16 Tips from Top Speechwriters

The final day of the 2012 Ragan Speechwriters Conference ended with a Speechwriter’s Survival Guide Panel session:

Caryn Alagno (CA), SVP, Corporate Issues at Edleman
Mike Long (ML), Freelance Speechwriter
Colin Moorehouse (CM), Freelance Speechwriter
David Murray (DM), editor of Vital Speeches of the Day
Pete Weissman (PW), Freelance Communications Strategist and Speechwriter

Fletcher Dean, Director of Leadership Communications at The Dow Chemical Company was the moderator.

  1. If you are an unemployed speechwriter, or a freelancer between assignments, join an Association of communicators like IABC or NSA, volunteer to meet everyone. Then join an Association, such as for biotechnologists, where there are no other speechwriters, pass your business card around to make contacts. (CM)
  2. Be known for something, develop your expertize in a specialized niche. “People need to believe you are good at something before they’ll believe you are good at everything.” (CA)
  3. Use technology to be productive: Evernote to file ideas; Dragon Naturally Speaking for transcriptions; Scrivener to organize facts; voice replay on PC or Mac to have computer read speech back for proofing; Carbonite and thumb drives for backups. (PW)
  4. Stop writing for the “speakers voice”, write for content. (ML)
  5. Don’t follow in footsteps of old school, cynical writers who would hammer out a speech for anyone with the bucks to hire them. Connect with what you are passionate about. Connect with your industry, connect with other speechwriters. (DM)
  6. Be more than a speechwriter, become a content strategist by injecting facts and statistics into speeches. Repurpose content into Op-Ed’s, Employee newsletters and more. (CA)
  7. Learn the ask the right questions: What headline do you want the speech to generate? What news can the company announce? Are there any landmines or sensitive issues to avoid? What is the audience’s biggest problem? What unique point of view does the speaker bring to the issue? (PW)
  8. Freelancer’s must know what their monthly “nut” is – how much do you need to earn to pay the bills? (ML)
  9. Don’t charge by the hour, or word, charge by the project. You’ll work fast and make more and the client will have the comfort of knowing the total cost up front. (ML)
  10. Develop a sense of humor, all speechwriters who survive learn not to take things too seriously. (DM)
  11. Once you have made contact with potential clients at the level of exchanging business cards, call for a follow-up lunch, listen to their issues, ask about their life. At the end of the meeting ask for permission to keep in touch and, finally, ask if they know anyone else you can talk to. Do this with each contact and it will lead to paying clients very quickly. (CM)
  12. Term what you write as “CEO remarks”, not just a speech. Consider rebranding your role to make yourself more relevant to each client. (CA)
  13. Respect your skills as a storyteller who, as Hitchcock noted, is “life with the dull parts left out”. Enjoy talking to the influential people who you meet and you have the freedom to ask them probing questions. (PW)
  14. Juice your creativity with a simple, practical writing exercises. Example: Describe everything you can about a chalkboard, now list the ways these qualities are like love (both are easily erased, never quite clean, leaves some dust in the air). (ML)
  15. Find other outlets for your creativity beyond speeches. If the CEO won’t take your counsel, volunteer on the board of a non-profit. Write magazine articles at the weekend. (DM)
  16. Expect to charge between $5,000 – $12,000 for a high-stakes speech and if you write fast and limit the re-writes you can earn $600/hr. (ML)

1 Comment so far
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Interesting list! Point 2 & 7 very helpful and the love Hitchcock quote – will store that one!! Thanks

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