Take It Away
The more time someone has to edit a speech, the more damage they will inadvertently cause. Limit the time they have with the text. Join them in the editing. Here's how.
The longer your principal has to tinker with a speech, the more they will tinker with a speech. And that tinkering can very quickly become damaging.
Think of a Jenga tower. You can pull out a few bricks, move them to the top, and the tower will be almost as strong as it was before. But keep that up and the situation becomes precarious.
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It’s the same thing with a speech. A few changes here and there? Most of the time it’ll be fine. But a constant stream of little (and not-so-little) changes and the thing grows unsteady at best, awful at worst. Think about why that is. In most cases, the principal is making those changes in isolation from the rest of the text, considering only how the edit changes one moment of the speech. He’s not re-reading the whole passage, let alone everything, to see what that revision does to the speech as a whole. If your speech has been written so that its meaning depends on structure, repeated ideas, repeated language, rhythm, and a host of other elements, ad hoc changes made “cos they sound better” can, and usually do, set fire to everything.
It gets worse: When a speech goes wrong in delivery, it’s not the speaker who typically gets the blame, nor is it the host of self-appointed editors up and down the line. No, the blame falls on the person who wrote the thing in the first place, regardless of how long ago it was when that person last set ink on its pages.
Avoid this problem. When you write a speech, set the deadline so that the speaker has enough time to revise and rehearse, but no more than that. Whatever you gain by turning it in weeks in advance will almost always be lost in the mulch it becomes after days of ad hoc rewrites. Think of it this way: anyone who can put words in the boss’ mouth will, whether or not it’s a good idea, and it’s rare that multiple changes over time improve the text.
Offer your services as insistently as possible for the revision process. Endeavor to inform the principal that the speech is not an essay meant for reading alone but a performance with subtleties built into the text – then show him a few of them.
You can't just write the speech and drop it off.
Errors from editing attach to the name of the person who wrote the speech, not the names of after-the-fact editors.
To end up with a well-delivered speech, a speechwriter has to do more than write the thing and drop it off. The speechwriter must keep a hand in the process at all times, preserving the work and reviewing changes not for pride of ownership but for quality of outcome. Pretty much everyone believes they can improve a speech with a few casual edits here and there. They can’t.
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