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Why leave speechwriting to amateurs?


There are very few full-time jobs as speechwriters. Those I know who earn a living this way tend to work in Westminster or in royal palaces. Even the Board members of major corporates will expect a senior executive, not a professional speechwriter, to craft appropriate words for the annual shareholder meeting, or a significant announcement.

I wonder why this is. Why leave such an important task to someone whose expertise lies elsewhere? Most probably, they will be distracted by their everyday management tasks to be able to set aside the amount of time needed to plan, draft, edit, and refresh the speech.

I know because this is precisely what previous delegates on my workshop have admitted to. Typically, they work in communications or marketing – the assumption being that they are good with words. I can hear the desperation in their voices as they describe their frustration at being given the daunting task of preparing the CEO’s forty-minute speech to funders.

Where to start? How to get the spoken word, not the written word, right?

Delegates who have worked with me through the PRCA Speechwriting made Simple workshop say they feel less afraid of tackling the next assignment. In fact, they can’t wait to test their new skills. By explaining how to plan, structure, draft, and polish a speech, I show them that they can be both methodical and objective, as well as creative and inquisitive. 

The speechwriter embraces several roles according to Brian Jenner of the UK Speechwriters’ Guild. These include being a:

·       Journalist – good at research.

·       Fantasist – slightly mad and able to reconstruct the world with new ideas.

·       Humorist – using laughter to aid persuasion.

·       Psychotherapist – putting raw emotions into appropriate language.

·       Servant / Spy / Mentor – walking in the shadow alongside the speaker.

These characteristics describe many of us who work in public relations. Which is why, in the absence of a budget for a full-time in-house speechwriter, we are very well placed to step up and let the rhetorical devices flow.

There is another reason why the press officer is ideal for the role. We have the client, or the company’s, reputation to protect, and we also understand the corporate language and its stories. This is central to our work for them.  So, in theory we need not feel daunted. Yet we do need some training. And plenty of practice.

Sadly, the workshop I run doesn’t tackle a fundamental task. How to get the speaker to deliver your beautifully crafted phrases just as you planned. Too often, the writer is left in the wings powerless to wrest the script from the podium and the hapless client. Just book them for a rehearsal, take a pen to the phrases they stumble over, and trust their instinct to sound vaguely human!

If you can join me and fellow novice speechwriters on 27th February, we’ll have plenty to explore and lessons to learn. And have some fun too.