The Table Read: A Critical Element in Speechwriting

Meeting
(Photo credit: phatcontroller)

Whenever I’m involved in a big conference with multiple speakers I make the point that “it’s all one speech.” That is, it’s one big message and each speaker is telling a different part of the story.

In real life, of course, that doesn’t always work out. But for any company that’s serious about reaching an important audience in a high-stakes environment — a major meeting of shareholders, sales people, dealers/franchisees, employees, customers, industry people — it’s a goal worth shooting for.

Right now I’m working with a client that puts this principle into practice better than I’ve ever managed to do. Starting two months out from their big annual sales meeting, they have their three top execs participate in a series of “table reads.” (Communications staff also attends.)

These guys actually commit to sitting down together and reading aloud the latest drafts of their speeches.┬áIt’s a great way to get everyone on the same page, so to speak. They can directly work out issues like overlapping content, identify holes that need to be filled and look for opportunities where they can reinforce each others’ points.

Normally with everyone working separately, it’s incumbent on the communications people to keep each other updated, share drafts in progress, filter information back up to the executives they’re working with, and negotiate the content among themselves.

I’ve found the direct approach much more effective. The executives feel a bigger stake in their speeches earlier on and you don’t have to go through that telephone game (“Tell Phil I want him to cover this point — I’ll tee it up”). And the more they are forced to actually read their speeches out loud, the closer the final words will be to their own.

Of course, it takes commitment on the executives’ part. But if they agree that communication is a fundamental element of leadership, then the logic of investing time in this process should be self-evident.

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