Getting to know Lucia Bird was definitely one of the blessings of my life.
We met almost by chance because she was working on an event that also involved First Creative. Lucia’s skill set – based on her acting training – was in preparing presenters to stand up in front of an audience with confidence. (Something I worked on myself later on…) She quickly realised my long experience in writing voice-overs could be invaluable for her work. (After all, it helps if a presenter can actually get through their script without stumbling…!)
I’m grateful to Lucia for a warm and mutually respectful relationship that lasted for many years, and got me numerous high value jobs. Essentially I’d either write or rewrite the script a presenter was going to deliver, ensuring it was well structured, flowed easily, was easily understood, and was the right length for the available time slot.
Without doubt our worst client was the CEO of a regional airport. He wanted to open his presentation with a joke. I wrote him one that would (admittedly) only raise a smile but formed a useful introduction to his subject. He wasn’t happy with it – so he used one of his own. It was sufficiently vile that it completely alienated (at least) half his audience. Almost before he’d started…
And our best client? I’d say it was Mervyn Pedelty, the CEO of the Cooperative Bank – and the man who invented the concept of ethical banking. I had huge respect for him, and speechwriting for him became one of my staples. He absolutely walked the talk – I remember seeing him at a conference where two small independent coffee growers, one from Africa and one from South America, had been invited to speak. The African delegate approached Mervyn with some hesitation, and explained that he’d like to form a cooperative but didn’t know how to start. Mervyn’s response? ‘I’ve got some time now. Let’s find somewhere we can talk.’
As well as writing the speeches I often got to create the visual content, too. Nowhere more so than in Mervyn’s speech introducing the bank’s latest venture, Smile. Rather than using PowerPoint I programmed the presentation in Flash, meaning I could animate the new Smile logo (and pretty much anything else I wanted to have moving about). I didn’t use Flash very often, but it was great for creating simple animation – and because it used vector graphics, it looked good even on a giant screen.
One incident confirmed my opinion of Mervyn and his team. At the time I was working with First Creative on a video to be distributed to every member of the Bank’s team, and fronted by Carol Vorderman. I was due to attend a meeting with the whole top team when I got a phone call to tell me my mother was dying. Heart in mouth, I rang them to ask if we could reschedule. To which they agreed without a moment’s hesitation.
I’m hugely grateful to Lucia for that original introduction, and for so much else. We worked well and happily together, and my ‘speechwriting phase’ is a part of my life I look back on with immense pleasure and satisfaction.