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 the speechwriter who has been in the business for a few years. Hear fresh ideas and candid commentary; share your problems and discoveries with veteran colleagues and expert speakers.

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.
Once upon a time:
Why story works and how to work in story

Eric SchnureGeorge Schultz, Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State, tells of the time he brought a speech into the Oval Office for the President's review.  The President looked at it, said it was okay. Then he hesitated and said, "You've written this so it could be read…I talk to people." Reagan started editing, made some changes, put a caret in the margin at one place and wrote "STORY."

"He had changed the tone of my speech completely," Schultz wrote, later.

Using story, of course, doesn't only change the tone of a speech but the all-important outcome. Story makes speeches more memorable, more compelling, and more likely to get those listening to act. But why?

In this session, Eric Schnure will examine why story is not just effective but, in fact, the most powerful tool a communicator can use. He'll look at some of the puzzles of storytelling, such as why it comes so naturally to all of us but why we choke on it when it comes to speech time; why we tell stories for our entire lives… except for the 8, 10, 12 (!) hours we spend at work?

And then, for a group for whom "narrative" is more than a buzzword and as professionals who (presumably and hopefully) are paid to tell and write stories, you will leave with some storytelling how-to's including:

  • What qualities make for a good story and how to find them 
  • How and where to use story in speeches 
  • How to convince others to use the content you create
  • How to make the people you write for and work with better storytellers and more effective communicators
Before opening his own firm in the fall of 2013, Eric Schnure served as Director of Executive Communications at GE.  His experiences include senior communications jobs in the White House for Al Gore, at the United States Department of Housing and at NASA.

11:45 a.m-12:45 p.m.
Ways to use the speechwriting process to add value to any organization
Traci CarpenterSpeechwriters are among their organizations' greatest untapped resources. From the massive amounts of knowledge that cross their desks, to their unique position at the nexus of the C-suite, communications department and the teams "on the ground," speechwriters can punch far above their titles to improve efficiency, enhance strategy, and sharpen morale.

Drawing from her experiences as a speechwriter in philanthropy, politics and the private sector, Traci E. Carpenter will share insights on ways to make your job easier, your speeches better, and yourself an indispensable asset to the whole organization, including:

  • Embed a storytelling ethos at every level of your organization
  • Capture and distribute knowledge to prevent institutional brain drain
  • Create processes that let messages both trickle down and bubble up
  • Repurpose content to get more bites out of the apple
Traci E. Carpenter serves as Senior Speechwriter at the Rockefeller Foundation, where she leads speechwriting and executive communication strategy for President Judith Rodin.

12:45 p.m.-2 p.m.
Networking lunch 

2 p.m.-3 p.m.
Beyond the speech:
How to brand your speakers as true thought leaders

Fletcher DeanLori ZetlinSpeechwriters know that a great speech is a powerful tool. It can change attitudes, reinforce values and move people to action. But a speech is still just a singular event at a moment in time. We can do more. In fact, as executive communicators, we must do more than simply write great individual speeches. To provide a lasting and valuable impact, we must elevate our thinking—and our speaker's brand—by developing a broad, strategic and holistic thought leadership plan.

In this session, two of the country's leading executive communications experts will share their knowledge on how you can successfully brand your speaker as a thought leader.

You'll learn how to:

  • Build a thought leadership plan that supports your organization's strategy
  • Develop your speaker's unique point of view
  • Build an efficient, pro-active speaking calendar
  • Gain ROI by re-purposing your speeches on other channels
  • Identify and win the speaking engagements you care most about
  • Be viewed as a more strategic partner throughout the organization
Fletcher Dean is Director of Leadership Communications at The Dow Chemical Co.

Lori Zetlin is Managing Partner and Co-founder of S3 – Strategic Speaker Services, Inc.

3:15 p.m.-4:15 p.m.
How video can save your speaker and your speechwriting sanity
Douglass HatcherChances are that as a speechwriter you've worked with a speaker who isn't multi-talented at speech delivery. He's not good at providing a compelling description of a complex or technical concept. Or, she's not a warm and fuzzy speech giver. Well-crafted video segments just might save your speaker and your speechwriting sanity.

During this session, you will learn how to:

  • Use video to build up to a grand entrance
  • Convey a complicated idea quickly (such as a highly technical product)
  • Forge a strong emotional connection; or transfer ethos from those outside or inside your organization
  • Address practical concerns such as whether to produce video in-house or outsource it
Vincent Rhodes serves as Director of Marketing and Communications for Eastern Virginia Medical School.

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.
New tricks for writing the old ceremonial speech
Aaron HooverAudiences have come to dread public ceremonies as dog-and-pony shows where speakers' bluster is matched only by their long-windedness. From anniversaries to dedications to tributes, our job as speechwriters is to confound those expectations. By tweaking the rules, choosing unexpected paths and prizing the audience over the event, we can transform ceremonial speeches from wearisome to wondrous. The result is a lasting benefit to our speakers— appreciated during ceremonies for surprising and delighting listeners and remembered afterward for inspiring and moving them.

In this session, a longtime university speechwriter who has written hundreds of ceremonial speeches will share his best tricks for writing routine and ceremonial speeches, from welcome addresses and introductions to convocations, commemorations, eulogies and more.

You'll learn how to:

  • Shake up the speaker-audience dynamic to surprise your listeners
  • Freshen ceremonial speeches by incorporating social media
  • Mine unexpected histories to give even routine speeches new life
  • Warm up formal proceedings with irreverence
  • Use audience members' stories to personalize your speakers' words
  • Put the audience at the heart of the ceremony?and the speech
Aaron Hoover, Executive Speechwriter to the President of the University of Florida, has spent a decade writing speeches for senior executives at UF, UF Health and the Savannah College of Art and Design.

10:15 a.m.-11:15 a.m.
The speech is just the start:
Use social media to position your executive as a thought leader

Dean FoustTraditional executive communications consists largely of speechwriting. But the advent of the Internet gives organizations new ways to reach stakeholders, which means that executives should think beyond the scripted speech. This session will cover the new platforms that executives can use to amplify their messages including blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flipboard and YouTube as well as the traditional management journals.

You'll learn how to:

  • Find the right thought leadership platforms for each C-Suite executive
  • Develop tailored content for each platform
  • Promote and develop loyal audiences for each venue
  • Cross-market thought leadership content with other organizations
Dean Foust serves as Director of Executive Communications for UPS, where he oversees speechwriting and other thought leadership initiatives.

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.