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Speech writers in the thick of it.

SPEECH WRITERS IN THE THICK OF IT

President Steve Ewing of Michigan Consolidated Gas Company (MichCon) often drops by and makes himself at home in the office of Ed Stanulis, seemingly a nobody. Then the two men hash over some weighty issues of the Detroit-based gas utility. At other times, Stanulis talks turkey with Al Glancy III, chairman and CEO.

Where does a non-management professional like Stanulis get off being such a casual acquaintance with the president?

Why does he get in to see the chairman and CEO?

... He's the speech writer. There's clout, prestige, and power in being a speech writer," Stanulis says. "The speech writer becomes a confidante and an adviser."

The clout, power and prestige of speech writing should make business communicators stand up and take notice. Business communicators sit in ideal positions to gain speech writing skills and to become speech writers. When the clout is added to a potential $100,000-a-year-plus income, no business communicator can afford to overlook the possibilities.

But while prestigious, speech writing can be thorny.

Speech writers circulate among the company's movers and shakers and get in the thick of company decisions.

"We are at the forefront of what's happening," Stanulis says. "Often, I know what will happen way ahead of some of the vice presidents."

Speech writers publicize the company's policies by preparing speeches for top management. Speech writers intimately observe policy in the making and policy carried out. In this process, speech writers can't help but learn the top-level management skill of policy formation. It's skill that can boost business communicators into the executive suite.

"Speech writing is a valuable arrow to have in your quiver if you want to be vice president of communication," says Steve Hallmark, an independent speech writing consultant based in Chicago and a former American Bar Association speech writer.

Respect Company Policy

Speech writers do more than deal with company policy. They nudge it, too.

Hallmark nudged one such vice president of a Fortune 100 company. The vice president commissioned Hallmark to write a speech on hiring the handicapped. The vice president felt "quite passionate" about the issue, but his company had no policy on it. Hallmark advised the executive to get a basic policy statement in place before going public.

But speaking engagements can expedite policy too much sometimes.

Stanulis wrote a speech for the MichCon president about a corporate policy on child care in the work place. The speech admitted that MichCon did not have a policy and then went on to support such policies. The media covered the event and reported far and wide that MichCon knew the latest about corporate policies on child care. This media coverage embarrassed MichCon because the company's own policy nowhere nearly matched the ideal reported in the media.

"Management went nuts, particularly personnel," Stanulis says. After the speech, personnel plunged into creating a child care policy quicker than it wanted to.

This kind of fallout can be unpredictable. Stanulis took the child care speech through the normal approval channels, and no one questioned it before.

Because one speech can have farreaching implications, Stanulis works with more executives than just the speaker. These other executives deal with sensitive regulatory issues, working relations with suppliers, personnel issues and marketing concerns. A speech writer must be attuned to any objections these executives have and work around them - a heavy political position.

Speeches can drive technical people nuts, too. They want elaborate, precise details in these presentations. They cringe at the speech-writing technique of using common comparisons to simplify technical terms. For example, Stanulis compared the supplying of natural gas to the merchant who wants to sell Pepsi but instead is forced to sell Coca-Cola. Common comparisons seem to trivialize the issue, in the technocrat's way of thinking.

In these circumstances, Stanulis educates. He explains that most audiences are not gas industry technical types. They are business people who know nothing about the gas industry, so common comparisons help explain gas industry issues.

Technical people also demand exact numbers, like 46.7 percent. Stanulis tells these folks that audiences don't comprehend exact numbers. Instead, audiences pick up general terms like "under half."

Other corporate writers complain that all literate managers think they can write. Speech writers face the same dilemma. All managers think they can write a speech.

Stanulis has a strategy for this, too. He tries to develop a mystique about speech writing, giving the impression that there's something really special about it.

He used this tactic when one of the vice presidents chewed on him about his child care speech. Stanulis talked to her about speech writing, the rhetorical structure of speech, writing for the ear, and the need for little stories and metaphors to carry the speech's message.

"I don't know whether I changed her mind, but I got her to thinking, `Maybe he's right,'" Stanulis says.

Positive media coverage helps his position, too. When his speeches receive widespread, positive coverage, he takes this information to the complainers to prove that his sense of the speech was right.

Speech writers also tread gingerly around the company's trolls and gremlins, those coworkers who look upon speech writers with suspicious and jealous eyes. These trolls and gremlins worry that the speech writer is in with the president making corporate policy, leaving the rest of management out of the policy-making loop.

Be Sure Facts Are Accurate

Speech writers can't just ignore this suspicion and jealousy. They must work with these managers, so Stanulis simply chats with them. It neutralizes the resentment. These managers learn that he's not conspiring against them to make policy. After he's through talking with them, they are glad speech writing is a job he has instead of them.

And none of these other people worry about accuracy in speeches like Stanulis does. Accuracy is as crucial in speech writing as it is in any other form of corporate writing. If a speech writer puts the wrong information in a speech, "that's an invitation to look for a different occupation," he says.

Stanulis' speeches go through an elaborate approval system to avoid inaccuracies. Top executives and appropriate technical people put their eagle eyes to these speeches. This approval process seems laborious at times because everyone feels a need to make changes, whether or not those changes are really warranted.

Negotiating copy changes and working with top management join responsibilities that speech writers and other business communicators share. These common skills give business communicators some savvy to give speech writing a try.

Floyd Walker, ABC, suggests ways corporate writers can get speech writing experience. These writers should put themselves in positions of writing for the spoken word - newscasts or video scripts, says the administrator of Community Relations and Media Services for Allied Signal Aerospace Co., based in Kansas City, Mo. Such writing gives the writer experience about what works and what doesn't work for the spoken word. Also, writers should seek out opportunities to write speeches.

Aspiring speech writers should watch people speak, listen to speech content, read speeches, know the speakers, and know the company, Walker says. By observation, the writer learns some dos and don'ts of speech writing and how specific people talk. The writer's knowledge and tenure with the company give the powers-that-be confidence to let the novice speech writer have a go at it.

As the corporate writer adds a growing number of speeches to a portfolio, who knows where opportunity will lead?

Stanulis, for example, eased into speech writing from a technical writing and technical training background. He worked for the Federal Reserve Bank addressing audiences about the bank and its monetary policy. Later, he wrote speeches on the same topic for other speakers, a chore that turned into a fulltime speech writing job. He hired on as company speech writer at MichCon.

Where to Get Experience

Speech writers like Stanulis learn speech writing on the job. In fact, many middle to upper-level managers get conscripted into speech writing service without particularly asking. Not only do these managers come from business communication, but they also come from law, operations, human resources and strategic planning.

Hallmark knows one such draftee. The chairman needed a speech about strategic planning, so the strategic planner wrote the speech. The chairman loved it. The next time the chairman needed a speech, the strategic planner received the assignment, even though the speech had no connection to strategic planning. Thus, a speech writer was born.

"The Chicago Speech Writers Forum has 70 writers and not a single one of us set out to be a speech writer," Hallmark says. Stanulis says the same things about the 45-member Detroit Speech Writers Forum.

It's no accident that upper managers are well-versed in the intricacies of corporate policy making. They work and negotiate on the same level with the CEO, which is what the speech writer must do.

"Speech writers are seasoned observers and participants in the corporate environment," Hallmark says. "They have made major management decisions. They have made policy. They have been there."

Speech writers also have a temperament and willingness to set aside their ego to allow the speaker's ego to shine forth - not a universal trait in everyone, Hallmark says.

He's had to work on this trait himself. He recalls the time when he was 28-years-old arguing with his boss, a US Senator. Hallmark took offense at his words being changed in a speech he had written for the senator.

"The passion of youth and the attachment one has with one's own writing is really what's called for in speech writing," Hallmark says.

However, he didn't let his youth stop him from writing speeches in his mid-to-late 20s. His speech-writing experience over the years has led him to a point where he now writes 50 speeches a year and draws top dollar for each one. A speech writer's income in the US ranges from the median $56,000 a year to the top end income of $115,000 a year, according to an informal survey by Ragan Communications published in its Nov. 17, 1989 Speech Writer's Newsletter.

The speech writing demand these days is as good as the money. Hallmark says that Peggy Noonan's popular book, "What I Saw at the Revolution," spurred an interest in speech giving among entrepreneurs, a field ripe for the harvest by independent speech writers. Also, the Chicago speech writer says that CEOs talk more to audiences inhouse to motivate them on issues such as customer service, an opportunity for speech writers who prefer the inside corporate scene.

And speech writers really get inside the inside corporate scene. How much more on the inside can a professional get than someone like speech writer Stanulis? He has frequent visits to his office by one of the company's top officers, and he is one of the first to know what will happen in his company. Being this much "in the know" is something business communicators thrive on.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles; speech-writing techniques
Author:Spalding, Jeannette
Publication:Communication World
Date:Oct 1, 1990
Words:1822
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