Here’s Issue #3 of SpeechList, the speechwriting newsletter. Get yours fresh from the keyboard by clicking here to subscribe.


Issue 3 – August 4, 2005

by Rob Cottingham
mail: rob at robcottingham dot ca

(c) Rob Cottingham 2005


1. Opening words
2. Feature article: Resurrected rhetoric – Six uses for a dead speech
3. Speech of the month: London Mayor Ken Livingstone
4. Off the cuff
5. Your turn
6. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

1. Opening words

This issue’s feature article was spurred by a suggestion from Chris Carder, CEO of ThinData, one of Canada’s e-marketing leaders. He suggested a look at how you can connect a speech to your online presence — something that deserves a more in-depth look in a future issue.

But the idea of extending the impact of a speech struck a nerve. For all the work we do preparing for them, speeches go by with unnerving speed. This issue, I try to suggest a few ways you can get the most from your next big speech — well beyond the actual delivery itself. And some of those ways involve the Internet… so thanks, Chris.

When you check out these ideas, don’t overlook the single best way of getting more mileage from a speech: delivering it again. Not the whole thing, word for word; but if you’ve written a speech that eloquently conveys your organization’s strategic message, key passages ought to find their way into address after address. (Provided, of course, that they’re to different audiences.)

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By the way, the Vancouver Courier recently ran a good long article on speechwriting from a number of perspectives — speechwriters, to be sure (including me), but also politicians. There’s some good advice in there; check it out.

2. Resurrect your rhetoric: Six uses for a dead speech

The lectern has been disassembled, the coffee cups are cleared and the crowd has moved on to their afternoon agenda. The major speech you worked on for weeks is over, and you can’t help but think: is that it?

Well, good news: I may have the cure to post-podium depression.

Here are half a dozen ways a speech can keep on speaking for your organization long after the mike’s been switched off.

:: 1 :: Build relationships

Take the speaking text, reduce the size of the typeface to something reasonable like 12 points, and suddenly you have a document that you can send — printed or electronically — to selected prospects, clients and stakeholders.

Want to make it even more effective? Include a brief personal note from the speaker explaining why she thinks the recipient would be interested in seeing it, and inviting comment.

You’ve just helped maintain some of your organization’s key relationships — but you’re only getting warmed up.

:: 2 :: Lead thinking

Somewhere out there is a publication whose audience would be interested in what your speaker had to say. It could be a trade magazine, a portal web site or a major daily newspaper.

Find out if they accept outside submissions, and if so, whether they’d be interested. Once you get the green light, do a light rewrite to make the speech print-friendly, trim unnecessary niceties (“It’s a thrill to be back here in [TOWN]”) and speaking cues like “(pause)” or “(acknowledge hosts)”… and fire it off.

Now your speaker is a thought leader, and the day is still young. Next?

:: 3 :: Start conversations

If your organization has a blog, web site or newsletter, use the speech to spur a dialogue with the public. You can post the full text somewhere else and link to it; here, post the really provocative, insightful passages, and ask readers for their comments.

Whether you adopt a wide-open, take-all-comers policy or just select a few of the best responses and print them, state your policy clearly and be sure to thank people for their contributions. Your speaker can reply to some of the key points, and keep the conversation going.

Great: now you’ve engaged your audience, and maybe even picked up some useful ideas from them. Don’t stop now; you’re on a roll.

:: 4 :: Make news

If you wanted news coverage of the speech, you’ve already dispatched a media advisory out a few days beforehand, called through your list of assignment editors and reporters, and sent around a news release and a pointer to a “Check against delivery” copy of the text as soon as the speech began.

Um, right?

Okay, let’s say you didn’t. Maybe this speech wasn’t the stuff of breaking news. Or someone dropped the ball and the release is still sitting in their outbox. This speech can still do you some good with the media.

Write up a cover note highlighting the speech’s key message, and send the text to your media hotlist. Even if it just goes into their files, you’ve reminded them that you exist and have something worthwhile to say. That could well pay off down the road when a reporter is looking for someone to comment on a related story.

Now that you’ve massaged the media, are you going to quit? Not a chance.

:: 5 :: Make noise

See, you thought ahead, and arranged to have the speech recorded — maybe even videotaped. Now’s the time to get those files digitized and onto your web site.

But take pity on your audience, and give them the greatest hits. Offer the whole speech if you want, but give them the option of listening to just the best one- or two-minute clips. Be sure to offer the written text as well, both for the hearing-impaired and for people who prefer to read. If the speech included a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, add that, too.

(Incidentally, if your organization happens to produce a podcast, or if you know a podcaster who might find these clips useful for theirs, that’s one more way to get the word out. And if you said “Wha’a?” when you read the word “podcast”, drop by Tod Maffin’s web site and look for the headline “What is a podcast?”)

So, you master of multimedia — got a little more energy left? Because that speech has one more trick left to show you.

:: 6 :: Talk among yourselves

Communicators often forget one of their most important audiences: the organization itself. Staff, members, activists, volunteers — keeping them informed and engaged is critical.

Depending on the speech and its content, you may not want to distribute the whole thing; even internal audiences have a finite attention span. But there’s a good chance they’ll want to know about the key messages. Internal newsletters, intranets and bulletin boards are all potential vehicles.

And if any of them will be speaking publicly on the issues the speech deals with, you’ll want to distill the text down to talking points. Now, where you started the day with only one messenger and one audience, you may have several… or several dozen.

:: One last thought ::

Consider the days, sometimes weeks you spend hashing out a speech. Now consider that most substantive speeches last about 20 minutes.

In raw time, that’s a pretty big loss. Any of these six steps can help you recoup that time — and start earning a dramatically better return on your investment.

A good speech draws on your key messages and strategic goals, making it an important communications asset. With only a little extra effort, you can put that asset to work for you again and again — magnifying its impact and reaching far beyond its first audience.

:: How about you? ::

Got a favorite technique for wringing a few more echoes from a speech? Drop me a line at and let me know.

3. Speech of the month

:: Read Ken ::

Shortly after his city was attacked in a series of devastating bomb blasts on July 7, London Mayor Ken Livingstone delivered a short statement.

Short — but nothing short of stunning. Short on bombast and long on resolve, it captured the spirit of an outraged city and galvanized its people.

And it’s a reminder that words make a difference. They can provide hope and comfort, give a positive purpose to diffuse fury, and draw us together when we need unity the most.

If you haven’t already, give it a read. There’s a copy here.

4. Off the cuff

The latest issue of eCatalyst kindly recommends SpeechList as an important part of this balanced communications breakfast, and I’m happy to return the compliment.

eCatalyst’s publisher, IMPACS, helps non-profits build their communications capacity. And eCatalyst, a free e-mail newsletter, brings you fabulously useful information about PR and communications every month. Pitched to non-profits, eCatalyst is great for anyone who wants to learn more about getting the word out. Subscribe for free here.

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As always, you can find the latest speechwriting posts from Rob’s blog here.

5. Your turn

Last month, we looked at the fine art of the opening joke. Several readers responded with their own examples.

From Vancouver tech PR guy (and ace blogger) Darren Barefoot:

“I recently gave a talk as the ‘lunchtime entertainment’ at an annual marketing conference. I happened to learn that the previous (year) they’d had some of those wacky fire dancers, which hadn’t gone over so far. I opened with something like ‘I understand that last year in this slot you had some fire dancers. If I get dull, I can swallow a sword, but hopefully things don’t come to that.’

“It hardly brought down the house, but I believe it had the desired effect.”

And from columnist Scott Piatkowski:

“I recently took part in a press conference announcing the launch of Grand River Transit’s Bus’n’Bike program (Waterloo Region is now the only community in Ontario with a bike rack on the front of every bus in its fleet (feel free to chime in with how long the GRVD has had this). I spoke after a politician, a transportation bureaucrat and a hospital executive, on behalf of the Cycling Advisory Committee. I opened with the following joke, which given the context of the event and the quality of the air that day, went over great:

“‘Thank you. Can I just check… can everyone hear me through the smog?’

“I think I broke your vetting rule, though, as I thought of it about 30 seconds before I went up to the podium.”

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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 at robcottingham dot ca. I’ll include a sample of the feedback I get in every edition.

6. Subscribing, unsubscribing and passing along the news

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