2014 Speechwriters and Executive Communicators Conference

2014 Speechwriters and Executive Communicators Conference

February 19-21, 2014
Mayflower Renaissance Hotel
Washington, D.C.
Standard Price: $1295
Price: $1045
  • Write speeches that get results in tough times
  • Build thought leadership that supports your organization's strategy
  • Manage time to meet deadlines a month, a week or even a day away
  • Use audience stories to personalize your speakers' words

Presented by Ragan Communications and Public Relations Society of America

Twitter hashtag: #raganspeech

PRSA members receive an exclusive $250 discount on this conference registration.
Product Code: Y4CS0DC


These sessions are geared toward speechwriters who want to improve their writing and learn new skills. Communication generalists will learn fundamental speech-writing techniques, and experienced speechwriters will sharpen their skills and gain fresh perspectives.

Thursday, February 20

9 a.m.-9:10 a.m.
Welcome and opening remarks
With David Murray, Editor of
Vital Speeches
David Murray


9:10 a.m.-10:15 a.m.
Opening Keynote:
Words matter:
Storytelling with President Obama in an age of sound bites

Jon FavreauThe significance of meaningful and effective words cannot be overrated, especially when a critical message must stand out in a 24/7 news cycle and break through the constant noise of social media.  Jon Favreau—director of speechwriting for President Barack Obama (2009-2013)—knows this all too well as he has worked on some of the most important communications coming from the Oval Office.  According to Obama chief advisor David Axelrod, he has put his "stamp on all the great speeches from 2005 to early 2013" and always sought to tell a compelling story rather than string together a collection of sound bites. However, it is not simply a sheer talent with words that has made Favreau a success. While his rhetorical prowess has played a role, what sets Favreau above the rest is his unique ability to "see" or get behind the words—to capture the essence of an issue and create dialogue that clearly and powerfully articulates what it is about that issue that matters and why we should care. As former right-hand man and "mind reader" to arguably one of the greatest orators in United States history, Favreau offers his audiences valuable insight on how precisely—from conception to delivery—to "get behind the words we speak." In the process, he discusses the significance of "mining" resources for inspiration, creating scripts that speak from and to the heart and "walking the walk" of talk. 

From 2009 through early 2013, Jon Favreau served as the Director of Speechwriting for President Barack Obama, a role he also played for the President during the 2008 presidential campaign.

10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
10 lessons learned in 10 years . . . that you can learn in just 60 minutes
Nate OsburnWhat are 10 things you wish you had known when you started out as a full-time speechwriter 10 years ago?  Nate Osburn, who attended this conference in 2003 during his speechwriting internship, tries to answer that question.

To get you ready for the rest of this conference, he offers a potpourri of 10 lessons learned, ranging from a stylistic tool that never seems to fail, to a tried-and-true way to help ensure your success with a new job or a new speaker.

Some of the practical tips you'll take away from this session include:

  • Why you can't overpraise your audience—and how to do it effectively
  • Creative ways to use bookends on a speech
  • How to build effective relationships with the experts in your organization
  • Why it's critical to attend the daily and weekly senior staff meetings
Nate Osburn has served as Director of Speechwriting at the U.S. Department of Commerce since 2012, and has written for leaders in government, association, and academic settings since 2003.

11:45 a.m-12:45 p.m.
Time management for speechwriters
Michael LongSpeechwriters live on deadlines—but the pressure is often much greater than it has to be. In this practical and fast-paced session, Georgetown University's Michael Long gives dozens of tips, techniques, and methods to plan your work to be more productive than you ever thought it could be. The result will be more effective speeches, more satisfied clients, and a much more relaxed speechwriter.

With tips from the realms of technology, psychology and the experience of successful writers everywhere, this session gives you ways to work smarter, not just harder.

You will learn:

  • A simple plan each day so you achieve goals—but without locking yourself into a boring routine
  • Tom Wolfe's secret for getting more done and being more satisfied with it
  • How to identify and eliminate the busy work we create to unconsciously avoid real work
  • Separate administrative work from research, and research from writing
  • How to set expectations in the beginning to reduce edits in the end
  • A proven method to meet speechwriting deadlines a month, a week or even a day away
A popular speaker and educator as well as a writer, Michael Long is Director of Writing for the Master of Professional Studies Program in Corporate Communications at Georgetown University.

12:45 p.m.-2 p.m.
Networking lunch

2 p.m.-3 p.m.
Motivate the troops: The speech to energize, boost morale in tough times and convince people to do hard things
Rob Friedman Any organization going through change, facing adversity or looking to sustain success—in short, virtually every organization today—needs leaders who can motivate employees to step up, overcome obstacles and achieve tough goals.

The speech to motivate is distinct from the speech to persuade, and is as critical a tool for speechwriters. This session will show you how to apply the techniques of noted leaders, teachers and motivators—from wartime Churchill to former Lady Vols' Coach Pat Summitt—to craft speeches that get results.

Rob Friedman will examine the 10 keys to motivational talks, including:

  • Reach the heart as well as the head
  • Deliver tough news
  • The use of heroes and villains
  • The one narrative common to all motivational talks
  • Why delivery is as important as words—and how to coach it
Rob Friedman is Senior Director of Executive Communications for Eli Lilly & Co. and former Editor of Speechwriter's Newsletter.

3:15 p.m.-4:15 p.m.
Chart your career path:
Job advice from successful professionals

Douglass HatcherEric SchnureCaryn AlagnoRose King

Whether you've just entered the field or you're an old hat at the profession, you'll find this panel of career speechwriters and executive communicators one that will share practical tips and words of wisdom to manage your career.

Some of the advice includes:

  • Position yourself as more than a scribe: you're a content strategist. That means it's your job push, probe, challenge and counsel your principal. After you've done that, then begins the business of turning their words into art.
  • Be what Kennedy School Professor Joseph Nye calls a Tri-Sector Athlete while you travel on your career journey. This term describes those who "engage and collaborate across the private, public, and social sectors." 
  • Always triple-check your work to avoid embarrassing mistakes: For a final proof, print your speech in a different font, font size and color. Re-read it. You'll be surprised at the things you'll notice after missing them a dozen times before.
  • You may start your job as a speechwriter, but when you move on, leave as a counselor or advisor. 
Douglass Hatcher is Vice President, Thought Leadership Communications, Worldwide Communications for MasterCard.

Before opening his own firm in the fall of 2013, Eric Schnure served as Director of Executive Communications at GE

Caryn Alagno is Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs Group Head at Edelman.

Rosemary King, Ph.D., is owner of her own writing business and a former Pentagon Speechwriter for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and two Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

4:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
General Session:
Good to great . . . speechwriting edition: Judges of the Cicero
Speechwriting Awards teach you how to make your speeches sing

David MurrayJerry TarverTom RosshirtDana RubinJan CookFletcher Dean

What's the difference between a speechwriter and an award-winning speechwriter? You're about to find out, the easy way—by participating in this entertaining and insightful Day One-closing panel with the judges of the Cicero Speechwriting Awards.

Just a week before the entry deadline for the 2014 Ciceros, you'll be able to ask these luminaries of oral rhetoric everything you've ever wanted to know about what they look for in a speech—and what they hope not to see.

You'll learn:

  • Why "intent to communicate" is the first criterion the Cicero judges look for in a speech (and why they can see its presence or absence on the first page).
  • The most common mistake losing speeches make. Cicero winners come in all shapes and sizes, and the losers actually have more in common. Here's how not to be one.
  • What winning speeches sound like. The judges will read from some of their favorite speeches from Cicero programs past, and tell you how to apply these winning techniques.
  • Once you do win a Cicero, how to take full advantage. If a speechwriter wins an award in the middle of a forest . . . you had better walk out of that forest and tastefully tell everyone from your mother to the media, from your children to your clients.

You'll leave this session with a solid sense of how to go from being a speechwriter to an award-winning speechwriter—in one fine speech.

David Murray, Vital Speeches Editor and Cicero Speechwriting Awards Program Chairman

Jerry Tarver, "Dean of Speechwriters" and Professor Emeritus at the University of Richmond.

Tom Rosshirt, former Speechwriter for President Clinton

Dana Rubin, Chief of the New York Speechwriters Roundtable

Jan Cook, veteran corporate, university and nonprofit speechwriter

Fletcher Dean, Director of Leadership Communications at The Dow Chemical Co. and author of 10 Steps to Writing a Great Speech

5:30 p.m.-7 p.m.
Networking cocktail party
Drink together, think together, network together
After a long day of learning, wind down with fellow speechwriters and conference speakers over a cocktail or two. We will organize the room into sections so you can meet with industry peers and talk serious shop. Exchange ideas and business cards with speechwriters from corporations, government, nonprofits and universities.

Friday, February 21

9 a.m.-10 a.m.
The alchemy of funny: How to use humor to illuminate speeches with power and authority, and even get your principal to—uh—see the light
Desson ThomsonLet's face it: Every hour on the hour, the snoring resonates from Battle Creek to Bailey's Crossroads, as speakers lull their audiences into sugar-crash oblivion with mind numbing stats, facts and thank you's. If used in the right way, humor will not only keep heads upright but spark minds. It will not only endear audiences to the speaker but deepen their understanding of the important message he or she came to impart in the first place.

Using his own experience as a speechwriter, teacher, singer and communicator, and examples from other speeches and movies, as well as outlining a few principles of comedy, Desson Thomson will show how a speech can turn snorts of slumber into peals of laughter.

In this session you will learn:

  • The eight reasons we laugh
  • How to use wit to underscore the serious, deepen the message and involve the audience
  • The four biggest misperceptions principals have about using humor—and how to overcome them
  • Five powerful strategies to win your boss over and get him or her to use humor in speeches
Desson Thomson is the Speechwriter and Senior Advisor for the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

10:15 a.m.-11:15 a.m.
Beyond bullets:
Use images to help your clients communicate more powerfully

Dana RubinCommunications has shifted from text to images at warp speed. At the podium, leaders have learned that their messages have more effect when they use powerful images and video. So how do you help your clients trim their text and put more visuals in their presentations? Calling on her experience working for Dan Rather, Martha Stewart and other high-profile leaders, Dana Rubin will share her insights into visual storytelling and give strategies for creating vivid and visually compelling presentations.

In this session, you will learn:

  • Why you should use less text and more visual
  • How imagery drives narrative
  • Why movement matters
  • Practical tips for thinking like a designer
  • How to make sure your visuals look good and communicate well
Dana Rubin is an accomplished speechwriter, message consultant, and presentation coach who helps leaders define themselves and command attention through words and images.

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Closing keynote:
The breakthrough speech:
Crafting a career-defining moment

Justina ChenEvery leader has a career-defining moment—a perfect, crystalline moment that can utterly shape and change the way the industry, employees, and media views the leader. As speechwriters, you have the opportunity to create that breakthrough moment on stage and craft a speech that showcases an executive's values, thought leadership, and personal passion. More than that, you have the power to pen a speech that engages, excites, and enthralls the audience.

In this keynote, speechwriter, communications strategist, and award-winning novelist Justina Chen will share the 5 strategies to create a breakthrough speech, including how to:

  • Harness the latest research on the most effective leaders
  • Create an editorial calendar that pinpoints potential breakthrough moments onstage
  • Reimagine the mission as a quest with heroes, trials, and triumph
  • Get personal and share your leader's moment of truth
  • Sound like a leader, not a manager by advancing thought leadership
Justina Chen is an Executive Communications Strategist and Storytelling Consultant. She was the former Executive Communications Manager, Speechwriter and Publicist for the President of Entertainment at Microsoft.