The Ghostwriter, The Sculptor, and The Diplomat
If you can write in someone else’s voice, writing for voice –e.g., scripting or outlining speeches and presentations for corporate executives, small business owners, and public officials — can be a lucrative niche. One of the great things about it is that once an executive (or that person’s “handlers”) get comfortable with you, you will have a steady stream of work, and it will be hard for any rival to dislodge you.
In the early days of this relationship, however, there’s a need for some quiet persistence and some diplomacy. The need arises because the speaker (or his/her advisors, in larger corporations) almost always wants to add more and more detail that dilutes and obscures the main message.
The Statue in the Block of Marble
I’m sure you have looked at a famous statue and been reminded of the notion that the statue was always there, in a sense, inside a big block of marble. The vision and skill of the sculptor guided the removal of material, chipping and chiseling away until instead of a big lump of stone, there was a beautiful and accurate recreation of a person or animal.
As a professional writer, it’s your job to chip and chisel away at the mass of ideas, and especially, of the supporting and even the tangential details, that the client offers you as raw material for the presentation. You need to remove the items that would obscure the view of the core messages.
But that can be challenging.
“Please, Sir, can I have more?”
Far from chiseling rock away from your starting slab of marble, your client is probably looking for ways to add more mass to it! They think more details mean more persuasion. You, as a professional communicator, know that more details often mean more confusion.
They also tend to think of your role as that of the infamous “wordsmith,” meaning that you don’t have to worry about what they say, you just have to help them say it better.
They want you to “shape” the speech or presentation into an effective, persuasive, even inspirational event.
And that’s where the demand for diplomacy, even education, comes in.
Change Their Understanding
Practically speaking, this is an incremental effort, and you’re not going to produce a focused, streamlined speech on the first try. But you can help your client leave a few things by the wayside, and to gradually recognize, as they deliver these presentations, the benefits of narrowing their focus.
That calls for a large helping of patience, even humility. Even though you know what needs to be done, you are going to have to take your time gently leading your client down the right path.
It can help to point out to the presenter and advisors typical instances where more detail adds little value. Do they read all the fine print in their software licenses? Have they ever had a conversation with a doctor, a lawyer, or even an auto mechanic where they got a lot of information, but they were not sure they got the information they needed?
Most of us have been in conversations with these, and other, experts, in which the doctor or lawyer or whatever assumed that providing lots of detailed information would be helpful, when they should have focused on less information, on key conclusions, and provided better service. Your client also wants to be an expert, to persuade an audience of employees or customers or legislators or voters to adopt certain beliefs or engage in certain behaviors. So they fall into the same trap.
Patiently chip away until your client’s message is beautifully revealed, and eventually they will learn to thank you for your sculpting skill.