What cycling taught me about speechwriting
January 6, 2012
I was an amateur group cyclist before I became a professional, self-employed writer. Yet in riding off a few Christmas pounds in my basement this morning I realized that my experience in the former is connected to my passion for the latter.
Here are three reasons why.
Group riding is not group think
From a distance, it might look like everyone in the peleton is thinking the same way because they are going the same way. They aren’t. There are as many strategies and tactics as there are group riders out there.
The same could be said about speeches.
Yes, many speak to the same broad themes – innovation, productivity, transparency and the like. But that doesn’t mean each speech – or speech giver – is advocating the same position. How boring would that be?
Speeches, like cyclists, have to mix it up a bit to be noticed. And if you get thrown, get right back on the saddle, er, podium.
Tighter is better
The best cyclists have their legs and arms tight to their bodies as they crank out RPMs and fly past others. Tight postures cut through the wind very effectively, making other riders take notice.
It’s the same thing with speeches. Tight is always right. Nothing beats concise copy, clean transitions and memorable sound bites.
Just make sure the audience can come along for the ride.
Some people take the Twitter approach to speechwriting. You can almost see “BTW” in the text. That might work for your 140 digital characters, but it doesn’t work for the real people sitting in front of you. Don’t leave out some basic connective tissues that hold speeches together.
The clock is (usually) your friend
Whether you’re on a Sunday group ride or pounding out a time trial, the clock is ever-present in cycling. Hard core riders live and breathe by their bike-mounted clocks, heart-rate monitors and GPS. Friends of mine couldn’t imagine riding without the pressures of time in their faces.
Speechwriting can be the same thing, minus the heart-rate monitors and GPS. We almost always live and breathe by the clock. Have you ever heard a client say “Sometime next week – or the week after – would be just fine.”? I didn’t think so.
Time is a speechwriter’s friend, on the whole, as it forces us to focus on narrative, facts and flow within time constraints usually imposed by others. It’s a discipline that keeps up sharp, even if we always want a bit more time to craft that perfect big finish.
Next time you find yourself spinning when confronted by a blank page, look at your bike. You may well find as much inspiration as you do perspiration.
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