Speechwriter and speechwriting trainer par excellence Colin Moorhouse writes about Beached Whale Syndrome: comparing the romantic complaint about men who roll over and fall asleep immediately after an amorous encounter (or, not to put it too delicately, their half of an amorous encounter) to clients who deliver the speech you wrote for them and then never let you know how it went.
In each case, both parties are the poorer for it. Colin expresses the speechwriter’s frustration eloquently; I’d like to chime in with a call for clients to see what they’re missing.
A conversation after the speech can do a whole lot more than let a speechwriter bask in the afterglow. It can:
- Identify strengths in the speech. What new jokes and anecdotes really took off? What turn of phrase got people’s attention? Which applause lines landed well?
- Identify weaknesses in the speech. What passages didn’t feel natural? What jokes fell flat? Where did we lose the audience? What sections could you have done without?
- Flag insights for the next time. Did something in the text spark a new idea, or remind the speaker of a great story? Did the speaker have an idea for a better way of phrasing something?
- Review the audience’s response. Not just where they applauded and where they checked email, but which lines were tweeted, and what ideas they quoted back to the speaker afterward.
- Hone the speaker’s core story. There’s nothing as important a post-speech conversation can do as giving the speaker the chance to reflect on the core story they’re telling, and sharpen it—or flag something they’d like to try the next time.
Booking the time for a post-speech debriefing is difficult. A busy speaker is usually on to the next thing. So you’ll need to be persistent. Book the meeting before the speech happens, for as soon as possible after the event. Build it explicitly into your workbacks and schedules. Lobby hard, comparing it to the way a professional athlete or performer continually reviews their performance.
This is how speakers and speeches and speechwriters all get better at what they do. Save the beached whales from themselves, and you’ll be doing yourself and your audiences a favour, too.