Ransom Letters

Confession - I’ve never been the most organized person in any classroom or office I’ve been a part of. You could usually pick out my spot by looking for the overcrowded locker or desk drawer crammed with old files. It drove my teachers nuts, but as I began my tenure as a speechwriter, I’ve mostly been able to write off my lack of fastidiousness as part of the messy creative process.

Over time, I have made a deliberate effort to keep my files better organized, especially when it comes to storing writing samples digitally. I never know when I’ll be quickly called upon to produce, say, an example of a speech for a corporate board of directors or a sample eulogy - it’s far better to be prepared for these requests by improving how I keep my records.

When I go through my old samples, I can always tell right away if one was written for one particular boss of mine. I can tell with a quick glance.

Size 44 font.


The margins are very particular – custom settings, 0.6 all around.

And throughout, the giant reminder to


On first glance, it almost looks like a ransom note. Nobody could bear to read a book or article in this format – the page count would easily run into the thousands.

But my boss wasn’t reading a book. He was delivering a speech. And he had learned, through his own extensive experiences as a speaker, what format worked for him. He didn’t want to have to frantically scan the page looking for his place. He didn’t want to see huge gobs of dead white space eating up the pages. And he didn’t want to forget to slow the rush of his words and


Speechwriting is about writing for the ear, not the eye – and part of that process is learning what works for your boss’s eye so that it can effectively reach the audience’s ear. I could devote hours of research and thought to the most cogent speech of my life, but it would be sent right back to me if I had forgotten my boss’s preferences on how to use margins.

A speechwriter working with a new client has a lot to learn – their voice, their priorities, their sense of what is important. And they should be sure to ask how their boss likes to format their words. Those small finishing touches in Microsoft Word can make a world of difference in helping a speaker to succeed at the podium.