Take a look at any description of what a speech writer does. From it, you can get a good overview of the complexity of her/his role. For example, study.com says the following:
“Speech writers prepare talking points and write and edit speeches for political officials, corporate executives, public relations firms, or larger organizations. Their duties often include conducting research and organizing the data that contributes to a speech. They may work directly with the speaker to finalize drafts, providing feedback and advice on speech presentation.”
First of all, speech writers in most cases work for the top echelon or person of any organization in politics, business or any other sphere. That is a heavy responsibility in itself. To that effect, another description notes that “Speech writers need to be able to accept criticism and comments on the different drafts of the speech and be able to incorporate the proposed changes into the draft. Speech writers have to be able to work on several different speeches at once, and manage their time so that they can meet strict deadlines for finishing the speech on time.”
All of this implies that during their work a speech writer has to keep track of all the ideas he has to incorporate into any given speech. But, at the same time, he has to keep in mind which ideas he has to give a priority. This entails that he has to do a detailed, even minuscule preparation, backed up by very precise research.
That in itself would represent a hard task both for a speech writer and for those requiring their services. But that the complexity of that job end there?
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Always at the forefront and in the background at the same time
To do precise and detailed research that the person giving a speech in public will present, a speech writer has to “have a broad understanding of basic economics, political roles, and policy issues, which make them generalists who are able to “translate” complex economic and policy issues into a clear message for the general public.”
This would mean that a speech writer has to combine his educational (usually very broad) background with “ a variety of work experience in politics, public administration, journalism, or a related field.” And at every point, they have to strike a balance between specific knowledge and the need to translate it into language that is understandable to a widest possible audience.
Another factor that almost always complicates the job of a speech writer is time. Sometimes they are given ample time to prepare their drafts. A few weeks, even months. On other occasions, and those can be very frequent, they are given only a few hours to do both the preparations and their writing.
And then there are the changes. A speech is accepted ‘as is’ probably can occur only in speech writer’s dreams. There are always changes, they have to be balanced and incorporated into the speech. Sometimes, this has to happen minutes before a speaker has to present it in public.
Of course, in the end, the speech writer has to take the main responsibility for the content, language, and the tone of any given speech he writes. If the speech goes down well, the credit goes to the speaker. If it doesn’t, the final blame and possible consequences fall on the shoulders of the speech writer. Through all that process, speech writer is always the person that remains in the background. Her/his name usually never goes public.
The elements speech writer should have on his mind
On paper, the process a speech writer has to follow seems quite straightforward. The initial step is a meeting or a series of meetings with the executive that will present the speech, as well as his main staff if he has one.
During that meeting and/or meetings, they jointly work out the framework of the speech and what should be its main points. They always try to determine what should be the main message or messages the speech needs to cover.
The speech writer then does the necessary research. In it, she/he focuses on specific examples and possibly anecdotes that they will include in the speech to make it ‘presentable’. To that effect, a speech writer always has to have in mind the immediate audience that will hear the speech.
“Then the speech writer blends the points, themes, positions, and messages with his or her own research to create an “informative, original and authentic speech” for the executive.” (above)
After all these preparations, the speech writer presents his first draft to the executive and/or his staff. The accent here is on the ‘first’ as many or most speeches can go through a number of draft versions. This, of course, depending on the time constraints before the executive is to give the speech.
In all of this, all the writing, all the changes fall upon the speech writer. Throughout, a speech writer has to keep in mind the framework of the speech, its message(s), the speaker, and the audience.
What concepts should a speech writer always have in mind?
Project management specialist Jeff Schmitt a few years back wrote a detailed analysis for Forbes about key elements of any speech.
These provide a solid base which a speech writer should have in mind. Schmitt listed his points as follows:
- Be memorable;
- Have a structure;
- Use the opening as an advantage;
- Strike the right tone;
- Present the speaker as ‘a human’;
- Repeat main points;
- Use transmissions;
- Include ‘theatrics’;
- Present a strong ending;
- Keep the whole speech as short as possible.
According to Schmitt, a speech writer should always have two elements in mind. One is “making a good impression” and the other is “leaving your audience with two or three takeaways.“
“The rest is just entertainment.” Well, particularly in cases of speeches with political elements, that is not exactly the case. Still, the key point here is to ‘be memorable’ there always has to be a key line in a speech. A line that the audience will certainly remember.
If the speech does not have a precise structure, there is always a possibility that the speaker will veer off into uncharted territory. “Audiences expect two things from a speaker: A path and a destination. They want to know where you’re going and why. So set the expectation near your opening on what you’ll be covering.”
The opening of a speech offers an unprecedented advantage. That is when the audience is most attentive and receptive. “Share a shocking fact or statistic. Tell a humorous anecdote related to your big idea. Open with a question – and have your audience raise their hands. Get your listeners engaged early. And keep the preliminaries short.”
More on the concept speech writer has to follow
To adopt the right tone of a speech its writer always has to have pertinent questions in mind. Who is the audience? Why are they attending a particular speech? What do they expect to get from it? “Writing a speech involves meeting the expectations of others, whether it’s to inform, motivate, entertain, or even challenge. “
To ‘humanize’ a speaker is one of the key goals a speech writer has to have in mind. If the audience does not relate to the speaker as ‘one of them’, they most probably will not relate to what he has to say.
No matter how long the speech is, the mind of the audience tends to wander. Even the speech itself can stimulate that. For that reason, the speech writer needs to repeat the key points, “key words, phrases, and themes.”
To make sure that audiences recognize those key elements, the writer has to use transitional phrases. Those could be in the form of a question (“What does this mean”) or a confirming phrase like “So here’s the lesson.”
When he speaks about ‘theatrics’ Schmitt has in mind that every speech has to have the speaker present some ‘acting’ elements. Stressing vocals certain points or presenting images, videos, or similar element during their presentation.
As with the opening, the ending hast to be as strong as possible. Very often, these are the two parts of the speech that most members of the audience remember. For its part, the ending has to contain a reference to the main message of the speech.
Coping with all the hurdles to come up with the best possible speech
One post that shows most hurdles a speech writer has to overcome to do his job in the best manner is writing speeches for government officials. James Doughty, who used to be a speech writer for the British secretary of state wrote that “speechwriting is a job quite unlike any other in the civil service. It’s a job of contradictions. You work alone and with everyone, you’re a specialist but also a generalist, you’re creative and constrained, you’re in the thick of it and standing back.”
But, Doughty’s description practically encompasses the contradiction practically every speech writer’s faces. Speech writers start their process as “the lightning rod, capturing every thought, every angle, and every idea offered up. It is through the speech writer that those ideas are then distilled, ordered, reordered, refined, and woven into a narrative that makes sense and fits together.”
The final result of his writer’s work needs “needs to be able to convey complex information simply and compellingly. They need to bring it all together into a coherent whole that, like a piece of music, ebbs and flows to hold interest and create contrasts – quiet bits and loud bits, long flowing passages, and short staccato points, poetry and policy prose.”
For these reasons, the job of the speech writer is one of the more complex ones, with the writer herself/himself almost always staying in the background. Still, the rewards do not only have to be material but also in realizing that each speech had its desired effect.