This will be the last posting on the speechwriter from the Washington, D.C. Metro. In this one, the focus is on the process of political speechwriting.
When preparing a speech, the subject discussed both researching the speaker and researching the audience. He will try to “get in the room” with the speaker, to hear them talk about “these particular issues, problems, challenges.” He will also listen to how the person talks, “diction, cadence, word choice, rhythm, inflection points, … colloquialisms.” The subject will also visit the speaker’s office, to observe their clothing, their decorations, what might be on the television. “Do they have certain habits that people notice? Are they always saying ‘hi’ to people in the hall? Do they always park in the same spot?” Thirdly, the subject will listen to tapes or obtain transcripts of the prospective speaker’s previous public statements. As an example, the subject described a joke he would use to begin a speech at a workshop about increasing use of bicycles by passengers on the transit system. “Now, the general manager is a gregarious guy. He’s a fun guy … he speaks in these short, pithy thoughts. He’s got a good sense of dramatic pause. He’s self-effacing.” All of these traits would go into the fashioning of the opening joke.
For Senator Bradley, the subject tried to draw on the speaker’s characteristic rhythms when speaking, and on his large frame. Bradley would “speak in these short bursts of policy, and then he would like sorta slow down and like have these sorta like sound bursts of rhetoric. And so I really tried to … make that happen in the speech as much as I could. … He was a big guy and he used his frame a lot to speak … looked around and he used his hands and … that was one of his natural strengths when he spoke. And I felt like I wanted his speech to be played upon those strengths. … it’s a big speech. It’s meant to be given loud…. It’s meant to have lots of dramatic pause. It’s meant to have a lot of opportunity to look around. That’s why there’s lots of short bursts and then a pause and then another short burst.” The subject also saw the Bradley speech as sermonic, taking place at a party convention where the attendees believed in politics and the “public good” with a “religious or spiritual” fervor. So he studied successful sermons before writing it. “Good sermons have … not only line by line rhythm … rhythm within the sentences and rhythm within the paragraphs, but they have arcs, a rhythm to them throughout the speech. So, I wanted the speech to have this sort of overall arc of rhythm to it and I think that, well, I hope that that is what it had.”
Because the Bradley speech was to be given in Los Angeles the subject also made sure he included much material related to California, visiting the state’s web site and the web site of the census bureau. While the subject credited his school experience with teaching him both how to write, acquiring the ability to analyze, process, and synthesize information through classes in speech writing, journalism, communications, and English, listed in that order, and how to research, he felt he had become a better researcher since leaving school, using sources “a little more out of the mainstream. I’ve learned to use books a little bit more and different kinds of books. I’ve become a little bit more multicultural, which I think is important.” He also recognizes the need to critically evaluate material from web sites. “Very rarely would I source an advocacy group. Because … you just don’t know where, you don’t know how they got the statistic.”
The intent of the award acceptance speech, made before an audience of fellow students, teachers, and family, was to be both “fun and uplifting.” In such a “ceremonial” setting, the subject emphasized the importance of a “handshake” at the beginning, a “way to get the audience engaged in what you’re doing.” Given his rule of having the speech fit the personality of the speaker, he chose to open with jokes about his parents moving from San Diego to New Jersey, and he and his classmates being too “dumb” to realize they would be better off remaining students. “I am a pretty … easy going guy. I have a good sense of humor. I make fun of myself a lot. So I can get away with [jokes] … and people like it. So suddenly they’re called into the moment.”
The subject had great admiration for his first teacher at George Washington, in a speech writing class. The professor taught him to fit style to occasion, “from eulogies to ceremonial speeches to nomination speeches.” They learned of various rhetorical techniques, things like “anaphora, ellipses, circular structure, repetition, and so on. … You’re not writing talk, you’re writing a speech. … I can put five people in front of you to give you an idea. But to make that idea memorable, you have to assign it some really beautiful words.” On the other hand, this professor helped him tone down his tendency to over write, to compose speeches that “looked more like poems than they did like speeches.” He was given the assignment of writing a eulogy for President Clinton to deliver at the funeral of Peanuts creator Charles Shultz and decided to try something quiet, “poignant; it was rhetorically soft; there wasn’t a lot of flair” and the professor told the subject “it was the best speech I had ever written.” Incredulous at first, the subject came to realize that “It’s better to be powerful and simple than it is powerful … by having a fireworks show.”
Finally, the subject spoke of a genre that he was being called upon to write more often, a combination of opinion piece and paid advertisement he called “advertorial copy,” material that needed a clear voice and therefore fell into the professional bailiwick of speech writers. “When you open the page it looks like an interview or it looks like an editorial, but there’s a little disclaimer … and you’re engaged to read it because it looks like the page in a magazine or a broad sheet in a newspaper and it’s written like that. It’s written well, well crafted.” In the end, what appears to have attracted the subject to his profession was the “craft” and the passion for public discourse he could express through that craft, even though the discourse was ultimately not his, but that of the speaker whose voice he managed to capture.