, and you can repurpose speeches in any number of ways. They can become newsletter articles, op-ed pieces, or letters to members or clients. You can post audio or video clips on your organization’s web site, or include them in a corporate video. Excerpts can make their way into annual reports and other publications. You can send courtesy copies to prospects and current clients as a way of maintaining the relationship.

Accepting a speechwriting engagement isn’t cost-free, of course. It takes time and resources to prepare a speech, and the attention of your group’s leadership is usually at a premium. You also need to assess the potential pitfalls in a specific invitation: a hostile audience, a low turnout, a poor performance.

But the decision to seek out speaking engagements should be an easy one. They’re a low-cost way of delivering a real boost to your group’s communications goals.

3. Off the cuff

Recent speechwriting posts at Rob’s blog, One Damn Thing After Another, at https://www.robcottingham.ca/roblog

Know your audience

A huge part of defining your agenda is knowing what you can realistically accomplish and to know that, you need to know your audience. – Read the post

It isn’t an invitation. It’s a bargaining position.

Entertainment mogul David Geffen once gave Lynda Obst a key piece of advice: never go into a meeting without an agenda. He didnt mean a schedule. He meant that, before you walk into a meeting, you should know what you want to achieve. It’s good advice for anyone hoping to make it in Hollywood; it’s even better advice for anyone giving a speech. – Read the post

Should you stay or should you go?

Some advice on accepting invitations to speak as a member of a panel. – Read the post

4. Your turn

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read here, if you’ve disagreed with something, or if you have something to add or an idea for an upcoming issue, please drop me an e-mail at feedback@robcottingham.ca. I’ll include a sample of the feedback I get in every edition.

5. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

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