Tuesday, January 8, 2013

After the speech ... lead with the news

Get more mileage out of speeches by writing them "news style" for newsletters and press releases. (Photo by Liz Cezat)

Leading with the news is one of the best ways to get a reader’s attention. When it comes to reporting on an executive’s speech, many corporate publications and association newsletters write a lead only telling who spoke and where they spoke – rather than what was said.  Then, the writer may throw in a bunch of background information, such as the audience included members of an ad hoc committee that is working on shoring up quality standards in the industry. (ho hum).
Who wants to sift through a bunch of corporate-speak before getting to the meat of the article? If written news style (typically how journalists write for print media and corporate newsletters), the lead sentences should contain the elements of “who, what, when and where” – “why” is optional.  
The “what” would be the most important take-away from the speech. Any good speech typically has one to three main points that the speaker wants the audience to know. The other main points can be elaborated on further down in the article. But they too should come before a wordy explanation of what the ad hoc committee does.
Think of an inverted pyramid, with the most important information at the widest point (or at the beginning of an article), supported by details as you read on. The very end of the article – the tip of the pyramid – should contain the background information that is nice to have but not essential to the story. That way, if readers don’t finish the article, they still have the main take-away points.
The beauty of using a freelance writer, such as myself, is that I know how to structure the article (or press release) to get the key concepts across in an informative and engaging manner. Too often, the staff writer may actually only be wearing that hat in addition to performing HR functions. Or, the staff writer may be too immersed in industry jargon to deliver the news from the speech in a fresh, reader-friendly manner.
Take a look at your company's press releases regarding speeches and see what approach is taken. Is it "corporate speak" or news style?

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