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How to Operate Your Speechwriter

November 30, 2018

Every year, the Professional Speechwriting Association surveys our members—on job satisfaction, on salary trends, on trends and concerns in the business. This year, we asked simply, “What Do Speechwriters Want?

If speechwriters could get more out of their careers than they’re getting, what would it be? It would be everything, we learned. Speechwriters want more influence, more money, more job security, more recognition and respect and more meaning in their work. Well, who doesn’t? 

The question is, what are they willing to do about it—and what can their employers do to help? There’s a lot that speechwriters and their employers can do, I think—for their mutual benefit, and without disrupting the laws of organizational gravity. You can download the results of the study here. But you can read my recommendations here:

1. Modern scribes need to lose the last vestiges of Bartleby, the Speechwriter—and build their political muscles. (And they know it.) 

Asked to name an area in which they need to improve their own performance at work, fewer than 20 percent said they need to be better writers. Much more common responses were, “I could be more skilled at playing corporate politics to have more influence in the organization.” … “expand my skill set beyond writing, into other leadership communication competencies,” and “I find myself unable or unwilling to assert myself with the client and other stronger personalities surrounding the client.” 

Some of the factors speechwriters wrote in as areas of necessary self-improvement: “I find it difficult to market myself,” “more financial acumen (understanding biz financials to speak to the C-suite),” “I need to be better at negotiating on my own behalf for $$ and other resources/benefits” and “networking outside of the 9-5 structure.”

Speechwriters who want more than they have most be more than they’ve been.

2. Speechwriters need more access to their speakers than they’re getting, but less love from their supervisor than you’d think. 

Asked to describe their frustrations at work, speechwriters cited “insufficient participation by the client in the creation process” and “ineffective or inconsistent direction by the client in the creation process” and “insufficient preparation by the client for speech delivery.”

And asked what makes their day, more than two-third of speechwriters named “a thank-you by a client” as their top motivator. A close second came “the private knowledge of a job well done.” 

But fewer than half of speechwriters said “a pat on the back by a superior or a colleague” as a day-maker.

So, supervisors: Give your speechwriters open access to their client—and encourage the client to make a little more time for the speechwriting process—and go find squeakier wheels to grease. Your speechwriter wants only some quiet, to write.

3. And you know what speechwriters want most of all? More meaningful, more strategically significant work. 

The noisiest grumbles from speechwriters had to do with a sense that their work isn’t contributing to the corporate good or to legitimate leadership communication goals. Speechwriters lamented “assignments that serve no strategic purpose,” complained about having “little/no input into the decision to accept a speaking request” and  “general lack of access to leadership decisions and thought process.” And they described a general “lack of appreciation for exec comm planning.”

In other words, your speechwriter wants to do more than write pretty speeches. She wants those speeches and other communications to help the organization and its leaders advance their goals.

Isn’t that want you want, too?

So supervisor: Read the report, take my advice, and help your speechwriter grow into the effective, strategic leadership communicator she deeply wants to be. 


  • David Murray

    David Murray heads the global Professional Speechwriters Association and the Executive Communication Council, and comments daily on communication issues on his blog Writing Boots. He is an award-winning journalist and is editor and publisher of Vital Speeches of the Day. He is the author of Raised By Mad Men, a memoir about his advertising parents, and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Tell My Sons: A Father’s Last Letters.

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