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June 27, 2019

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David,

Although this may be perceived as a minor detail, it can have major consequences. There is a more political aspect to this phenomenon (but then I see almost everything in political terms).

In my suggested edits to the Professional Speechwriter Association's "Speaker’s Guide to Collaborating with a Speechwriter," I brought up something similar. It doesn't involve a host organization ghostwriting the speech as a scheme to put their opinions in the speaker's mouth, but it is close.

How do you handle a host organization's request for the speaker to advocate an opinion or stance that the speaker does not personally share? It might not even show up as a direct request; it may be something the host organization silently assumes the speaker will say, based on past interactions or press. It's always enlightening to check out these assumptions.

One of my suggestions was to add to the list of to-do's the responsibility to ask the host if there is anything the host/organization is counting on hearing.

In these days of sharply divided opinions and almost (or full-blown) violent allegiance to them, it's important for speakers to know what they are signing up for when they agree to speak at someone's event. Speakers may not want to ask the question, though; you may have to do it for them. In some cases, they may choose for no one to ask and just take their chances.

Based on what I found out in one case, however, I had a client back out of a speaking engagement after hearing the host's expectations for his content. Fortunately for me, this occurred when I was on salary, so it wasn't a canceled freelance job that cost me money. Quite the contrary, I earned points with the speaker for suggesting we find out the host's unspoken expectations. It saved him from a potential confrontation with the host and the audience.

When there is not a close relationship between the speaker and the organization, and if it is hard to find out the group's mission and beliefs on the Internet or in their literature, asking the host directly what their expectations are can be very revealing.

On a related topic, if the speaker's speech writer creates the host's introduction of the speaker to the audience, it is, in fact, putting words in the host's mouth. However, it is almost always welcome because it spares the host from having to do the work. Even better, it allows your speaker to be presented as the influencer/industry leader/maverick/whatever they want to be known for, because you, the speech writer, can shape it that way. Both the speech and the introduction are ideal opportunities to begin reinventing a speaker's public reputation if that's a goal, and it is more credible when it comes out of someone else's mouth.

Best,

Sharon Turnoy

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