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Allison Wood
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There is nothing like buzzing around a hive of like-minded, beautifully long-winded colleagues – and I say that with love, believe me. The recent Ragan Speechwriters' Conference in Washington D.C. was one of those occasions. I learned a hell of a lot from these pros, and dollars to donuts they didn't even know how many subtle insights they were revealing. While there were no panels titled “What kind of person you need to be”, "What you need to do" and "Who can help you", those were the three key takeaways that soaked into my bones over the course of the... Continue reading
The pros at last week's Ragan Speechwriter & Executive Communicators conference gave away buckets of trade secrets - maybe even a few more than they realized. Over two days at American University in D.C., about 250 of my closest friends and I immersed ourselves in panels and presentations on the techniques, tactics and strategies of effective communicators - how to be one and how to serve one. After spending some seriously delightful quality time with my colleagues, I brought home three key insights on what it takes to be a successful speechwriter or executive communicator: What kind of person you... Continue reading
I am reading the fascinating book "Switch" by Chip and Dan Heath, two wicked smart guys who, along with Malcolm Gladwell, make me think we just might get this meaning of life thing figured out one day after all. "Switch" is subtitled "How to change things when change is hard." One of the first examples in the book is the story of Donald Berwick, now the U.S. administrator of Medicare and Medicaid. Several years ago, as leader of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Berwick set out to save 100,000 lives in 18 months simply by getting hospitals to follow six... Continue reading
Recent experience has borne out my theory that there are two kinds of writers, much as there are two kinds of artists and two kinds of musicians: those who create at the behest of others and those who create for themselves. Let's call them the Construction Workers and the Auteurs. Perhaps because writing is such a solitary craft, the Writer as Auteur is society's paradigm for us. And there are probably few for whom the potential celebrity of writing holds no appeal whatsoever.

 But we freelance speechwriters toil mostly in the Worker trenches, writing because we feel compelled and excited... Continue reading
What's in your stocking, speechwriters? Grab a cup of joe, sit back and enjoy this little ditty I created about the gifts our speakers may bestow upon us. Happy holidays! Continue reading
Thanks to Alvin Felzenberg at US News & World Report for this insightful tribute that demonstrates a profound appreciation for and understanding of the counselor relationship that Sorensen shared with Kennedy. Time-intensive and totally dependent on a complex meshing of personalities and purpose, but it CAN happen. And how much better our businesses, schools, government and relationships would work if this high aspiration was always our goal. Continue reading
“I still believe that the mildest and most obscure of Americans can be rescued from oblivion by good luck, sudden changes in fortune, sudden encounters with heroes... I believe it because I lived it.” - Ted Sorensen, counselor to JFK and mentor in some way to everyone who has ever dreamed that they could make a difference simply by choosing the right words at the right time. On the eve of this election, we would all do well to remember perhaps the most famous words that Sorensen penned: "Ask not what your country can do for you... Ask what you... Continue reading
The other day I was beating myself up over some bad habits, until I realized that they actually work in my favor as a speechwriter. Do you share any of these? I am way too sensitive. As a kid, I used to get my feelings hurt all the time and barely survived my share of teasing and taunting. Even into adulthood, my thin skin has been pierced many times by comments and actions that weren't even particularly malicious. How it helps my writing: Instead of engendering bitterness, this experience blossomed into an empathy for almost every person I encounter. It's... Continue reading
Cover letters are a seriously overlooked opportunity to make ourselves stand out - whether in job applications, introductions or any other communication. For speechwriters, they are the "pre-speech" on which we are often judged. You know what they say... Continue reading
Allison Wood is now following Center for Creative Leadership
Sep 18, 2010
In my previous post, I talked about how I try to infuse all my professional engagements with a real sense of partnership between me and my speechwriting clients, and how really simple but effective those efforts can be. So how do we continue to operate as "communication counselors" when the curtain goes up on the actual speech? * I make a note of my clients' speaking dates and, a day or two before, send a short email with best wishes for a successful presentation. I always try keep a positive and friendly tone in all my communications because I want... Continue reading
Speechwriting is not just a one-level process. And it's not just about writing. As a freelance speechwriter, I often find myself taking on more of a counseling role - and it's a role I really enjoy. It also deepens the nature of my client partnerships and makes my clients more likely to hire me again. In my next few posts, I'd like to share some of these ancillary but essential actions that I believe add real value to all my working relationships. * At my first meeting with a new client, I try to set the tone that I am... Continue reading
So when she's off shift from delivering quarters to toothless children in the wee hours, if the Speechwriting Fairy came to you and said "You get 30 minutes with your dream client to ask them whatever kind of background questions you want" - what would you ask? We all know that storytelling is essential in good speechwriting, and that personal stories and anecdotes are the most effective. We also know that this kind of interaction with our clients can be all too rare, so we have to maximize those opportunities. What personal information would best help you illuminate what makes... Continue reading
Those of us in the speechwriting sphere do our damnedest to maintain the illusion that every last bit of our eloquence is first-run, pure and heretofore unuttered genius. But for those rare occasions when we must pull from other material, here's a gem from English journalist and author Bernard Levin (1928 - 2004) to help us keep our sources straight: If you cannot understand my argument, and declare "It's Greek to me'', you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare;... Continue reading
Sorry to have been away so long, we just finished moving. Doesn't seem to matter whether it's across town (as this one was) or across the country, it's always a huge, exhausting task. And I still can't find the paper towels or the scissors, but at least I already know where all the grocery stores are. In this splat of chaos, where convenience and ease are desperately sought, I'm thrilled with the newest addition to my speechwriter's toolbox: The Week magazine. (Apparently I was one of the six people on the planet who hadn't heard of this pub.) It's a... Continue reading
Allison Wood is now following David Murray
May 19, 2010
Now here's an awesome commencement address: short, funny, relevant and constructed completely around her audience and their needs. Bravo, Dr. Scott! Continue reading
Reblogged May 19, 2010 at Beginner's Mind: Diary of a Speechwriter
If you've been asked to speak, it's because people want to hear what you have to say. If someone needs you to speak, it's because you have knowledge, expertise or insight that might just make a difference. So why do so many people get up there and start hypnotizing chickens? Continue reading
I just heard Stephen Sondheim interviewed on NPR's "Fresh Air," on the occasion of his 80th birthday. What an immense talent (and a slightly weird guy, a quality which often lopes alongside immense talent). As I listened, my heart ached with the loss of the life I briefly led, many years ago, as a musical theatre actress. It was the residual ache of a choice - not regretted, but often revisited. In the musical theatre universe, of course, Sondheim is Dionysus, Apollo and Zeus all rolled into one. Gypsy, West Side Story, A Little Night Music, Company, Sweeney Todd -... Continue reading
Is it just me (I know it's not) thinking there's too much damn chatter out there? Specifically of the 140-character variety. Twitter litter is driving me mad. I follow a handful of key players in my field (speechwriting and executive communications) whose blogs and sites offer compelling and highly informative posts. I love those. But when I get the Tweets about how the cat peed on their bed or the store is out of their favorite salsa (sometimes 10 or 12 a day), it's enough to send me running back to FarmVille. Tell me something I need to know. At... Continue reading
Allison Wood is now following The Typepad Team
Mar 16, 2010
Not to sustain my warrior imagery too much longer, but just a day after I posted about how my insecurities were attacking me left and right, I received this gracious feedback from my entry in the 2009 Theodore C. Sorensen Speechwriting Awards, sponsored by Ragan Communications: "A beautifully written speech, showing a lot of creativity, thoughtfulness, a sense of fun, and strong writing... a very compelling opening... an overall creative approach and fresh insights and quotes... this is a great example of speechwriting - fresh, interesting language, dynamic verbs [and] sounds... all in conversational rhythms." These entries were judged by... Continue reading
When I spotted the recent posts about the winners of the 2010 Cicero Speechwriting Awards, I immediately started dodging through a minefield of emotions. (No, I didn't win - that was the first emotion.) Jealousy, inertia, antipathy.... For someone who's a speechwriter, I was remarkably uninterested in even looking at this excellent body of work. What the hell was that reaction about? Well, that was my own private intimidation army marching toward me, as it's done so many times before on the battlefield of creative endeavor. "You're not smart enough to write one of these"/"You totally suck at this"/"Only these... Continue reading
Just when I think I can't shout any louder against a chorus of whiny, complaining kids, it always hits me: Raising my voice makes them less likely to comply. Lowering my voice - and sometimes just stopping altogether - works wonders. And it's so much easier than screaming my lungs out. When you're not talking, you can listen. You can watch. You can think. When I stop trying to "win" with my kids and just start listening, I am like a matador gracefully sidestepping that crazy bull. Instead of being an obstacle to the message coming at me, I get... Continue reading
So bring on the shameless self-promotion! I am a savvy, smart, strategic communicator. I I know how to write, how to speak and how to listen. Still waiting to hear something fresh? Okay... How many cabaret-singing PTA Presidents do YOU know who've been published in Newsweek? PR Pros.... I'm here (in Chapel Hill, NC) and I'm ready to make a difference. Let me show you what I can do! Continue reading