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A speechwriter is a person who is hired to prepare and write speeches that will be delivered by another person. Speechwriters are employed by many senior-level elected officials and executives in the government and private sectors. They can also be employed to write for weddings and other social occasions.
Skills and training
A speechwriter works directly with senior executives or leaders to determine what points, themes, positions, or messages the executive would like to cover. Speechwriters 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. Speechwriters 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. Speechwriters must also be able to accept anonymity, because with few exceptions, speechwriters (like ghostwriters) are not officially credited or acknowledged. This aspect creates a dilemma for historians and compilers of speech anthology. If some poignant phrase gains popularity such as John F. Kennedy's "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," to whom the credit should be attributed? Was it to the President or to Ted Sorensen (the speechwriter) or to both? Professional speechwriter Lawrence Bernstein writes:
Some clients have called with six months to spare, others with four hours to go; some want to meet up first, others want coaching afterwards; quite a few did everything by email and we’ve never even spoken.
While there is a guild called "The UK Speechwriters' Guild" for professional speechwriters, they do not usually have specific training in the area or field for which they are writing speeches; a speechwriter preparing a speech for a governor on health policy will rarely have a Master of Public Health degree. Instead, speechwriters often 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. As with many other writing occupations, most speechwriters do not have specific training in their writing craft. Instead, speechwriters often develop their speechwriting skills by combining a general liberal arts education (e.g., in political science, philosophy, or English literature) with a variety of work experience in politics, public administration, journalism, or a related field.
The delivery of the speech is part of the challenge speechwriters face when crafting the message. Executive speechwriter Anthony Trendl writes:
Speechwriters specialize in a kind of writing that merges marketing, theater, public relations, sales, education and politics all in one presentation.
A perennial challenge for speechwriters is writing authoritatively about topics for which they may know very little. As executive speechwriter Ben Roberts notes:
To be a successful speechwriter you must be able to digest large volumes of information quickly and become an 'expert for a day', as I like to say - rapidly acquiring information, condensing it into a coherent narrative, and then promptly forgetting it so you have room for the next lot of information...The key challenge in this is identifying what you need to know and what you don't need to know.
Writing a speech involves several steps. A speechwriter has to meet with the executive and the executive's senior staff to determine the broad framework of points or messages that the executive wants to cover in the speech. Then, the speechwriter does his or her own research on the topic to flesh out this framework with anecdotes and examples. The speechwriter will also consider the audience for the speech, which can range from a town-hall meeting of community leaders to an international leaders' forum. Then the speechwriter blends the points, themes, positions, and messages with his or her own research to create an "informative, original and authentic speech" for the executive.
The speechwriter then presents a draft version of the speech to the executive (or the executive's staff) and makes notes on any revisions or changes that are requested. If the speechwriter is familiar with the topic and the positions and style of the executive, only small changes may be needed. In other cases, the executive may feel that the speech does not have the right tone or flow, and the entire speech may have to be re-drafted.
Some notable political speechwriters include:
- Sir Ronald Millar wrote for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
- Henri Guaino wrote for French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
- Thilo Sarrazin wrote for German Minister of Finance and Defence Hans Apel
- Judson T. Welliver wrote for President Warren G. Harding in 1921 and is considered the first official presidential speechwriter. However Alexander Hamilton may have written speeches for George Washington.
- Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote for President John F. Kennedy.
- Theodore "Ted" Sorenson wrote for President John F. Kennedy.
- Richard N. Goodwin wrote for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Pat Buchanan wrote for President Richard Nixon.
- Ken Khachigian wrote for President Richard Nixon and President Ronald Reagan.
- William Safire wrote for President Richard Nixon.
- Ben Stein wrote for President Richard Nixon.
- James Fallows wrote for President Jimmy Carter.
- Chris Matthews wrote for President Jimmy Carter.
- Bob Shrum wrote for Senator Ted Kennedy.
- Peggy Noonan wrote for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
- Christopher Buckley wrote for President George H. W. Bush.
- Michael Johns wrote for President George H. W. Bush.
- Tony Snow wrote for President George H. W. Bush.
- Michael Waldman wrote for Bill Clinton.
- Charlie Fern wrote for First Lady Laura Bush and President George W. Bush
- David Frum wrote for President George W. Bush.
- Michael Gerson wrote for President George W. Bush.
- William McGurn wrote for President George W. Bush.
- Marc Thiessen wrote for President George W. Bush.
- Jon Favreau wrote for President Barack Obama.
- Cody Keenan wrote for President Barack Obama.
Some fictional speechwriters include: James Hobert, speechwriter for the fictional Mayor of New York City Randall Winston on Spin City. Toby Ziegler, Sam Seaborn and later on, Will Bailey all wrote for the Bartlet Administration on The West Wing.
- Ghostwriter, a professional writer who is paid to write books, articles, stories, or reports which are officially credited to another person
- Judson Welliver Society, a social club of former presidential speechwriters
- "Speechwriter - Federal Government Job Profile". Retrieved 2008-12-14.
- Bernstein, Lawrence. "Great Speech Writing".
- Trendl, Anthony. "Speechwriter Value".
- Roberts, Ben. "Writing Speeches with Impact".
- "Redenschreiber von Hans Apel - Business And Science". Business And Science (in German). Retrieved 2017-01-19.
- Catherine Donaldson-Evans (May 12, 2005). "Different Writer, Same President". FoxNews.com. Retrieved 2009-06-12.
- Pilkington, Ed (2009-01-20). "Obama inauguration: Words of history ... crafted by 27-year-old in Starbucks". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-05-23.