10 Minutes With: Speechwriter Holly Blum
Preparing a speech doesn’t always come naturally. Thankfully, professional speechwriter Holly Blum of A Speech To Remember is here to help with both writing and advising in the delivery of speeches for all momentous occasions.
"The Word Whisperer" (as she is sometimes called) shed some light on the ins and outs of getting to know her clients and helping them pick words that are sure to put a smile, and perhaps some tears, on the faces of friends and family members. With so many details to worry about during weddings, crafting the right speech shouldn’t have to be one of them.
Can you tell me a little about your process for writing speeches – how do you begin?
I always begin with an in-depth interview to paint a picture of who the speech giver is and the nature of their relationship with the bride and groom, or other guest of honor. I pay close attention to the words the person uses to get a better sense of their style. I also ask my clients to make a figurative pie chart laying out the ratio of funny to witty to sentimental to inspirational they wish to deliver.
Your primary career is working in public relations - does speech writing ever interfere with that?
Whether I am writing a speech for a best man or a byline article for a public relations client, I am passionate about perfecting the tone of the written product. Working from home allows me the flexibility to write at all hours of the day and meet with my clients face-to-face to offer coaching tips.
How do you compensate for instances when someone is not very close with the person for whom the speech is going to be written?
Sometimes this actually makes it easier to write the speech. One of the biggest challenges people face articulating a close relationship is whittling down the lifetime of memories they want to share. When someone isn’t as close with the guest of honor, it can be easier to hone in on the one or two stories that embody the person’s character.
Have you ever not seen eye-to-eye with the person you are writing for? What do you do in that situation?
There have been times when I may not fully support what my clients want to say or do in their speech. I have two rules I consider unbreakable. One is that the speech should be no more than five minutes in length. The other has to do with sharing potentially embarrassing or inappropriate information. I tell them that unless it’s something they feel comfortable sharing with their own grandmother, leave it out altogether.
Do you find it more difficult to write about certain events compared to others?
Whether it’s a wedding, Bar or Bat Mitzvah, baby shower, milestone birthday or another life celebration, these are all joyful occasions. The difficulty comes when there may be a hostile relationship (e.g., the father of the bride doesn’t care for his new son-in-law) that needs to be finessed. Another challenge is eulogies. Unless the speaker is preparing the eulogy in advance, it’s very hard to collect the information that I need while the speaker is in the early stages of grief.
Who would be your dream client to write a speech for?
I have a huge celebrity crush on Adam Levine. I would love to write a speech for him to give at his wife’s baby shower and would probably structure it as a love letter, or maybe a lullaby, to his unborn child.
What advice would you give someone who dreads public speaking but must deliver a speech?
I encourage them to think of their speech as a polished conversation, one they would have with a close friend. I have them practice in front of a couple of close friends, paying close attention to their reactions. Did the funny bits elicit laughter? Did the heartfelt words inspire smiles or tears? I also strongly advise my clients to hold off on the alcohol until after they’ve delivered the speech.
Do you have a favorite speech that you’ve written?
If I had to pick, I would say the one I gave at my brother’s wedding, which was also my first gay wedding. My brother Scott and brother-in-law Bruce adore art, so I decided to use art as my overall theme, using words to paint them a masterpiece.
I addressed how different colors represented different parts of their personalities (e.g., deep reds for Scott’s passion and drive and muted blues for Bruce’s calm demeanor). I tied it all together with a closing wish, “May your life together be filled with the richest of pleasures, the sweetest of memories, and, of course, the most beautiful of art.”
What about a favorite famous speech?
I would have to say President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863. Its powerful ending—government of the People, by the People, for the People—has come to symbolize the definition of democracy itself. I remember memorizing this speech in fifth grade and feeling so lucky to live in a place where freedom is so highly valued.
What can people planning for their wedding take away from A Speech to Remember?
Weddings today have taken on a life of their own, with couples putting so much time and effort into making sure that every detail is absolutely perfect. Many details are within the couple’s control but speeches and toasts don’t fall into this same category and tend to receive less attention. As a result, speeches are often awkward, rambling and even inappropriate, leaving brides and grooms upset and guests cringing throughout.
When people bring me onboard, brides and grooms can relax about what their family and friends will say about them. And the people speaking on behalf of the couple will breathe a sigh of relief knowing that a professional will be helping them craft their speech.
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