Powers’ speechwriter works in references, clarity


Gabriella Belzer

UT President William Powers Jr.’s official speech writer Avrel Seal has been researching and crafting speeches for Powers for 2 years. Seale was previous editor-in-chief of The Alcalde for 17 years which has been attributed with helping him write effectively. 

Jordan Rudner

As a college student in the late ’80s, he worked in the Jester Center cafeteria. A few years later, he fronted a classic-rock band called The Plan. In 1990, he was a file clerk at a freeze-dried food plant. Today, he is UT President William Powers Jr.’s official speechwriter. 

From his office on the second floor of the Main Building, Avrel Seale helps craft many of Powers’ longer addresses, but he’s quick to point out that speechwriting is only about half of his job. When Seale isn’t writing speeches, he’s researching facts, gathering relevant statistics and even finding out whether or not Powers will be speaking from behind a podium.  

“Often my job means doing research and serving as a sounding board,” Seale said. “I’m the caddy and he’s Tiger Woods.”

Each year, Seale helps Powers prepare for roughly 200 speeches, including his annual State of the University address and the presentations Powers gives to the Board of Regents. Preparing the State of the University is a roughly six-week process and Seale said the first draft — which he writes — usually has little in common with the finished product, 13 drafts later.

“We go back and forth a lot on that speech,” Seale said. “I try not to get too attached.”

Seale worked as editor-in-chief of The Alcalde, the Texas Exes’ alumni magazine, for 17 years. Tim Taliaferro, the current editor, said Seale’s background at the magazine helps make him an effective speechwriter. 

“Avrel comes from a background that prizes anecdotes, evidence, clear expositions,” Taliaferro said. “President Powers, God love him, is an academic. He can go sprawling off in any direction, which is a blessing and a curse. Avrel keeps him pointed.” 

Seale said when it comes time to craft speeches for the president, Seale’s personal voice takes a backseat to the voice of the institution. 

“There is an institutionally appropriate voice you have to find,” Seale said. “It’s conversational, but not chatty. Formal, but not stilted. Active, but not passive — and graceful but not flowery.” 

Seale also cited clarity as a key goal in any speech because Powers often delivers presentations on broad or conceptual topics. Kim Gundersen, associate director of the Texas Exes, said making the abstract picture relatable is one of the things Seale does best. 

“A speech is memorable when it resonates with the individual, when there’s something about it that goes beyond the brain and into the heart,” Gunderson said. “To do that, you have to understand your audience, and Avrel does.”

Seale said Powers adds an individual touch to every speech. Powers is a particular fan of “Moneyball,” a book by Michael Lewis that focuses on the importance of correct resource allocation in baseball. Seale said Powers’ arsenal of references is still deep enough to surprise him. Earlier this month, Powers addressed a group in the Cockrell School of Engineering using an extended metaphor from “The Hobbit.” 

Seale also gets to work references into Powers’ remarks every so often. In a recent speech about the Committee on Business Productivity, Powers used a metaphor involving an obelisk that stood in the middle of Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1586. 

“Sometimes I’ll get a particular idea I want to introduce,” Seale said. “I was particularly glad he liked the obelisk.”

When asked if he ever suggests those frequent Moneyball references, Seale shook his head and laughed.

“Oh, no,” Seale said. “Those are always him.” 

Published on February 22, 2013 as "Speechwriter talks".