Stuart Mole is a freelance speechwriter and consultant. He is a former Director-General of the Royal Commonwealth Society and a former Director of the Secretary-General’s Office in the Commonwealth Secretariat.
What was the first speech you wrote for somebody else?
My guess it was when I was appointed the Parliamentary Press Officer of the Liberal Party back in 1975. My first draft was for Clement Freud, then MP for the Isle of Ely. He did the jokes and I inserted the party policy. I am not sure it was the ideal way to write speeches.
How do you manage the speechwriter-speaker relationship? Any tips?
I aim to produce the speech the speaker thinks he or she would have written, had there been the time. That requires a personal relationship with the person – appreciating their use of language and their speech rhythms; understanding their sense of humour; and articulating clear and appealing messages on the basis of their known opinions and values. All of that suggests a continuing contact with the speaker – before, during and after the event. I remember writing for Sir Edwin Nixon when he was Chairman and CEO of IBM UK, and fortunately this thorough approach worked very well in his case. This is the ideal, though I realise that this is sometimes not practical.
Who is your favourite public speaker?
I was the Special Assistant to Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal when he was Commonwealth Secretary-General. He is an inspirational speaker who has a special gift as an orator. He uses the English language in a rich and uninhibited way, in pursuit of great causes. It is all delivered in a compelling Caribbean accent, with impeccable timing. I have listened to him for hours and been enthralled – even when I knew the content!
What’s your most useful reference book?
I admit to a weakness for the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, or similar reference books. Properly used, quotations can give substance to a text – but I use them sparingly, and only where they are wholly relevant and where they illuminate the speech.
Are you good at writing jokes for speakers?
I enjoy humour and it is a great way for a speaker to connect with his or her audience from the outset.
I used to write speeches for Tasos Panayides, then High Commissioner for Cyprus and Doyen of the London Diplomatic Corps. He had a very slow and deliberate delivery which made his jokes excruciatingly funny – the anticipation of the punch-line was almost unbearable. I am a great believer in light and shade – relaxing an audience with a joke and then providing contrast by quickly building drama and emotion.
How do we persuade big organisations to invest in writers?
The importance of the spoken word to the leaders of organisations, whether senior civil servants, captains of industry or diplomats, cannot be underestimated. Their speeches provide a crucial opportunity to showcase the organisation, develop important themes and messages and build personal profile and reputation .It is short-sighted for an organisation to invest in advertising, hospitality, public relations, websites and the rest.. and neglect the pinnacle of the organisation’s communications. It should be an integral and key part of the media strategy. It requires thought, preparation and expertise.
For those who think otherwise, they should recall the devastating impact of Gerald Ratner’s infamous ‘crap’ speech. In fact, the reach of any speech – for good or ill – is even more extensive today, given YouTube and other social media. The days of ‘off-the-record and off-the-cuff’ are gone.
What was it like to write the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast?
I have been involved in the past with some of the Queen’s speeches and annual messages, and the process was much the same. In this case, I provided a first draft in November, in the full knowledge that the script would be pulled about by others before the Queen herself put her personal stamp on the text in December. The Duke of Edinburgh is also influential at that stage, I gather. As with any major speech draft involving a team of people, the satisfaction I derived came from seeing what proportion of my writing survived the process, over three or four weeks. Fortunately, some did. It was also gratifying to see a key phrase I had suggested being picked up and quoted more widely, including by the Foreign Secretary.