Interview with David Murray, Editor of Vital Speeches

26 February 2013

What is Vital Speeches of the Day?

Vital Speeches has for 76 years now collected the best speeches from the leading thinkers in the world. The original idea, back in 1935, was that newspapers and radio so finely filtered what we heard, that it would be a service to the nation—Vital Speeches was then a very much America-centric enterprise—to provide a look at whole speeches, not just sound bites chosen by biased media organisations. That musty old mission sounds kind of modern, doesn’t it?

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The Ragan Communications Conference in Washington DC

18 February 2013
MayflowerHotel

Three days in February 2008 changed my life.

I travelled to Washington to attended my first Ragan Communications Speechwriters & Executive Communicators Conference at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Washington DC.

It was like visiting another planet and finding aliens there, who were just like me. There were over two hundred professional speechwriters gathered in one hotel. I had been invited to speak on ‘Writing Humour’ on the first morning. To my great relief, it went well, and my text was later published in an American publication, Vital Speeches of the Day.

During one of the breaks I went for stroll to look at the White House. I stared at the South Portico to see if I could spot George W Bush inside.

The American delegates asked me how things worked in the UK. I didn’t have a clue. I’d never met any other speechwriters in the UK.

In the bar, Hal Gordon, a former speechwriter for the President Reagan Administration, gave me a lecture on how the British political system worked. I’d never heard such an insightful American perspective. There was some truth it it, but it was a very romantic picture.

Later Hal gave a very inspiring talk about using stories in speeches. His tip was, save something good for the end. The end of your speech needs to get them applauding. He explained why Jesus used parables, and how we identify with different characters. One heckler suggested that Jesus used parables because he didn’t have statistics.

I got an insight into American corporate culture from Linda Rutherford from Southwest Airlines. Doing sales is not something Americans apologise for. She explained how Southwest Airlines had an internal speakers bureau, which arranged for company employees to go out and speak to schools and other organisations.

Drew Westen, the author of The Political Brain, gave an analysis of how to use emotions in speeches with reference to Presidential elections. The Americans are very comfortable talking about feelings. Something the British avoid, especially when talking about politics. We were invited to investigate our feelings towards a party’s principles, our feelings towards candidates, our feelings towards candidates’ personal attributes, our feelings towards candidate’s policies. Lastly we were asked to evaluate the facts about the candidate’s policies.

Westen ended by quoting Ella Fitzgerald, “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.” You’ve got to connect with the feelings of the voters. Tony Blair was the master of that.

Mark Ragan, the CEO of Lawrence Ragan Communcations, was a very charismatic host of the conference. He looked a bit like Michael Douglas.

In the best tradition of British entrepreneurs, I took the Ragan idea and worked out how to adapt it. In 2009, we had our first conference, which turned out to be similar, but British. Many of the characters I met in Washington have become friends since, and a few have travelled to Britain to speak at our conferences.

Speechwriting work is often a lonely pastime: fellowship springs up very quickly among its practitioners at conferences. Every speechwriter needs to make one pilgrimage to Washington. You can still get a place at the 2013 conference. Click here for details.

10 Steps to Writing a Vital Speech – Review by Alan Barker

9 February 2013

By Fletcher Dean
Published by Vital Speeches of the Day, 2011

Fletcher Dean introduces his book as “a primer on how to write a speech”. And, as a primer, it works extremely well.

Dean knows the worlds of both political and corporate speechwriting. He takes a pragmatic view of the speechwriter’s job.

He’s not afraid to tackle the fuzzy areas: the relationship between script and notes; the fraught question of Powerpoint; and most importantly, the relationship between scriptwriters and their principals. Dean’s first command is to know the audience. What, above all, do you want them to do after listening to the speech?

Although the early chapters are somewhat checklist-heavy, Dean’s take is refreshing. At the heart of his approach is what he calls the Communication Hierarchy: five ‘communication possibilities speakers can achieve with their audiences’. At the base of the staircase is ‘Inform’; we progress through ‘Create understanding’. ‘Reinforce values’ and ‘Change attitudes’ to the ultimate purpose: ‘Elicit action’.

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Garr Reynolds comes to London

2 November 2012
Garr Reynolds

On Wednesday 7 November 2012, I attended the Presentation Zen conference at the London Hilton Paddington.

It was excellent. Garr Reynolds is a charismatic presenter and he kept us going for the whole day.

However, there was one moment when, as a speechwriter, my heart sank. It was when Garr described an article published in Psychology Today. The title of the article is The 8 Key Elements of Highly Effective Speech…and why your words barely matter.

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Rich Watts becomes PEER 1 Hosting UK Business Speaker of the Year

4 October 2012
Terry Connor, PEER 1, Rich Watts, Ross Thornley, RT Media

Rich Watts, an account director from Leepeckgroup, won the £2000 prize for PEER 1 Hosting UK Business Speaker of the Year 2012 competition.

The final, hosted by the leader of Southampton City Council, Cllr Richard Williams, pitched nine speakers against each other at the hub theatre in Southampton on Thursday 27 September.

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