Hear this podcast episode on Global Speechwriter FM!
Speechwriters live in a pretty isolated universe.
Not too long ago, we weren’t supposed to admit we existed.
We were ghosts, and remained in the shadows.
Times have changed, but this culture of secrecy has permeated the profession.
Tough to get the proper speechwriting training for a profession that isn’t supposed to exist!
Sure, there are a few seminars available, but these usually consist of half-day classes that can’t teach much about the intricacies of speechwriting over the long term.
As a result, people who are required to write speeches at work are often thrown right into it. Nothing like trial by fire with enormous stakes!
And make no mistake, the stakes can be huge.
So the first reason on my list why speechwriters need proper training is because:
It May Save Your Organization From Disaster
Seems a bit dramatic, but is it?
Imagine you’re the head of an organization who has an important speech coming up, but you trust the writing of that speech to somebody with no speechwriting training.
You figure that they’ve written press releases, media advisories and the odd annual report. No problem, right?
A day before the event, you receive a draft that not only has a number of factual errors, but completely lacks structure, is factually incorrect, and is about as interesting as instructions for a VCR.
At best, it means you’re spending the evening rewriting the speech—time you should be spending learning that speech.
At worst, you go ahead and deliver the speech, only to find out later you’ve made a number of factual errors that have caught the attention of the press and the Twitterverse.
Not a realistic scenario, you say?
How many speakers see their speeches for the first time when they’re in the car headed to the event?
I’ve written speeches for a long time, and this happens more—a lot more—than you think.
The role of a speechwriter consists of more than simply cobbling a few words together.
A speech isn’t a press release, it’s not a white paper, it’s something completely different requiring specific training.
A speechwriter with the proper training understands the four big four pillars of speechwriting:
Style: the words you choose that will engage the audience, fit the voice of the speaker, and be remembered after the speech is given.
Structure: organizing your material so that the audience follows your speech in a logical manner.
Substance: the logic and content that makes your speech convincing to the audience; and
Storyline: the human element that makes the audience connect with your speech.
Moreover, trained speechwriters understand the importance of good research, of preparation, and how to obtain the information they need from credible sources.
It’s incredible that organizations spend millions of dollars on logos and branding, but almost nothing on training their speechwriters; something that can—for better or worse—have an immediate impact upon their relationship with the public.
Trained Speechwriters Limit Stress And Headaches For Managers (And Speechwriters Themselves!)
You’re working as a waitress in a cocktail bar….
Kidding. But who doesn’t like that song?
You’re working in a communications office, or perhaps a policy unit, and your boss gives you a ring.
“Kerrigan!” he barks. “I need a speech for tomorrow’s address to the Human League Appreciation Society! You can write, so get to it!”
Panic sets in. You’ve never written a speech before. You begin the first draft, but nothing works.
(By the way, if you missed my “How To Become A Speechwriter” article, it may help here.)
It’s like nothing you’ve written before. What looks good on paper sure doesn’t sound great when you read it out loud.
And it doesn’t sound like your boss at all. Still, you copy and paste a few lines from some press releases, call it a speech, send it to him, and the reaction is predictable.
“What is this garbage?”
Or maybe your boss is just nicer than mine was.
But don’t count on it.
Let’s examine how this affects the office environment and the people involved.
We haven’t even mentioned the person who is probably going to hear from the boss first—your immediate manager. Let’s call her the Communications Director.
Let’s put ourselves in her shoes first.
She’s been through a number of employees who have been asked to write speeches for the boss.
The good writers do a decent job, but the speeches just don’t sound right.
Instead of putting her time towards things that are really important, she’s constantly putting out speech fires or rewriting the speeches themselves.
Her stress and frustration levels are at a boiling point.
Yet, this could have all been solved by having a trained speechwriter.
It won’t keep the boss away completely, but it will reduce the stress, headaches and pressure.
Imagine how much easier her job would be if she knew the speech that would eventually land on her desk would be solid.
Granted, there is still the insanity of the approvals process to get through, but even that should be made easier by a speechwriter who knows how to handle and incorporate changes by others in the organization.
A trained speechwriter doesn’t have to think about how to write a speech, they can focus their attention on making the speech they’re writing the best it can be.
Let’s now look at how training impacts the speechwriter.
First, it’s a great way to advance your career.
Before I got my first job as a speechwriter, I was toiling in the salt mines of the government. I was writing press releases, clipping media stories (yep, we did that back then!) and other assorted drudgery.
My career options were, shall we say, limited.
When I began writing speeches this changed. I found myself with that magical element of success: access.
Access to decision-makers, access to more important people than myself in the organization. Access to the speaker, usually the top decision-maker in an organization.
Do I really need to tell you that this constant access creates its own momentum?
Look, you don’t get promotions simply because you’re in the same room with somebody; you still need to produce great speeches.
Is it not therefore, worth investing in training? Let’s say a course is approximately $1,000. On the surface, this seems like a lot of money.
But average that out over a speechwriter’s entire career. If your salary rises from $40K per year to $90K and remains that way for at least five years, how does that $1,000 investment now look? Pretty small potatoes.
Or think of it as a freelance speechwriter. I charge anywhere from $3,000 upwards for a speech. My hourly rate is $300.
Would I be able to do that without proper training? Maybe, but it would have been a longer, tougher road.
That’s assuming I didn’t get fired for making a mistake along the way.
Bottom line? Getting the proper training is worth it.
The Competition Is Low
This is a quickie. There aren’t many speechwriters out there. The same things that make the profession so mysterious also work in your favour.
People simply assume writing speeches is just too difficult. At the same time, speechwriters are always in high demand.
Scarcity matched with experience? It’s a recipe for success. That’s all I have to say about this particular item. You’re smart, you can put the rest together.
You Get To Write For Money
I’ve got this theory that all speechwriters are really just novelists at heart. They love to craft a good story, something that stands the test of time.
Know how many fiction and non-fiction writers make a decent living writing novels? Let me save you the time: not many.
We’re familiar with authors who crank out novels like they’re making sausage, but the reality is that it’s very tough to make money as a writer anymore.
Journalists are getting canned faster than you can say “online” and Buzzfeed has given us attention spans that are shorter than a hummingbird on crack.
A speechwriter is not the same as a fiction writer, but it does allow you to make money as a writer.
Find a speaker who loves to tell stories and has an engaging style (perhaps you can train them…hmm, value added!), and you will have a job that pays you to write.
It also gives you a chance to do that one thing most of us want to achieve in life: make a lasting difference. A good speech can do that.
SO….How Do You Convince Your Manager?
If you work in an office and you’re being tasked with speeches (or perhaps you want to move into this position) here are a few ideas for convincing your boss to invest in some speechwriter training.
These are self-explanatory, so I’ve simply listed a few.
First, back to our scenario.
We’re a speechwriter who is convinced they need proper training. Yet, when it comes to investing in training, their boss makes Ebenezer Scrooge look like a spendthrift.
What arguments could they present?
Okay, into the office. Let’s go…no hesitating!
Dear Glorious Leader (okay, you might want to try something else there).
Investing in my speechwriting training will:
Save you time and stress.
Imagine. No more waiting or rewriting! No more embarrassments on stage! Words that make even YOU seem smart. What do you mean, what do I mean by that?
You’ll keep employees (err, me) around longer.
Do you know it usually costs about $6,000 to find and train a new employee in most large organizations? Your turnover for this position is incredible. Proper training is approximately one-tenth of what you’re currently spending to train a new employee. That’s money you can save.
You’ll spend less on outside contractors.
Are you seriously paying that Kerrigan guy $3,000 per speech? What? That’s the minimum? If we write more speeches in-house, we’ll save money. Why, yes sir, I love to save you money!
Your reputation and personal brand will soar.
We know your reputation has taken a hit since our stocks have plummeted 67 per cent in two weeks. The road back means getting out there and talking to the public. A great speech reveals a great leader. A great speech, in turn, can only be written by a great speechwriter, a trained speechwriter.
We’ll be better able to articulate the organization’s message.
Sir, this is a great company. I’m proud to work here. I want to help you spread the word. Let’s get out there and make sure people hear what we’re saying.
There you have it: a few ideas you can use to get your manger to invest in speechwriting training.
If your organization truly places value in the spoken word, it will invest if you make the right argument. We had some fun with the examples above, but be prepared to argue your case.