And I quote…

Which is more powerful?

Abigail Adams reminded her husband John to “remember the ladies” when drafting the new nation’s Constitution.

Abigail Adams didn’t just remind her husband John to “remember the ladies” when drafting the new nation’s Constitution. She also issued a warning: “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Many people know the “remember the ladies” quotation. And it’s fine, as far as it goes. But look at the primary source (or in this case, the primary source as reprinted on a website) and you find something much more interesting. As far back as Colonial times, women were prepared to disregard laws that disregarded them! [Pardon me while I stop to imagine what history would have looked like if that rebellion had truly taken hold.]

But back to my point: Whatever you’re writing, take the time to ferret out the primary sources. That’s where the gold lies. In the corporate world, that may just mean a 15-minute conversation with the person you’re writing for.

Gatekeepers have their place in the business world – many executives keep impossible schedules and couldn’t possibly speak to everyone who wants to claim their time. But if a speech is important enough to make it onto the speaker’s calendar, it’s important enough to have an interview with the speechwriter.

The gatekeepers may think they know exactly what the executive wants to say – and when it comes to policy and practices, they’re probably right. But they can’t supply the human touch, the personal touch that makes any communication memorable.

Gatekeepers can only guess at what the principal is thinking, They may know some relevant anecdotes but unless they shadow the exec 24/7, they won’t have them all. And the more intermediaries between speaker and writer, the weaker the story becomes. It’s like the children’s game of “Telephone,” where a phrase faithfully repeated down a chain of listeners ends up hopelessly garbled. “We won’t obey laws that don’t represent us” becomes “remember the ladies.”

Interviewing the subject up front will save everyone time on the back end (less rewriting). And the end product – whether speech or op-ed, or just a post in an internal newsletter – will be stronger for it. And you can quote me on that.

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