Facts are important, but to really move an audience you should include a human story in every speech, said Megan Rooney, a speechwriter for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Previously, she was the speechwriter for Michelle Obama for the final stretch of the Obama for America campaign.
Rooney spoke at the Virginia Press Women conference in Fredericksburg, revealing an insider’s view of working as one of only a few women speechwriters for top-level Beltway officials. She spent five years writing for West Wing Writers, a speechwriting and strategy firm in Washington, where she prepared speeches, op-eds and other communications materials for heads of state, corporate execs, foundations, activists and civic leaders. She was a journalist for the Washington Post prior to beginning her speechwriting career.
She said Clinton has specific preferences for how she wanted her speeches formatted – type font and size are important to her – and Obama uses her prepared speeches loosely, often launching into extemporaneous, from-the-heart riffs. “They are both very powerful speakers, and they are changing the way we talk about politics.” Rooney included Sarah Palin as an example of a new female political voice, calling her a mesmerizing speaker.
Rooney had some very practical advice to the audience of 100+ journalists and PR pros meeting on the campus of the University of Mary Washington. Her tips included:
- Make it simple. The subject may be very complex, but it’s your job to take the complicated and make it understandable and well organized.
- Provide easy-to-follow sign posts. Say what you’re going to say, say it, then say what you said.
- Find the dazzling fact in a pile of research. Make it meaningful by making it visual. Instead of talking about U.S. exports as abstract numbers, one speaker pointed to ships at a port and named the cargo each was carrying.
- Check and recheck your facts.
- Try to be surprising. Look for a way to put a twist on your approach. Humor is a good way to include surprise, but Rooney said jokes are not her forté.
- Every person or company has a human experience, need and spark. Tell a human story so that your audience will relate to you and to show that you are like them.
- Every good speech must have a call to action. Tell your audience what you want them to do as a result of your speech.