Jan 11

Writing a year in review doesn’t have to be daunting

As we settle into 2021 – what a wild ride it’s been so far – government leaders at all levels are preparing for speeches and reports that recap the past year and outline what’s to come.

This task can be intimidating. After all, how in the world can you summarize 12 months’ worth of successes, challenges and aspirations into a short enough speech or report that won’t put the audience to sleep? And do it during a time when folks seem to be tuning out government way more than they’re tuning in.

It can be done – it just takes lots of planning and lots of patience. At least that’s what I’ve learned having been part of the writing, editing, re-editing, rehearsing and re-rehearsing of several state of the city addresses.

The trick is early planning – as in start thinking about next year’s speech or report even before the ink is dry on the current year’s. This begins with creating a system for documenting activities, conversations and future plans throughout the year.

We know a lot can happen in a matter of a few hours – a deadly tornado, a violent protest, a shooting rampage – let alone one year, and trying to remember the details months later can be difficult. That’s why listening in the moment, taking good notes and organizing those thoughts in an easy-to-find way is essential.


Whether it’s in the middle of a crisis, during a meeting of elected officials or part of a conversation with constituents, a listening ear is a must. You never know when the story will start writing itself, so it’s important to pay close attention to who’s in the room, what’s being said and what actions are being taken.

Things can move quickly, especially during a crisis or a contentious conversation, so having multiple sets of ears is helpful. The buddy system we were taught as kids works here. I don’t know how many times I’ve turned to a colleague to confirm what I’ve heard during a meeting or to ask for help monitoring a situation from different angles.


Listening – check. Now it’s time to track activities, events and conversations in writing. Think of this like a journal. I keep a weekly tally of the good things that happen in my life – both personally and professionally – and then read through them on or around New Year’s Day. It’s a way to both reflect on the special moments of the past year and to look ahead with excitement about what’s to come.

Now, you may not have enough to record on a weekly basis. Perhaps bimonthly or monthly makes sense. Or, if a major event is happening, daily notes may be in order. Pick the cadence that’s right for you to ensure you’re not scratching your head trying to remember the events of June in December.


So you have all these notes, now what? Organize and stay organized. An online storage place where you and others can add to and access is key. Folders labeled by the month or by activity – or both – allow you to easily find what you’re looking for when it’s time to start writing the year in review.

Make sure everyone who’s contributing to this project throughout the year has the filing system down. There’s nothing worse than spending precious time searching for a misfiled document or sending a flurry of emails to track down the missing information.

Like so many things in life, annual speeches and reports require a focus on the journey – not the destination. With the right amount of listening, documenting and organizing, you can put together an engaging experience that doesn’t have you panting across the finish line.

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