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.
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:
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.