Speechwriting for the C-suite

the best practices for writing a speech for leadership

One of the most challenging projects for a writer is writing in the voice of someone else. However, many communication professionals do this on a daily basis, as the voice for their company, product or organization. 

So when a writer is called upon to craft a speech for a C-suite representative, it can be an intimidating task. But it’s not impossible if you follow a few simple steps. PRNEWS reached out to several speechwriting experts to guide our readers on best practices for nailing that C-suite speech. 

Determine Your Goal

Much like any plan or strategy, it’s most important to determine a goal of the speech before diving into any creative process. Andrew Moyer, General Manager and EVP at Reputation Partners, says it’s important to ask several questions to achieve the expected outcome. 

“Are you looking for the speech to motivate people? Launch a new product or service? Establish thought leadership on a topic? Understanding what you want the audience to do, think or feel after coming out of the speech will assist you in writing to that outcome,” Moyer says.  

Learn About Your Leader

Before settling on content and tone, it’s important to get to know the person who will be making the speech. The best speeches provide relevant content and authentic delivery. According to Michael Franklin, Chief Thought Leadership Officer, Words Normalize Behavior, it’s important to get to know the heart of your principal. 

“Ask for insights into how they want the audience to feel after the remarks are provided,” Franklin says. “That means asking what people, moments, speeches, or memories elicit those same feelings for the principal that they hope to evoke.”

Moyer suggests taking time to listen to the leader speak publicly and to schedule a one-on-one to record for reference.

“The written words need to align with the speaker’s cadence, style, vocabulary and phrasing,” he says. “The one-on-one gives you an opportunity to understand them better…what motivates them to give you the insight needed to lock in their voice and personal story.”

Audience Research

It’s a basic, but often overlooked rule. Who are you speaking to? In what type of venue is the speech being delivered? This plays a huge role in determining tone and content. 

“Different audiences will come with different expectations and needs when listening to a speech,” Moyer says. Your job as the writer is to understand those needs and to craft the messages to meet the audiences where they are—the level of understanding of a topic they come with, the level of emotion they are feeling (good or bad), and/or the likelihood of alignment with what is being said.” 

Personal Storytelling

Utilizing a personal anecdote is a sure way to make a connection with the audience. Utilizing the experiences of the speaker to support the overall message can really make an impact if delivered in an authentic way. 

“The more the audience can put themselves in the position of the speaker/author, they better they will retain the information being shared,” Moyer says. 

Dealing with a Time Crunch

Many times, especially during a crisis, a CEO or leader is expected to deliver a response or speech within hours, not days, which can cause some stress for the writer. While time to research and meet and plan is desirable, sometimes an optimal framework just isn’t available. 

“Suddenly research and discovery phases may [have to] happen concurrently, and rather than a wide array of notes that you outline later, you're building that outline in the middle of the [research] or planning call so you can form a draft as soon as possible,” Franklin says. 

Avoid Too Many Cooks

Many times, especially for serious corporate statements, many stakeholders want to get their hands on copy for approval. This can include, legal, finance, operations, human resources…you get the picture. However this can muddy the initial goal, tone and delivery of the speech. Moyer says to take charge and define a limited review process. 

“Identify select subject matter experts who can help fill in specific facts and/or fact check details you want to include, but try to keep that group as narrow as practical.”  

Franklin says while having the chance to write on behalf of a C-suite leader can be a mix of exhilaration and stress, it’s still just another opportunity to help someone tell their story.

“At the end of the day, your focus is making sure that the remarks you draft provide a guide to the principal on what to say, alongside staying true and authentic to their voice. Authenticity is the priority because in the current day, we're living in, it's no longer meaningful to have remarks that aren't true to who you are.”

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal