A speechwriter is a person who is hired to prepare and write speeches that will be delivered by another person. Speechwriters are used by many senior-level elected officials and government executives, governors, and the president or prime minister of a country. Speechwriters are also used in the private sector, to write speeches or presentations for company presidents and Chief Executive Officers.

Skills and training

A speechwriter must be able to work directly with senior executives, to determine what points, themes, positions, or messages the executive would like to cover. As well, 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.

Speechwriters 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 makes them a generalist who is able to "translate" complex economic and policy issues into a clear message for the general public. As well, 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, law, or English literature) with a variety of work experience in politics, public administration, journalism, or a related field.

Speechwriting process

Writing a speech involves several steps. A speechwriter has to meet with the executive and the executive's senior staff to find out the broad framework of points or messages that the executive wants to cover in the speech. Then, the speechwriter does their 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 their 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 re-drafted.

Famous speechwriters

Some famous speechwriters include: Theodore "Ted" Sorenson, who wrote speeches for John F. Kennedy; Richard Goodwin, who wrote speeches for Lyndon B. Johnson; William Safire and Ben Stein, who wrote for Richard Nixon, as did Pat Buchanan; Don Watson who wrote speeches for Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating;Peggy Noonan, speechwriter for the Reagan administration; and Judson T. Welliver, who wrote for Calvin Coolidge. Welliver is considered the first official presidential speechwriter. Alexander Hamilton is thought by some to have written speeches for George Washington.

Former Wall Street Journal editorial writer William McGurn replaced Michael Gerson recently as chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

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Author's Bio: 

This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Public Speaking. The Official Guide to Public Speaking is Nancy Daniels. Public Speaking is speaking to a group of people in a structured manner with the intention to inform, influence, or entertain the audience. A good orator should be able to invoke emotion in their listeners, not just inform them.

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