How to Become a Speechwriter: An Expert Guide

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Most people’s knowledge of speech writing comes from TV and movies. But we can’t all be like Seth Rogen in “the Long Shot,” flying around the world writing speeches for President Charlize Theron.

The good news is that there are plenty of speechwriting jobs that you can do online, for a variety of clients. And who knows? Maybe one day it could lead to the Oval Office!

Being a Speechwriter

I’ve written and delivered speeches across the worlds of business, politics and even comedy. For some time I ran a business helping people with best man speeches.

Those were the speeches I found the most fun. I was talking both to people who were really comfortable and looking forward to the experience, and those utterly terrified at the thought of public speaking.

In one instance a client presented me with a beautifully written, thoughtful speech, but had no idea how to deliver it. With minor edits (a joke about his future mother-in-law had to go), I provided guidance on pacing, and highlighted where the laughs would come. Nervous as he was, the day was a great success, and he was delighted.

How is Speechwriting Different from Other Writing Jobs?

The difference between speechwriting and other writing jobs is that you are writing for somebody to speak the words.

Man with microphone

That may seem obvious, but it makes a big difference to the style and use of language. You will need to pay attention to the rhythm of the speech, highlight areas for emphasis, and arrange the text in a way that can be easily read.

Know your Client!

Some clients will be experienced public speakers, others may be coming to you for their first big engagement. Their confidence, speaking ability and subject matter should dictate your style.

If you’re writing a best man toast for a first time speaker you will need a very different speech to one for an experienced business person speaking at a convention.

What does Being a Speechwriter Involve?

The work of being a speechwriter is incredibly varied. It can range from anything from providing a couple of jokes to brighten up an existing speech, to transforming a short brief into a full presentation.

Unlike a lot of writing, you get to be part of the performance – thinking about how your client will present themselves and how your words will be received by the audience.

It is always a good idea to think about how the speech will flow. Start with high energy, or even humour, lighten detailed and heavy parts with anecdotes, and ensure there is a strong finish.

Should I use Humour in a Business Speech?

Not all speech writing is about humour, and sometimes it is inappropriate.

A joke that would go well at a social occasion may fall completely flat at a conference. As such, it is vital that you understand the audience, and the type of event at which the speech will be delivered.

That being said, a lot of speechwriting involves people asking for some humour to “jazz up” a speech or presentation. If you are comfortable with humour, then by all means try, but it is a very competitive area.

Where do I find Speech Writing Work?

There are speech writing jobs on sites like Upwork (review here) and PeoplePerHour (review here).

If you are looking for something more permanent, you may find something on LinkedIn, or on normal online job boards. Don’t forget to network with your existing circle too, as that’s often a source of work. (For networking advice, check out this article).

How Much does Speechwriting Pay?

Speech writing jobs can pay as little as $50 for a few lines to brush up an existing speech, to thousands for a full speech for a big client.

As with most writing jobs, the more you do and the better you get, the higher the fee you will command.

Do I need any Special Software Skills?

Some clients will simply want a script, others may need help with a presentation, so it’s useful to be familiar with presentation software, such as Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple Keynote.

It’s rare for people to be familiar with more than one of these, and it’s difficult to switch between them, so being proficient in both is certainly beneficial.

Top Tips

  • Know your client: How confident a speaker are they?
  • Know the audience: This will dictate much of the style and content.
  • Remember that not all speechwriting is about jokes.
  • Get a feel for pace and flow: Your job is to help hold the audience’s attention.
  • Brush up your own presentation skills: This will help with your writing.

More on Writing for a Living

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