Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Reads & references for speechwriters: 13 unusual suspects

After writing my share of speeches and coaching thousands of speakers here in Washington, DC, and around the U.S., my preference is for speechwriting books with more specific angles on the craft.  That saves time and adds focus and perspective--and that's half the battle. Try these unusual suspects for your own reference shelf:
  1. Neverisms: A Quotation Lover's Guide to Things You Should Never Do, Never Say, or Never Forget is the book you want when your speaker is handing out warnings, admonitions and cautionary tales--or countering the advice of yore. Naysayers, look no further. I'd put this to good use for op-ed writing as well as speeches and debate notes.
  2. The Metaphors Dictionary has 6,500 comparative phrases--including hundreds from Shakespeare--arranged in dictionary fashion to make them easier to find and use. From crisp to colorful, this book is a great prompt when you run short of metaphoric magic.
  3. Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean is Michael Erard's smart and rollicking look at the very thing your speechwriting can't completely conquer, in part because ums and uhs are normal in every language. But you'll learn when we first began to note them (hint: recorded sound) and why people keep trying to eradicate them, among many other things. You'll also learn much about how your speakers produce speech in the first place.
  4. Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists pulls these pithy and circular quotations ("A woman is like a tea bag. You don't know what she can do until she's in hot water.") into searchable form. You'll love browsing this well-organized and inspiring book.
  5. I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, also by James Geary, dives deep into why and how we use metaphor in speeches and everyday life, from the neuroscience of how metaphors work in the brain to what life would be like without them. You could do well in speechwriting with just these two Geary tomes on your shelf.
  6. The Gigantic Book of Baseball Quotations can propel a speech around the bases or hit a home run. Sports metaphors are wonderful when you're sliding home to convey movement or action, when you're describing steps (or strikes) in a process, and when you want to snatch victory from, well, you know. For a great example, watch reporter Ivan Oransky, baseball in hand, deftly toss around game metaphors in his TEDMED talk on "Are we over-medicalized?"
  7. The Story Biz Handbook: How to Manage Your Storytelling Career from the Desk to the Stage is a twofer, both a how-to on storytelling and a career guide for those of you devoted to the craft. Perhaps you'll find new career options for those speechwriting skills here?
  8. The Biteback Dictionary of Humorous Political Quotations, forthcoming in March, is the first in a series of dictionaries of humorous quotes, this one with gaffes and intentional humor from politicians around the world. 
  9. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking gets at what makes introverts tick, and has public speaking as a central theme, as that is author Susan Cain's own challenge as an introvert. She went on to give the most-viewed TED talk of 2012--an online audience of 3.6 million and counting. That makes her a good model for any introverts for whom you are writing speeches, and you can glean much about their habits and public speaking preferences from the book. 
  10. The Forbes Book of Business Quotations: 10,000 Thoughts on the Business of Life is a time-saver for the corporate speechwriter who doesn't want to wade through the words of poets and politicians. It's all business, all the time--no need to wade through Greek philosophers and poets when what you need is bottom-line thinking.
  11. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 19th Edition, has just been updated and is "unlike any other reference book that exists, anywhere." If that junior speechwriter (or your forgetful self) doesn't know where "caught red-handed" or other colorful phrases and stories originated, this is the place to find out. I wouldn't write without it handy.
  12. Outspoken!: How to Improve Writing and Speaking Skills Through Poetry Peformance lets you capitalize on spoken-word poetry tactics to boost both speechwriting and speaking skills. Poetry adds drama and cadence to speeches, and this helps you suggest new uses for it as well as delivery tactics.
  13. The Quotable Woman: The First 5,000 Years is a no-excuses guarantee that you'll be able to correct the gender balance in your speeches, making sure you have plenty of women's words to choose from.
Speechwriters looking for more inspiration can always check out my other blog, The Eloquent Woman, with a focus on women and public speaking and resources that include an index with 100-plus famous speeches by women, tips, ideas and inspiration. And check out my post on 8 must-read books for communicators, recently featured on Ragan.com.

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