Word Talk

I recently wrote a series of talks for a global businesswoman. Her schedule was head-spinning – a different continent each week with presentations and meetings across all areas of business from online and fair trade to logistics and delivery.  Our first meeting was a monster information dump. As I emerged from under the avalanche of ideas, arguments, books, and blogs, she said: “Do what you can with it. I’m away for three weeks, but I’ve booked a studio for the end of the month to record them all.”

Back at my desk I drew up a list of must-dos and must-haves. Each individual and industry has a unique vocabulary, worldview, and context. Within that are myriad shades of grey.  To create content for a client, the writer has to be across it all.

A very simple example of this is the term stretcher which in the UK describes the bed on which a patient is moved from the ambulance into the hospital. In other geographies it would be a gurney or trolley or pram. When a noun changes, the accompanying verb may also change. Let’s then say the client is in healthcare. Each country in which s/he speaks additionally has unique health systems, issues, processes, and policies, to address.

Reporters are used to becoming instant experts on everything from rabies to cleansing products. We’re taught to ask questions that take us straight to the heart of an issue and to interpret that information quickly. It’s why politicians serving a volatile rolling-news agenda seek out print and broadcast journalists as their writers, advisors, spin doctors.

Absorbed by my client’s business, I joined an industry networking hub and participated in discussions. This gave me an idea of current issues within the profession. I found online interviews with her and captured her speaking style on the page – the warmth, the pace, the intonation. Then I delivered a fat wodge of two and three minute talks and a twenty minute speech and waited for the response…

Inevitably it was not the content she queried, but its form. Words she would not use; words she no longer used; words that work for the Pacific Rim but are too equivocal for Scandinavia; words that were no longer PC; or were too PC; words that were difficult to get the tongue around when tired… I learned as much during the editing process as the early drafts.

When planning talks and speeches think about the audience. What do you want them to take away from your words? How should you serve the content to make that happen? As for the words themselves, it’s not just the vocabulary but their rhythm that matters. By varying pace and tension, you maintain momentum and interest. If you can get the wording right, however, the biggest hurdle has been surmounted.