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Hemingway and Cuba and ephemera: digitalized & more timely than ever

As a Masters in English candidate at The College of William and Mary, I wrote my thesis on Ernest Hemingway. Back in February, when I read the New York Times article about the digitalization of Hemingway’s ephemera from his years in Cuba, I saved the article.

With all the current events about Cuba, today seemed like a good day to re-read this marvelous piece and share it.

Many writers (me included) can relate to Hemingway’s insistence on keeping ephemera. Here is how the NYT article opens:

“His own prose style may have been spare and economical, but he was unable to part with the words, printed or written, of just about anyone else. According to his fourth wife, Mary, he was incapable of throwing away ‘anything but magazine wrappers and three-year old newspapers.’”

Enjoy the whole article at:

Who gave a 6-hour speech in Moscow?

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of one of the longest speeches in political history.

On December 16, 1958, Nikita Khrushchev, Premier of the Soviet Union, managed to give a 6-hour speech in Moscow. He spent most of the time attacking his predecessor, Georgie Malenkov.

As speechwriters, most of us try to get our clients to shorten their speeches. If they want to talk a half hour, for example, we’ll try get them down to 22 minutes … or maybe down to 18 minutes, if we’re assertive enough.

But a speaker who’s determined to speak for 6 hours? Well, that should make all speechwriters feel our work week is pretty easy, just by comparison.

Wishing you a great week! May all your speechwriting assignments be [relatively] short and interesting.

How to use quotations in a speech: Take a local approach

Last week I was teaching a speechwriting workshop when the subject of quotations came up. “How can I put quotes in my presentations and speeches without those quotes sounding contrived?”

It’s an important question. Yes, audiences really do enjoy hearing quotes in speeches, but they recoil if those quotes sound artificial or strained.

So, how to make a quote sound natural? The best tip I have is: Keep it local.

Giving a speech in New York City? A relevant quote from a famous New Yorker will mean more than some random quip.

Speaking in Memphis? An Elvis quote would fit right in.

I am based near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When speaking at professional conferences in this area, I’ll tap into the area’s history and use local quotes. In fact, I use this “local quote technique” not just for my speechwriting clients, but for all kinds of business communication – articles, emails, keynote speeches, breakout sessions, consulting projects, online interviews.

Here’s an example of a Letter to the Editor I wrote that was published by The Economist during the last U.S. presidential election. Notice how the quotes relate to both the topic and my own geographic location:


How to keep growing as a speechwriter

On this date in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa was organized at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was America’s first fraternity.

[Full disclosure: I'm a William and Mary alum - proud to have received my Masters in English from W&M, and forever grateful for the academic fellowship W&M provided me.]

The official motto of Phi Beta Kappa is: Love of Learning is the Guide of Life

I’ll modify it slightly to make my point:

“Love of Learning is the Guide of Career Success”

Call it “Continuing Education” … “Professional Development” … “Night School” … “Lunch-and-Learn” … “Online Learning” … call it what you will: The love of learning is essential to career success.

This is especially true for speechwriters. One week we’re writing about electric rates, the next week we’re writing about workforce readiness.

Speechwriting, by definition, requires an ability to learn new subjects quickly and to explain those subjects simply.

My question for you today:

What have you done this week to learn something new?

George Washington’s Farewell Address

On Decemer 4, 1783, at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan, George Washington – victorious in war – said farewell to his officers:

“With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”

The next time you visit New York City, try to visit the downtown area where Washington spoke his farewell address. With its narrow, crooked streets, the area retains a feel of years long past. For at least a few fleeting moments, you can recreate this historic scene – if only in your own imagination.

How to become a numbers person in journalism … and also in speechwriting

The following excellent article shows journalists how to understand numbers and manage data. I’d like to remind speechwriters (especially speechwriters who want to get freelance assignments): the ability to understand numbers will give you an advantage in the job market. Why? Because too few speechwriters are comfortable with numbers. Speechwriters who have taken math and science courses will beat out other applicants when applying to write speeches and PowerPoint presentations in math/science fields.

I’ll do a speechwriting session at the 2015 ASJA Conference: “How to Get Freelance Speechwriting Jobs – No Matter Where You Live”

Annual Writers Conference

New York City

April 30 – May 2, 2015  |  Roosevelt Hotel

Want to know the secret to a successful writing career? Come to ASJA’s 44th Annual Writers Conference, Connect for Success, in midtown Manhattan Apr. 30 through May 2, 2015.

ASJA’s 1200+ members know that connection – to other highly skilled writers, to industry professionals and to market trends – is crucial to success. That’s why hundreds of our members gather in NYC each year, and why our members and conference attendees consistently call ASJA’s annual conference a worthwhile investment in their careers.

The 2015 conference includes 50+ informative sessions; one-on-one meetings with editors, agents and publishers; three pitch slams (think poetry slam, but with article pitches instead of poetry – and immediate feedback from interested editors); formal and informal networking opportunities; personal mentoring; hands-on learning and a keynote speech by New York Times contributor and bestselling author Jennifer Finney Boylan.

Brand new this year: An entire track devoted to hands- on learning opportunities. You’ll practice new skills in sessions and leave prepared to implement them into your freelance business. As always, the conference will include content for freelance writers at all stages of their careers and will touch on every aspect of a successful freelance writing career, from writing techniques to business management, marketing techniques and work/life balance.

New sessions this year include:

  • Solutions-Based Journalism
  • Writing Residencies
  • Going Viral: How to Get Attention for Your Book or Story
  • Creating & Selling Info Products
  • Researching & Writing Front Page Features

Other sessions will dive into self-publishing, speechwriting and public speaking, nonfiction (and fiction) book writing and content marketing. Editors and experienced journalists will share their secrets for success in garden writing, travel writing, food writing, tech writing and much, much more.

This year’s conference once again includes one members-only day and two public days, which are open to all students, writers, and aspiring writers. The media landscape is changing, but it IS possible to make a good living as a freelance writer.

And, if you do freelance speechwriting, you can make a very good living!

Come to NYC in April 2015 and connect for success.

How to handle tough, awkward, difficult questions

I’m preparing to teach a 2-hour workshop next week on “How to Give Good Answers to Tough Questions “. Often clients will ask me to teach a Q&A session. And, yes, while it’s important to prepare for the Q&A session that will follow our presentation, it’s probably more important to be ready for off-the-cuff, out-of-nowhere questions that can zap our confidence and undercut our authority..

Your toughest questions might not come when you’re standing at the front of a room.  They can come before your speech – while you’re quietly sorting through your notes as you prepare to go on.  Still worse, odd questions can strike before you even enter the venue – say, while you’re walking across the parking lot or hanging up your coat or headed to the lavatory.

Or they can come after the entire event is over – as you’re packing up your materials to leave.

Whatever you say:

1. Make it good.  Audiences might forget the details of your presentation, but they will always remember how you took the time (or didn’t take the time) to answer their specific question.

2. Make it safe. Be accurate. You never know when you’ll be quoted.

3. Make it brief. When someone asks a question at an odd time, keep your answer much shorter than usual. True: It’s not polite for audiences to pester speakers in the coffee room … but no point in alienating the questioner. Just keep your answer brief, smile, look pleased to be helpful, and then walk away briskly. You deserve some time to yourself.

Follow me on Twitter for more #publicspeaking tips.

How financial professionals can give better presentations

Last week, I had the honor of speaking at the AFP conference in Washington DC (Association for Financial Professionals). Many attendees have emailed to request more information on the topic of my AFP presentation: “How to Speak with Confidence and Clout”.

I thought it might be useful to reprint the “presentation skills” article I wrote for the May edition of the AFP Exchange.

Ten Steps to Successful Presentations

  • By Joan Detz
  • Published: 2014-05-09

So, you’ve been asked to give a presentation? Perhaps—for the first time—to senior management or even the board of directors? These steps will take you from content selection to post-delivery feedback. You’ll be able to give better presentations and get better results.

Focus your topic. You can’t say everything in one presentation. The more you try to include, the less your audience will be able to remember. Resist the temptation to include every data point. Resist the urge to incorporate everything you know about the subject. What do you most want the audience to understand? That’s what you need to put in.

Understand your audience. Are you presenting a budget to a few associates seated around a table? Addressing a large audience at a major conference? Hosting an international conference call? Consider the demographics of each audience: age range, educational backgrounds, professional goals, etc. Consider the psychology of each audience. What do they want to hear from you? What do they worry about hearing from you? Do you need to break bad news?     Adjust your content, your PowerPoint and your speaking style to suit the unique personality of each group.

Target your research. Use a wide range of research: interesting statistics, personal anecdotes, powerful examples, lively quotations, clever definitions, references to the day’s news, client comments (“Yesterday I received an email from a client asking about …” ), real-life comparisons and visual illustrations all work here.

Organize your material. Make your presentation easy to follow. Give it a strong beginning, an orderly middle, and a strong ending. Don’t fade away at the end. A tip to help you improve your structure: Make sure your ending directly relates to your beginning in some way. Does your last PowerPoint screen echo your first? Do your final sentences reinforce your opening sentences? Does your concluding call to action reinforce your opening goal?

Speak in everyday language. Make it easy to understand. Avoid legalese or bureaucratese. Use plain English: short words, clear sentences. Look at your PowerPoint. If you have full sentences on the screen, you’ve got too much verbiage. No audience will read through a wordy screen. Cut ruthlessly. Read your presentation out loud several times. If you find yourself stumbling over awkward phrases or tripping over complex sentences, rewrite those lines.

Give it style. One financial professional told me, “I never paid much attention to presentation style. I’ve always thought the numbers mattered most.” Yes, the numbers matter. But any presentation can be improved significantly by using a few simple speechwriting devices:

  • Repetition: “Here’s how we benefit. Here’s how we all benefit.”
  • Rhetorical questions: “What happens if you do nothing?”
  • Triads (expressing items in groups of three): The most famous triad you’ve probably ever heard came in President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” But any financial presentation can benefit from the same triad technique: “We need to investigate, to explore, to question.”

Use humor with great care (if at all). You will never have the opportunity to “undo” a tasteless joke, and you will never have the opportunity to “redo” a botched punch line. So think before you use any humor. Remember: Humor should not be gratuitous. If used, humor has to blend into your remarks. Above all, understand that humor should not offend the audience in any way.

Allow adequate time for rehearsals. Good presentations require practice. It isn’t just what you say, it’s also how you say it. Analyze the way you use your voice, body language, eye contact and audio/visual aids.

Consider the attention your presentation might generate. What do you want your audience to remember? What do you want them to tell their colleagues? Write down your marketing goals and then make sure your presentation has the memorable lines you need to impact your listeners. A good presentation includes quotable phrases (sound-bites). The most concise and clever sound-bites get tweeted, re-tweeted, quoted, noted and repeated. This produces valuable attention for you and helps market your organization. Positive attention will multiply your message, increase your professional network, and help you build a strong reputation in the finance field.

Seek feedback. A presentation doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in conjunction with an audience. Find out: Did your audience like your presentation? Did they find it interesting? Do they see you as an authority? Do they respect your expertise? You can get valuable feedback by providing written evaluation forms at your session, offering online evaluation forms, or simply speaking informally with attendees in the days following your presentation.

Joan Detz, who will present at AFP’s Annual Conference in November, is the author of three books on public speaking, including How to Write & Give A Speech, which just published its 30th anniversary edition (St. Martin’s Press).

Get #publicspeakingtips from @JoanDetz on Twitter.

A longer version of this article appears in the May edition of AFP Exchange.

- See more at:

Why news conferences matter: Did you ever wonder how – exactly – the Berlin Wall fell so quickly?

Recent news coverage has paid much attention to the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For the most part, I followed this news on Deutsche Welle – I wanted to get a German perspective on this monumental moment in history.

But one article in The Wall Street Journal stood out from all the rest: “Did a Gaffe Bring Down The Wall?”. Written by Marcus Walker, the article emphasizes that the Wall’s opening on November 9, 1989 “took everyone by surprise, from President George H.W. Bush and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.” As journalist Walker explains: “Even East German leaders were baffled, because they hadn’t ordered it.”

The glitch came at a news conference where a Communist Party official botched the intended message. When the official’s statement sounded fuzzy, journalists jumped on the chance to ask pointed questions – and the rest is history.

If you work in media relations or coach speakers for media interviews or simply appreciate the importance of using the right words at the right time … read this WSJ article. Even if you’ve already read a dozen articles about the fall of the Berlin Wall, take a few extra minutes to read this one:

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