The following article first appeared on ft.com in April 2014.
By Sam Leith
To Trinity College, Oxford to give a talk at the UK Speechwriters’ Guild’s annual conference for speechwriters and business communicators. A proper treat. I don’t know what the collective noun for speechwriters is, but here they were – delegates from all over Europe listening to presentations, swapping tips and eating biscuits.
The UK Speechwriters’ Guild has created a new trophy for Steve Bee, from Jargonfreebenefits, who has won our award for Business Communicator of the Year.
The award is a reproduction of a gargoyle from the Bodleian Library in Oxford which has the motto, ‘tread lightly, speak softly’.
I’ve now been to 11 conferences for speechwriters. I’ve organised eight myself in Bournemouth, London, Brussels and Oxford,
I’ve been to the Ragan Communications conference in Washington and the Professional Speechwriters’ Association one in New York.
Last week I went to the Verband der Redenschreiber deutscher Sprache conference in Berlin.
Of course I’m biased about what makes a good conference, but I thought it would be worth putting on paper why they’re worth attending and what you should expect from them.
The European Speechwriter Network will host its second conference outside the UK on 23 & 24 October, at De Burcht in Amsterdam.
The first day involves intensive training, the second day is an open forum where we listen to the best practitioners share their knowledge and expertise.
We have a distinguished line-up of speakers and trainers. The 23 October will offer the choice of three one-day workshops.
I was watching cricket commentator, Henry Blofeld, on BBC’s This Week, and he mentioned he has a book out, called Squeezing the Orange.
He explained the title:
“I regard each day as an orange that has to have as much juice squeezed out it as possible,” says Blofeld. “And when I finish squeezing one day’s orange I go to bed and wait for the next day’s orange. I’m all for getting the maximum of fun out of life and having as much laughter as I can. I mean, none of us laugh enough — we live in a gloomy age. And when you do laugh, you feel better.”
Willi Vogler, a former speechwriter for the CEO of Lufthansa, will visit Oxford in April to speak about the work of the Verband der Redenschreiber deutscher Sprache.
The UK Speechwriters’ Guild will have their eighth conference at Trinity College in Oxford, but this will be the first time that the Guild has invited a German to speak.
Both nations are doing their best to establish the professional credentials of this new specialist job title.
The UK Speechwriters’ Guild published its first book in December 2013: Trade Secrets, Jokes, stories and quotations for desperate speechwriters in 2014.
“This is a pilot project which the Guild intends to become an annual publication, featuring the best lines nominated by its members during the year.” said the founder Brian Jenner.
Chris West from Verbal Identity spoke at a conference I attended earlier this year and opened his presentation by saying he’d been discussing what to say with one of his former colleagues. He told us how the colleague had given him a great NLP tip on presenting. He then didn’t tell us what the tip was.
Only later did the ingenuity of the aside come across because a member of the audience asked him during questions about the tip. And Chris said, always leave an unanswered question, it keeps their attention.
The press has recently reported the prevalence of ‘glossophobia’: the fear of public speaking.
This fear is a barrier many people have to overcome before contemplating a career in politics.
On the Wednesday 20 November, four leading women in British public life will speak about how they beat their fear of public speaking, and how they go about crafting messages as part of their work.
Jay Heinrichs is my kind of intellectual. After 26 years in publishing, he headed for the wilds of New Hampshire and devoted himself to writing.
He resolutely avoids academia; in a scathing article, he castigates Harvard for systematically downgrading rhetoric as a subject of serious study over the last 200 years.
According to his Businessweek profile, he starts every day at 4.30 with a strenuous workout and updates his websites before kissing his wife goodbye at 6.30 and walking or skiing to work in his log cabin office. He’s regularly hired by global corporations and sells ‘Talk Me Into It’ dog t-shirts on his ‘junk site’ for $18.99.