The Challenges of Speech Writing for Political Writers
By Space Coast Daily // August 26, 2021
Recent polls show as many as 73% of Americans are afraid of public speaking. The act of standing in front of a podium and delivering lines is overwhelming for many, and the fear of public speaking can affect professionals and employees in all career trajectories, from high school students to powerful politicians.
Assisting public speakers is the ultimate goal of the political speechwriter. By capturing the essence and nature of an event, campaign or movement, speechwriters help clients approach their subjects with a degree of confidence and deliver a well-crafted message. Their written work has the power to deliver a message, direct attention, create powerful imagery and speak to a specific population by capturing the speaker’s voice.
As such, scriptwriting for political candidates is a challenging career choice in the field of technical writing.
As a long-time political activist, Michael Freund believes that quality speech writing can make or break a person’s reputation in the industry. In a recent interview, Freund explains how his work as an activist has given him greater insight into the world of political speech writing.
“In my many years of experience, I can tell you that speech writing is nothing like the television shows portray. Despite what popular dramas might have you believe, writing for political candidates, persons of interest and tricky public relations campaigns is an exhaustive writing exercise—perhaps the most complicated form of writing there is.”
Other political activists express similar sentiments and experiences. Said veteran speechwriter Barton Swaim in an interview to The Atlantic, “I thought I was going to be this great speechwriter, stringing grand phrases together and soaring oratory and all this.” Swaim, acting as Governor Mark Sanford’s official speechwriter and transcriptionist, continued, “I was basically just coming up with cute things that you could say at a gathering of the National Square Dancing Society or a grand opening at the Heinz factory. So, coming up with stories about ketchup.”
Speech writing can be a rewarding challenge for success-minded writers. However, being aware of the challenges involved, both political and apolitical, is important for success.
Political Speech Writing Challenges
Unliked writing fiction, prose or other creative text, speechwriting is a realist form of authorship that must be created with the end client in mind. This poses unique challenges in writing speeches for politicians, office holders and international activists where the focus becomes writing for the speech giver, organizing important points, and maximizing end delivery.
Writing for the Speech Giver
The primary difference between writing as a freelancer and writing for a political candidate is rooted in the audience. As a freelance writer, you compose stories for direct consumption by an audience. In contrast, a speechwriter must create a compelling, interesting and natural-sounding piece of dialogue that is ultimately delivered in another speaker’s voice.
Although your writing will be received by an end audience, the primary focus is the vehicle through which they hear the speech—the speaker themself.
It is important to understand how and why the speech is being written. Write as though the words are coming directly from the candidate, using the speaker’s style and incorporating unique turns of phrase. Construct the verbiage in a way that your candidate can naturally deliver, and convince the target audience of all points, changes and new initiatives.
Organizing Important Points
Complex social movements or political controversies must be addressed with the utmost care. It is important to construct a speech that is well organized, easy to understand and relatively simple to receive. Most people listening to a speech are only interested in the meat of the story, not additional prose. It is necessary to organize the initial points before tackling the body of the speech.
Professional speechwriters suggest starting with a helpful outline. Create a skeleton speech which lists main points, quotes and action items. Fill in gaps around the speech with easy-to-understand verbiage. Always assume you are writing for an eighth-grade audience to maintain the cohesiveness of the speech while appealing to all audience members.
Maximizing End Delivery
Many speechwriters agree that writing for a political candidate is one of the most challenging feats of their career. Maximize the end delivery by writing small notes on the page, encouraging the reader to pause and emphasizing certain phrases before continuing. A speechwriter’s assignment often includes a face-to-face meeting to ensure proper speech cadence and make final edits to the text.
The goal of the speechwriter is to create a speech; not a blog, article or research paper. Calling an audience to action requires dynamic, well-written text with a clear directive and purpose.
Further, it is the speechwriter’s responsibility to set aside personal preferences and personality and embody the voice of the speaker. A strained or awkward speech delivery can alienate an audience and make listeners feel uncomfortable, minimizing its impact.
Finally, it is imperative that political speechwriters encourage their clients to rehearse before delivery. This allows the speaker to become more comfortable with the subject matter, and it encourages authenticity in the final delivery. Stumbling over important words and key points could be career damaging, and it’s better to overprepare than underprepare.
Although the life of a political speechwriter is challenging, the results of a well-executed speech are gratifying for writers and their clients alike. The ability to sway an audience with information, anecdotes and activism is a rare skill, and one that is vital in our current political climate.