Communication strategy: When should you contact a speechwriter?
Timing is everything at work and in life.
If your communication strategy for an upcoming event calls for a keynote speech from your CEO, how far in advance should you contact a speechwriter?
Learn from this experience I had recently with a marketing VIP here in the U.S.
Last week I received a desperate phone call from a senior national marketing manager who was putting together her company’s first virtual conference for hundreds of attendees in cities across the United States.
She seemed a little frantic.
Originally, she explained, the communication strategy called for her, as the event’s emcee, to write the CEO’s keynote.
His speech would open the conference and set the stage for the two-day event.
But as time went on (this marketing VIP confessed), she realized she didn’t have the capability or the bandwidth to take on this important – and now suddenly daunting – task.
Could I help?
I began by asking a few questions about her overall communication strategy and the conference itself.
When is the event?
In three weeks, she told me (rather sheepishly).
Do you have an agenda with timing, plus outlines for the entire event ready to go?
Yes, she said – bullet points. Other speakers on the agenda were still working on their presentations. But she could provide the communication strategy, theme and messaging for the conference.
And one more thing, she said.
“We also need a short closing speech for the CEO to deliver at the end of the event.”
(So her communication strategy really called for two speeches from the CEO – not one.)
Do you have background information pulled together?
It can be, she said. The CEO wants to talk about “where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going,” and she had “tons of data” for me to review.
Is the CEO readily available over the next three weeks for one-on-one interviews about his remarks, an outline review, feedback on speech drafts, independent rehearsals and coaching sessions ahead of the event?
He’d do his best to clear his schedule, she said. (But his wife would be having a baby soon.)
Could you send over a couple of the CEO’s past speeches?
Yes, she said – mostly bullet points.
And that made me wonder:
Who wrote his remarks for the last conference?
A writer outside the organization, the marketing VIP told me. But the remarks were just so-so. And that’s why they wanted to hire a speechwriter this time.
“We want this keynote to be really good,” she said, “to have a better structure and a clever hook.”
She told me a little more about the event, the CEO and his journey with the organization.
It seemed like an interesting opportunity!
But in reality?
This one would be a tough one to pull off in time.
A keynote speech is important (so don’t wait)
This is not the first time I’ve received a desperate call like this.
And every time I wonder and ask the same question:
Why did you wait so long to reach out for help?
After all, she had a communication strategy in place.
She knew the CEO’s keynote would set the tone for the entire event.
So why did she wait?
A keynote speech is important. And what’s important to the business deserves attention, thought, creativity, energy – and time – to get it right.
Timing is everything.
I wanted to make this assignment work. So I responded to her with a day-by-day production schedule based on what I’d need from her and the CEO to make this speech happen.
This would be a rush project, with rush charges, since I’d have to work weekends and over a holiday to get to the finish line.
“Speeches of this nature are typically booked at least three months in advance,” I told her. “And we are at the three-week mark.”
In the end, it was impossible to sync my schedule with the CEO’s. So this year, they said, they were going to have to wing it.
She wrote to me in a follow-up note:
“It was great speaking with you, and I really appreciate you taking the time to find a way to work us into your schedule. I would like to keep your contact information to use in the future and potentially for our in-person conference next year.”
I told her I’d be delighted to work with her and her CEO in the future.
I also suggested that we connect far ahead of next year’s conference – perhaps for a local or regional business event where her CEO would be speaking – to establish a solid working relationship.
That way, I’d be up-to-speed on the organization’s overall communication strategy and ready to hit the ground running to write his keynote for the higher stakes conference next year.
How to get the best possible business result
So here’s the question:
When should you contact a speechwriter?
Speechwriters worth their salt aren’t sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. (They’re busy writing keynote speeches booked many months ago!)
A good rule of thumb is what I gave the marketing VIP:
Contact a speechwriter at least three months in advance of your event.
This allows the speechwriter to review the communication strategy and then drive every step in the speechwriting and speech coaching process – around all the travel, meetings, deadlines, disruptions and opportunities that comprise the daily schedule of every CEO I know.
Three months is better than three weeks.
That said, the best rule of thumb is this:
As soon as you have an event on your books, contact a speechwriter to discuss your CEO’s keynote.
Make it the first thing you do when planning your event – not the last!
“The more time we have to plan and schedule,” I told the marketing VIP in my response, “the better it works for budgeting, and the better the final product and business result.”
So please: Don’t leave your CEO’s keynote to chance.
That way, your hair will never be on fire.
You won’t get stuck trying to wing it.
And your CEO will come off like the rock star you know him or her to be.
Because when it comes to contacting a speechwriter about a keynote speech?
Timing is everything.