Last week I went to attend the European Speechwriter’s Network Conference in Leuven. Twice a year a collection of Europe’s top speechwriters gather for a conference to share ideas at one of the world’s most prestigious conferences for Speechwriters. This year the conference was chaired by Alexander Drechsel who is an Interpreter at the European Commission.
The first day of the conference was divided into three groups of training. I went to a workshop run by John Yorke to discuss how Hollywood screenwriters create a winning story and what speechwriters can learn from this. It has been clear for some time now that stories stick (as is the title of Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick!) It was interesting to discuss the process behind successful screenwriting as a platform for understanding the role of stories in speech but also as part of larger communications campaigns.
For the second day of the conference, we had 6 speakers who spoke about a range of subjects from writing in a crisis to writing in the White House. Lodewijk Van Wendel de Joode who writers for the Dutch government specialises in crisis communications. He spoke about how ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’. Quite a lot of crisis speeches are delivered very soon after the crisis and speechwriters often don’t have enough time to write a proper and fitting response. However, Ludewig argued that such crises (such as terrorism, for example) can be and should be prepared for. As the emergency services will have a crisis management plan so should speechwriters. He used the example of Ken Livingstone’s speech after the 7/7 London bombings in 2005.
In the afternoon, I delivered a breakout session all about how to operate as a freelance speechwriter. I spoke about some of my experiences working with a variety of clients as well as the challenges which are faced by freelancers. I was very lucky to be joined by some very experienced freelancers who were able to chip in and help the conversation run smoothly.
The keynote speech was delivered by Lindsay Hayes who used to write for various Republican politicians. She spoke about her experience of writing for the White House and shared her story of how she worked her way to the top. I had previously heard Lindsay speak at a conference in Washington D.C. last year and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to talk with her this time.
The conference ended with drinks in the main square in Leuven. This conference has, once again, given me a lot to think about. No matter how expert you are in a field, there is always more to learn.
I’m very much looking forward to attending the next conference will be taking place at King’s College, Cambridge in the spring.