To make your speeches memorable, tell a compelling story

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What You’ll Learn:: 

If you want the speech you write to be memorable and connect with your client’s audience, don’t just pour in a bunch of facts and figures to go along with a polished delivery. Tell a story.

Three communication professionals who have written speeches for CEOs, diplomats, presidential hopefuls and other leaders say the best way to engage that audience and get listeners to remember what you have to say is to use a story to help carry the message.

The three speechwriting pros provide writing tips and tell some stories of their own in “The power of storytelling: What you can learn from executive speechwriters.”

Vinca LaFleur, a partner at West Wing Writers, a speechwriting and communications strategy firm in Washington, D.C., says, “Stories are what we remember.”   Incorporating human stories into speeches  will make people more likely to recall the message of the moment long after the presentation is over.

Michael Long, director of writing for Georgetown University’s master’s program in public relations and corporate communication, says we forget facts long before we forget the feelings that a particular speech may evoke. Those story-generated feelings of conflict, tension, release, success or failure will resonate with an audience for a long time.

Rod Thorn, senior director of communications at PepsiCo, says speechwriters can find stories “in the most unimaginable places” if they can get their subjects to open up and share their feelings and life experiences.  Thorn, also a successful playwright, describes a story journey as the setup, the problem, the hard time, the resolution, and the wrap-up. Compelling stories follow that progression, he says.  

During this session you'll learn:

  • Why stories are the best way to ensure your message sticks
  • What kinds of questions elicit the best stories from your subject
  • How to build a story "storehouse" so you have them when you need them
  • Why the basics of storytelling come down to "tension and release"
  • Storytelling is easier than you think; humans are naturally drawn to stories
  • You don't have to be creative to do successful storytelling — you just need a few basic techniques
  • Why you must start strong and fast
  • How to find out what they want, then give it to them
  • The magic of the story journey: setup, problem, hard time, resolution, wrap-up

As a speechwriter, you face the daunting challenge of putting into words the accomplishments, goals and vision of your clients. If you think of yourself as a storyteller, your job may not be easier, but it will be more effective. Start here.

November 2013

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Presenter bio: 

Vinca LaFleur is a partner at West Wing Writers, a speechwriting and communications strategy firm in Washington, DC.  A professional writer for more than 20 years, she has served client CEOs, philanthropic leaders, senior government officials, royalty and prominent public figures in the United States and abroad. A member of the National Security Council staff from 1995-1998, LaFleur served as a special assistant and foreign policy speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. She holds a bachelor of arts summa cum laude from Yale University and a master’s from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Michael Long is director of writing at Georgetown University’s master’s program for public relations and corporate communications. He is an accomplished speechwriter and educator, and an award-winning playwright. He has written remarks for members of congress, U.S. cabinet secretaries, governors, diplomats, businessmen and women, CEOs, and presidential candidates.

Rod Thorn is senior director of communications at PepsiCo. From his first job writing about local politics for a small-town newspaper to writing and producing for CBS and ABC television stations; to becoming a much-produced professional playwright; to his current position, he has put storytelling at the heart of everything he writes. Before PepsiCo, he was a communications executive and consultant for IBM, The Wall Street Journal, Xerox, Royal Caribbean, Columbia University, Reuters, Kodak, Bank of America, Pfizer, Time Warner, Boston Scientific and Archer Daniels Midland.