In the bad old days, they used to say the title "speechwriter" was as common as the title, "CEO's mistress." But even in these enlightened times when leaders have lovers of all kinds and speechwriters have recognizable titles—executive communication, it's usually called—speechwriters are less organized professionally than car-wash managers. (Seriously.)
Well, the speechwriters' shepherds at Vital Speeches of the Day and our pal Dan Gerstein at Gotham Ghostwriters have decided that almost 2,500 years after the birth of Aristotle, enough is finally enough. We've convened the brand new Professional Speechwriters Association, and we're holding the first ever World Conference of of the PSA, May 22-23 in New York.
Supercommunicators will offer high-level advice for this crowd of experienced speechwriters ... we'll discuss the state and future of the profession ... and speechwriters will offer advice to a young crop of NYU undergrads who may be considering a career in this business.
It's going to be a momentus couple of days. If you call yourself a speechwriter—or a CEO's mistress, for that matter—you won't want to miss this long-overdue barn raising for a home for the speechwriting profession.
The Left wishes President Obama had the guts to kill the Keystone Pipline, whose proponents wish he had the guts to stand up to the Left, and push the Pipeline through.
The Right wishes President Obama had the nuts to stand up to Vladmir Putin, the Left wishes he had the stones to stand up to the Right and close Gitmo, cancel the drones program and raise the miniumum wage.
And so on and so forth.
But I don't think President Obama is afraid of these political forces. Maybe sometimes fear of political consequences comes into his thinking—and probably fear of real consequences comes into it. But just as often, I think he doesn't always know what he ought to do in a given situation, and I think he sometimes thinks there is little he can do. And about some of these situations—the easy questions don't get to his desk (I handle those here at Murray's Freelance Writing)—he must be right.
Does it matter why President Obama does what he does, and doesn't do what he doesn't?
Think of all the problems you have, all your unmet goals, your gnarly dilemmas, your looming deadlines the chronic conflicts in your life.
How would it be if your friends—and we are the president's friends—ascribed your every single unhappy circumstance, or their every disagreement with you—to a lack of courage on your part?
That would be bad. Because it would mean your friends aren't trying to understand you (and of course trying to understand you is what distinguishes your friends from your strangers, and your enemies). It would mean your friends are just trying to condemn you, by ascribing their dissatisfaction with you to the least forgivable possible character trait: cowardice.
It would mean your friends are being mean, and dumb.
And having mean and dumb friends—now that's something to be afraid of.
I am fat.
It came on like going broke: Gradually, and then all at once.
I blame it entirely on the weather this winter. The record snow, combined with the constant cold. Well that, in combination with my refusal to do any of the following: pay for a gym membership, run in deep snow or sheer ice or under 20-degree weather, or curtail the slovenly eating and enthusiastic drinking that make regular exercise mandatory for me.
No regular running for two straight months. The usual eating and drinking. I am fat.
As the weather improves, I'll start running again in earnest. I hope that by June my fatness will have receded to its normal, pushing-maximum-density level, where I can tighten my torso and pretend I'm 27 again. Okay, 35.
Meanwhile, while I'm fat, I thought I'd make some observations about being fat. I don't know much about the emotional effects, because I don't emotionally realize yet that I am fat. It's just an intellectual thing. I look in the mirror expecting to see myself, and there's a chubby dude standing there.
Physically, though ... this sucks.
You constantly feel your shirt scraping against your fucking belly, reminding you ever step you take that you are fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat. I find myself absentmindedly designing shirts that have a rigid awning that juts out right below the nipples and dangles the shirt out beyond the belly, so the thing clears. (How many inches is your overhang? That's your belly size. In America, shirts should have belly sizes. "Yeah, I want an extra large awning shirt with a 10-inch belly.")
Also: You know why fat guys scratch their bellies? Because fat bellies itch. Probably because they're in friction with shirt fabric all effing day long. Hold on a sec, I have to itch my belly.
And the worst thing about being fat (at least at the manageable level at which I am currently fat)? Eating and drinking aren't as much fun. Because they make you fatter. Not eventually. Immediately. The thick luxury towel you that you now normally have strapped to your belly ... after that big screwdriver and pizza you just consumed—that's now a sandbag. It aches to sit up straight. I'm typing this leaning back with my legs out straight, because I just ate a six-inch sandwich from Potbelly.
All I want to do is lie on my back. I'm thinking of having a TV installed in the ceiling.
To sum it up: Being fat makes your clothes your enemy, makes you itch all the time and takes all the pleasure out of eating and drinking.
If I have more insights between now and the time my belly stops itching, I'll share them. Because I am a communicator. And communicators communicate—tall ones, short ones, skinny ones and fat ones.
It was an odd and charming sight in the Mayflower Hotel ballroom, just before the opening session at the 2014 Ragan Speechwriters and Executive Communicators Conference last week in Washington.
A young speechwriter was being approached by other speechwriters, many of them old enough to be his mom or dad, who wanted a photo with him. The speechwriter was Jon Favreau, of course, President Obama's longtime chief scribe. He was there to keynote the conference. Before and during his presentation, he couldn't have been more intelligent, more witty or more gracious. And there was no denying: He was adorable. He is, as I introduced him, the Jennifer Lawrence of the speechwriting profession.
In his short speech and long Q&A, he was disarmingly candid:
• He admitted that neither he nor President Obama had a formal knowledge of rhetoric, and recalled how a reporter called after the Iowa primary and asked if they'd meant to write the victory speech in iambic pentameter. "What?" was Favreau's response.
• He said that after having written so many high-profile speeches that were seen and heard over every news outlet around the globe, "it is hard for me now to get too worked up over the corporate clients" who warn him that the speech is important because a few lines might appear in a local paper or a business publication.
• And he said there are two kinds of clients: "Those who have an inkling about what they want to say ... and those who only know what they want the audience to think about them" after the speech is over. He mocked the speaker who wants to give a TED TALK "and I want people to think I'm a big thinker."
He's been working for the former type of client since 2004. If he stays in the speechwriting game, he'll be working mostly for the latter type of client from now on.
Because most corporate clients see speeches as image-building public ceremonies rather than truly persuasive or revelatory opportunities. And they will continue to see speeches this way—and see their speechwriters, by and large, as assistants rather than partners—until speechwriters find a way to make leaders believe they can communicate their way to their goals.
Or so I argue as forcefully as I know how at Vital Speeches Online, today. My Bootanical gardeners, have a read, and weigh in.
(And take your time. I'm off tomorrow to Florida for a week with my wife. A week's vacation for her. For me, a fevered solitary confiment to a hotel room, where I'm hoping to crank out an article-length iteration of this "Raised By Mad Men" thing I'm writing about my parents. Wish me guts.)
The principal at the school where my wife works is a very busy woman. No, you are a very busy woman. I am a very busy woman. The principal at my wife's school is a chainsaw-juggling, plate-spinning, tap-dancing one-armed wallpaper hanger on a skateboard, on a deadline and under severe scrutiny.
With enthusiasm and style, she's doing God's work. But with fewer resources.
So it should be our pleasure to share the burden of the straws that might otherwise break her strong back. For instance, last week she had to take time to diplomaticaly answer this email from a University of Chicago administrator in charge of "community engagement and neighborhood health partnerships":
My name is S—. I work with CPHP and would like your permission to do a celery tasting at your school March 19th?
Hold the celery, Miss K—. But keep sending us your straws. We'll dispose of them properly.
Scout's review: "That's mean."
Did you seriously think I would waste even a tiny percentage of these precious 1.5 days per year that I get to hang out with my speechwriting peeps, sending glib and useless observations about the proceedings to people who couldn't be bothered to make it?
You don't know me, then. You don't know me at all.
... if I haven't read all the latest obituaries in The New York Times, I feel my life is out of control?
Reading the Times on a Sunday (with coffee for the news and a big screwdriver for the opinion stuff) is the single steady axis around which the rest of my life turns.
But when the Gray Lady runs a headline like, "Crashes Taking Outsize Toll on Women" (as it did yesterday), I try to picture the sallow-faced editor who wrote the head. I want to ask her if she were in a tavern, or even in the Special Collections Room of the New York Public Library, would she turn to her neighbor and report, "Hey, have you been watching the Olympics? Fuck sakes, boss man. Don't it seem to you that crashes have taken an outsize toll on women?"
If the Times would run the occasional headline—just when the situation deserves it—"Women Go Ass Over Apple Cart in Sochi"—it would entirely eliminate the need for the New York Post (and maybe the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times) altogether.