3 Types of Speechwriters

Someone told me awhile back that a corporate speechwriter is like the corporate pilot: their relationships with senior leaders are almost brotherly, but neither gets invited to holiday parties at executives’ homes.

If someone is putting into words what your mind is thinking, relationships matter a lot. If you’re a chief executive or other senior manager who thinks you need a speechwriter, decide the role you want the professional to play and then think about the relationship you want.

From my experience, relationships with speechwriters fall into one of these 3 categories.

1  Fingers
Many – well, honestly, maybe some — talented writers can handle executive speeches along with other writing assignments. The writer typically has a knack for clear and speedy wordsmithing in multiple formats: feature articles, web pieces, speeches. His writing style is deliberate, his grammar perfect, and his productivity high.

Hiring such a utility player will give you considerable flexibility in covering all that writing stuff that you know you don’t do well. He or she will deliver good, though perhaps not great, speeches. For many companies, good is good; great may not be necessary.

Your contact with this hire will be on an as-needed basis.

2   Brain
Maybe you need someone to do nothing but write speeches full-time. This professional loves the sound of words, is keen on research, has mastered the techniques of speechwriting, and faithfully reads each issue of Vital Speeches of the Day.

She lives from assignment to assignment, with not much to do between them because she prefers not to take on other writing projects. Often her time is dominated by the CEO, to whom she typically reports, and she rarely writes for anyone below the EVP level.

Your relationship with this person will be one of periodic collaboration and respect for her impressive word-crafting.

3   Voice
Wouldn’t it be valuable to have a resource who keenly understands the workings of corporate life and can deftly and persuasively communicate all of that in writing? This is not the CEO’s filter for those bidding for attention and favor. Rather, he is a proactive seeker of opportunities to position the company through senior leadership.

Such a gifted individual grasps and translates the corporate vision into digestible terms. Hiring such a professional reflects the CEO’s desire to aggressively raise the company’s visibility among key audiences — investors, customers, prospective partners, acquisition candidates, etc. — by getting himself and his team out on the speaking circuit.

Regarding the relationship, you as the CEO might not want to admit that he’s your alter-ego, but he would be just that – someone who could be your voice to get more than just attention by authority but also change by persuasion.

If you hire a Voice, consider these 5 requirements:

  1. A track record of diverse speechwriting experiences. He or she has produced both heady speeches for major platforms and empathetic eulogies, as well as presentations to testy shareholders and to inquisitive, challenging student groups.
  2. A fluid writing style that focuses on memorability. He knows how to craft words and phrases that hang on the audience’s ears and to structure ideas that stick in their minds. He avoids cuteness and limp attempts at cleverness.
  3. A likable, confident, and yet independent presence. He should be approachable but not malleable. He’s a door-opener not a gatekeeper. People assume that he doesn’t speak for the chief executive but they don’t want to test that assumption.
  4. A facility to write like he talks and talk like he writes. He’s street-wise and poetic in how he communicates.
  5. An expert in individual and organizational behavior, and how the peculiarities of business shape both.


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