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Speechwriting: it can expand your role; improve job security.

Good speechwriters are much more than mere "wordsmiths."

They understand the organization and its mission. They can think like an executive, focusing on unifying goals rather than competing priorities. They understand multiple perspectives -- employees', customers', shareholders', news media's -- and can bridge gaps between what the executive wants to say and what the audience wants to hear.

Speechwriters and other communication professionals can build on these skills to expand their roles, increase job security and enhance career options. Here are five concrete steps that can help you do that. Each step builds on skills gained in the previous ones.

Step 1: Consistently deliver top-quality products and services

Technical excellence, integrity and a personal style appropriate to your organization are the foundation of professional credibility. Providing top quality consistently can open up opportunities to do more.

Quality standards also apply to giving advice and counsel. One executive I wrote for was especially intimidating. He loved to see if he could rattle people by picking apart their work.

To survive our meetings with hide and pride intact, I came prepared to explain every line in a speech and every recommendation I made. It worked. He stopped asking.

In addition to providing top-quality speeches and advice, every successful speechwriter knows it's essential to do a superb job of managing relationships. That applies to staff as well as executives.

Research confirms this. A study by professor Cynthia Webster, reported in The Journal of Services Marketing, winter 1991, found that meeting client expectations and having pleasant relationships with them is even more important to clients than your level of competence or the results you deliver!

Step 2: Subtly market yourself

This step requires delicacy. Finesse.

For example, whenever you're talking to colleagues -- especially if they're from other functions such as finance, marketing or customer service -- try to gain new information or insights. Be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Find out what their contributions are, what their problems and frustrations are, how their pieces fit into the organizational pie.

This not only improves your understanding of the organization, but it also helps build your network of resources and allies.

Offer only informed opinions and advice. If you don't know, don't pretend you do. If you have something substantive to say, don't be shy.

When you're presenting to an executive and can't answer a question, don't wast time explaining or justifying. Simply say, "I'll find out," and do it.

Step 3: Play team, and play to the finish

One IBM executive I wrote for visited plant sites where he was briefed by the local executive team. Occasionally, he gave a speech to managers. But his only contact with other employees on these visits was a prerecorded message played over the public address system.

I was convinced that the executive, who was an excellent communicator, was missing precious opportunities to explain his new strategy, inspire his team and receive direct feedback from front-line employees. Some others shared my view, but the idea went nowhere for 10 months until I found an ally in a new administrative assistant.

Our teamwork paid off. As part of the executive's next site visit, he hosted a round table discussion with front-line employees. The executive, his staff and site employees all were enthusiastic. The executive's key messages reached a much larger audience. And personal interaction with this charismatic, credible leader boosted morale at the site.

In a perfect world, the decision to do the round table discussion would have been made much more quickly, without all the staff work and lobbying. Until the new AA came along, I had been frustrated and discouraged by all the barriers to taking this step that seemed to offer such clear benefits for everyone.

This AA showed me how to break through those barriers. He had a sense of humor about the frustrations, and an unrelenting enthusiasm and determination to "do the right thing."

Step 4: Take on other projects

While writing speeches for the CEO, I was asked to edit a report that a committee of executives from several companies was producing for The Business Round Table. The subject was how to improve primary and secondary education in the United States.

This task certainly wasn't in my job description, and the CEO wasn't even involved. But I saw the assignment as an opportunity to learn about a subject of great personal interest to the CEO, and to make new contacts.

Though the project was demanding, it had many benefits.

As expected, I did gain an understanding of key issues in improving education, and I did make new contacts. The project introduced me to several high-ranking IBMers, including top executives in the personnel department and the governmental programs office in Washington, D.C. At the same time, I developed relationships with people on their staffs who became long-term colleagues and friends.

Step 5: Actively help solve organizational problems

In the autumn of 1989, the top communication executive wanted a report summarizing IBM's position on environmental issues, identifying positive messages and developing a communication strategy for Earth Day 1990.

To develop a united company position, I needed to build consensus among people from many countries, sites and departments, all of whom had different values and priorities.

In addition to researching and writing the report, it took considerable negotiating, but all approved the final document, which formed the basis of IBM's Earth Day 1990 activities as well as ongoing environmental communication.

This experience brought home an important realization for me: Professional communicators frequently are on the node point of confrontation within their organizations.

If you're working on a product announcement, you're often caught in the crossfire between marketing and development. When preparing an annual meeting speech or an annual report, you're anticipating the reactions of shareholders, media, analysts, customers, employees, activists and retirees. If you're announcing a merger, layoff or restructuring, you're balancing financial and personnel considerations, along with many others.

Writing ideas down or embodying them visually gives them added weight and reality. The creation of a speech, press release or video which must be approved by multiple individuals or departments can cause misunderstandings or deep-rooted conflicts to surface.

Another reason communicators often are in the center of controversy is this: Communication is a snapshot of dynamic, constantly changing organizations. Through communication, organizations define themselves internally and explain themselves externally. As organizations change, communication to employees, customers, shareholders, business partners, neighbors and other audiences also must change.

While confrontation often is uncomfortable, you don't have to take it personally or react like a helpless victim. You can take an active, constructive role. You can use conflicts as opportunities to expand your skills, expand your role and expand your future opportunities.

To do that, you need to break out of the narrow, technical expert roles that I call "Order-Takers" and "Rule-Makers," and even move beyond the role of the "Ground-Breakers" who give expert advice on the subject of communication. The role that our clients need us to play more often these days is the role of "Mediators."

To be a "Mediator," you need to do three things:

* Identify with the goals of the organization rather than the specific tasks you have been assigned.

* Don't take conflict personally.

* Actively work with your colleagues in other departments to develop effective solutions to organizational problems.

This requires high-level skills and sustained, unselfish effort. The road is not easy. I stumbled and fell many times, and still do. But functioning as a Mediator who helps solve organizational problems offers great personal satisfactions and professional rewards. It is an enduring, practical way to increase your job security and enhance your career options.

In our increasingly interdependent world, where competitors are becoming partners and "Evil Empires" are becoming allies, there's a great need for people who can create cooperation and synergy in cross-functional teams, among organizations, across cultures and among nations.

In "Managing Beyond the Quick Fix" (Jossey-Bass, 1989), Ralph Kilman says the days of simple problems and one-person solutions are in the past. To solve complex problems, "several different experts must interact in order to develop a high-quality decision."

Opportunities to help fulfill these needs in creative, cooperative ways are available to all communicators. It may be easiest for speechwriters -- who are paid to think like executives -- to make this leap.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Steltzner, Joy L.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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