How to Deal With Rejection: A First Aid Kit for Speechwriters

How to Deal With Rejection: A First Aid Kit for Speechwriters

Hard at Work Writing a Speech



We’ve all seen this movie before.   You produce what you consider a solid speech.   You proudly hand it to your boss.  Who flips through it in about the time it takes to scan a purchase at the Wal-Mart checkout counter and hands it back to you.

“It’s not what I want,” the boss says.

“What do you want?” you ask.

“I’ll know it when I see it,” comes the reply.

You slink back to your PC and try to figure out what to do next.  Your boss has basically told you to bring back another rock.  You thought the last rock was okay.  But your boss is your boss and you need to DO SOMETHING to this speech that makes it LOOK DIFFERENT.

As an alternative to triple bypass surgery, perhaps all your speech needs is a tummy tuck. Here are a few ways to save the patient.

Lose the Lead

Whatever you had in there to begin the speech with needs to go.  It’s the first thing your boss will notice if you don’t.  When they see a new beginning they’ll assume you took the time to massage the rest of it as well.  Even if you didn’t, a new lead is often enough change to convince the most skeptical boss that your original stuff now works (or at least get them to finally read it). One option is to go to a “This Day In History” website and identify some event that can be tied in with your speaking venue.  In addition, many major newspapers and/or networks will carry or air stories on a Monday about something that will happen on Tuesday.  If you can tap into a real time event in a meaningful way, it can be a good way to capture and keep the audience’s attention.

Make it Memorable

The whole goal of any speech should be to articulate a message memorable enough to leave the room when your audience does.  If your speech is memorable, your boss will be too.  You can get there by being informative or entertaining or spell-binding, but the object is to get there.  Make liberal use of thematic refrains and dramatic pauses.  Spice the speech up with little vignettes that support your message.  Everyone loves a story within a story as long as it all ties in by the time you get to “Thank You.” Above all, make sure that what you say is something you would be interested in hearing if you were sitting in the audience.

Troll for Typos

One of the worst mistakes any speechwriter can make is sending a draft forward containing typos.  If they find one they will spend an insane amount of time looking for others (even if the one they spotted is the only one in there).  It’s almost an addiction – “let’s see if we can find all the little buggers.”   Getting a speech from a professional writer that contains a spelling or grammatical error is a little like getting a dinner from a professional chef that contains a dead insect.  It doesn’t belong there, and neither does your typo.  Your confidence in the kitchen is going to plummet as quickly as your boss’s confidence in you.  Your boss will think you took so little interest in the speech that you didn’t even bother to read what you wrote.

Appreciate Your Audience

Speaking of which, the reason you are writing a speech to begin with is because there is an audience.  Appeal to them. Talk to them, not at them.  Get smart on who they are and what is on their radar screens.  Is there someone in the audience who has done something worthy of being a part of your speech?  Everyone likes to hear nice things said about themselves.  And as corny as it may sound, one of the most effective ways to mentally engage an audience is to ask a couple of rhetorical questions somewhere in the middle of the speech, like “How many of you have experienced something similar to what I just described?”

Study the Storytellers

Become a regular reader of Vital Speeches of the Day.  Study speeches delivered by noted motivational speakers of the past and present such as Jack Welch, Norm Augustine and Steve Ballmer. Precision Writers has compiled a terrific listing of references on speechwriting that you can access via this link

Back to Basics

While it may be true that most audiences wouldn’t know a good speech if it bit them on the nose, most will recognize a bad one, and like a skunk, recognition will happen quickly. Public speakers do have one huge advantage going for them however: audiences generally want their speaker to succeed, in large part, because they have invested their own personal time to attend a speaking event and they want their money’s worth!

Speechwriting is not some dark voodoo science.  A good speech will have a beginning, middle, and an end. Each piece should refer to the other in a creative and compelling way.  The speech needs to have a reason for existence, a logical “soup to nuts” story line woven through its fabric, and it needs to include an exit strategy that leaves the audience on an emotional high.  You want your boss to feel all warm and fuzzy after delivery, and you want the speech to become water cooler talk the next day.



Harry Phillips is a former humor writer who has won over 25 writing awards, including the top speechwriting prize from the nation’s largest public relations group – the Bronze Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America.  He has been a speechwriter at every level of government and for executives at Fortune 100 companies.