The Master Speechwriter: Secrets to compose, adjust, and add humor to your big speech

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Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 12:00pm
3 Hours and 30 Minutes


12:00-12:40 PM

Write strategically, fight strategically: How to devise, draft, and defend messages that matter

As speechwriters, we spend a lot of time'and ink'helping our companies (or clients) find the right words to tell their stories. But the reality is that writing is only part of the job. The best speechwriters are also shrewd strategists, meticulous event planners, skilled managers, and masters of the organizational challenges that stand between first draft and final delivery.


Key Highlights:

  • Identify strategic objectives—and clarify successful outcomes before ever setting pen to paper
  • Write smarter, not harder—asking productive questions and imbuing your prose with purpose
  • Be tactical—in your management of both people and process, defending the draft and ensuring that your speech survives the vetting process
  • Deliver—the message your audience needs to hear, the results your organization expects, and the response your speaker deserves
Riley Roberts, previously served as chief speechwriter to Attorney General Eric Holder and is currently a principal at, West Wing Writers

12:45-1:45 PM

Humor demystified: How (and why) to make every speech funnier

From toasts, to keynotes, to everything between, a little humor goes a long way. It can connect the speaker to the audience, deflect a controversy, emphasize a point, or add a little levity to a speech that sorely needs it. Of course, comedy can intimidate—but if you understand the unique, important role humor plays in a speech, as well as the fundamentals of joke-writing, even the most serious speakers (and speechwriters) can expertly wield killer one-liners.

Key Highlights:

  • Identify the benefits of adding humor to traditional speeches
  • Highlight examples from business and politics to strategically deploy humor in your writing
  • Draw on current events for topical source material so your humor is relevant and timely
  • Employ joke constructions that fit any presentation
  • Use the philosophy of improvisation to quickly write jokes for any occasion
Brian Agler is a speechwriter and humorist. He works for West Wing Writers

1:50-2:40 PM

Know your audience: How Disney adjusts speeches to meet audiences where they are

Put yourself in the shoes of those who must sit through your speeches. Are they employees or investors? Do they want something from you, or do you want them to do something? In this session, you'll learn what it means to thoroughly evaluate an audience before you start writing so your speeches are written for the people who are listening. Jay Shannon, executive communications manager for Disneyland Resort, will talk about the nuances of audience expectations and how minor adjustments can make major differences in what you communicate.

Key Highlights:

  • What questions to ask about your audience before you write one word, so you write to communicate with them instead of talking at them
  • What you can and can't control about your audience, so you give your speaker the greatest opportunity for success
  • Strategies to tailor your message for new audiences so you don't reinvent the wheel
  • Day-of speech tips for helping the speaker connect with the audience
  • How to give the audience something they didn't know they needed so your speeches are memorable
Jay Shannon is the manager of executive communications for the Disneyland Resort

BONUS: 2:45-3:30 PM

Notes from backstage: Lessons from a TED-Talk and Moth-Mainstage- performance speaker

The craft of storytelling has been re-energized with the popularity of programs such as TED Talks and The Moth. TED and Moth speaking opportunities are highly sought after as they build momentum and change minds all over the world. In this session, speechwriter-turned-speaker Sarah Gray, who has delivered both a Talk of the Day and a Moth Mainstage Performance, chats with Rob Friedman about the lessons she learned and that you can learn from, too.

Key Highlights:

  • The differences between giving a TED Talk and telling a Moth story, and when each style could advance your message
  • What happened in the months, weeks, days and minutes leading up to each performance, and how Sarah's preparation could help any speaker
  • How TED's staging and speaker prep differ from The Moth's prep, and why that changes how the audience hears your story
  • Tips for preparing your speaker for success
  • Tips for selecting the right speaker and the right story
Sarah Grey is an author, patient advocate, public speaker and director of communications for the American Association of Tissue Banks