Does your client need an AA meeting?
Fellow speechwriter and blogger Jane Genova suggests that if your clients doubt the power of authenticity to transfix and transform, take them to an open Alcoholics Anonymous meeting:
“From the get-go, your client will get it: What they will bear witness to is this: Talking from the heart, with the mission of helping other alcoholics, liberates AA speakers from self-consciousness.”
Genova outlines the three-part structure AA expects of its members who speak:
“How it was
The solution, and
How it is now.”
Of course, none of the speeches you’ll hear at an AA meeting is as cut-and-dried as that model suggests. I went to one once, supporting a friend who’d completed a year of sobriety, and all I can say is bring lots of Kleenex. As Genova suggests, people’s authentic stories can be powerfully moving. And if a speaker tries to squeak by without being authentic, the audience will notice.
How would your client like sitting in an audience of people who stop listening to an inauthentic speaker? Genova suggests it might be enough to get them “scared straight,” as it were. To keep them communicating authentically forever and ever, amen.
The AA model in action
Now, you don’t have to go to an AA meeting to find that authentic structure of problem/solution/redemption. Any well-written persuasive speech will employ it.
Take AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson’s speech about pervasive racism in our society. It’s one of the best speeches I’ve heard in ages—here’s what I wrote about it.
Stephenson begins his “how it was” section by talking about his relationship with “one of my closest friends in the world,” an African American doctor and veteran named Chris.
After some of the recent race-related violence, Chris asked to speak to the “nearly all-white congregation” at his church. He told them about growing up in the midst of the racial unrest of the Civil Rights movement. He talked about how today, when he runs in his neighborhood in the mornings, he always carries his driver’s license, so he can prove he lives there.
Stephenson concludes this part of the speech by saying, “I was ashamed that this was all new information to me.” And then he makes the transition to the second part of the AA format—the solution.
“If two very close friends of different races don’t talk openly about this issue that’s tearing our communities apart, how do we expect to find common ground and solutions for what’s really a serious problem?”
The audience cheered and applauded that line. But not as much as they cheered and applauded this one:
“We have to start communicating. And if this is a dialogue that’s going to begin at AT&T, I feel like it probably ought to start with me.”
Standing ovation, mid-speech.
“Frankly, I’ve always been confused by some of Chris’s views. But now I get his anger.”
A work in progress
Of course, this speech isn’t a perfect example of the AA model, because the “how it is now” is still very much a work in progress.
The alcoholic can say, “I haven’t had a drink in 60 days.” It’s harder to say, “I haven’t had an unbiased thought in 60 days.” We can control the hand reaching to grab a glass of Scotch; we can’t always control our minds. But opening our eyes to the conscious and unconcious racism and other inequities in the world we live in and create—that’s a start. And that’s where Stephenson goes:
“I’m not asking you to be ‘tolerant’ of each other. Tolerance is for cowards. Being tolerant requires nothing of you but to be quiet and not make waves, holding tightly to your views and judgments without being challenged. Do not ‘tolerate’ each other. Work hard. Move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other.”
A great speech. Authentic and powerful. If your client can speak like that, more power to you both. If not, maybe an AA meeting would help?