The A.I. Speechwriter – Tools of the trade

My 3-part series on ways generative A.I. can be of value to speechwriters started with a simple example of generating ideas for a Best Man’s wedding speech, reviewed how it can help corporate speechwriters, and concluded with a deep dive into political speechwriting. In all cases, I emphasized that generative A.I. is a tool and not a replacement for a flesh-and-blood writer, and in no way should be relied on for verbatim scripts.

Source: MidJourney A.I.

Search engines

As technology evolves, there are now A.I. tools (often based on large language models like ChatGPT) that speechwriters can employ to speed the plow and hone their craft.

Gone are the days when writers would sharpen their quill pen, dip into an inkwell, and refer to dusty reference books for pertinent data. Some might still work this way. For the rest, a search engine, spell checker, and word processor are essential tools.

So, let’s look at how search can be improved beyond the ubiquitous Google machine.

Perplexity A.I.

Writing in today’s New York Times, Kevin Roose asks Can This A.I.-Powered Search Engine Replace Google? He is referring to Perplexity A.I., a year-old program built on ChatGPT that generates responses to questions “generally a paragraph or two long, sprinkled with citations to websites like NPR, The New York Times and Reddit, along with a list of suggested follow-up questions…”

Perplexity elaborates:

What are the unique features of Perplexity that set it apart from Google?

Perplexity AI offers several unique features that set it apart from Google. These include:

  1. Comprehensive Responses: Perplexity AI has the ability to synthesize information from diverse sources to provide comprehensive responses, unlike Google, which often returns a list of links or snippets of information23.
  2. Ad-Free User Experience: Perplexity AI provides an ad-free user experience, prioritizing the delivery of relevant and accurate information without ad interference, unlike Google, which relies on an ad revenue model3.
  3. Focus on Accuracy and Context-Rich Answers: Perplexity AI focuses on providing accurate, context-rich answers, making it a powerful tool for users seeking in-depth understanding of complex subjects2.
  4. Real-Time Information and Organization Features: Perplexity AI offers real-time information, accuracy, awareness, and organization features, providing users with the most current information in a well-organized manner4.
  5. Accuracy in Text Generation: Perplexity AI is known for its knack for generating more accurate text compared to other AI language models like ChatGPT and Google Bard5.

While Perplexity AI has these unique features, it’s important to note that it is still under development and may occasionally face challenges in generating accurate text5.

Let’s consider how a speechwriter might use a search engine. I first addressed this question back in 2006 and suggested 29 tools that were current at the time, noting:

You can wander through a lush forest of ideas in an online encyclopedia, way-back machines, and other arcane sources as you prepare to select the timber for your next project. But when you are up against a deadline and need a fact, quote, or an opinion, then, like a master carpenter who reaches for just the right drill bit or chisel, the accomplished writer needs to know which search tool to use for the job. The faster you can cut through the crap and find the facts, the sooner you’ll finish the project, and the more pleasing the result will be.

That decades-old list was a Google-fest. Since then, as Roose notes, “Google seems less invincible these days. Many users have complained that their Google search results have gotten clogged with spammy, low-quality websites…”

My post on how political speechwriters could use generative A.I. was built around the example of the British HS2 train debate. Let’s say your principal wants to engage an audience about this topic, and, unlike me, you are not from the railway town of Crewe — a key terminus of the now-canceled HS2 project. So you need some background, either to refer to in the presentation, or for the briefing book and ask “What was the importance of the railway industry in the growth of Crewe, England?”

Here’s the top of the list of links Google provides in response to this query:

A savvy speechwriter can dig into these references and extract enough detail for a summary of the importance of rail to the town’s growth.

Ask Perplexity the same question, and a succinct paragraph–with references–is returned:

The railway industry has been of great importance in the growth of Crewe, England. Crewe owes its existence to the railways, with the arrival of its station in the 1830s thanks to the Grand Junction Railway, which transformed the small rural village into a significant hub of the UK’s railway network 4. At its height, about 20,000 people were employed at Crewe Works, and although it is no longer such a major employer, a significant proportion of the workforce is still connected to the railways 4. The town’s strong historical links to the railway industry make it an ideal location for the headquarters of Great British Railways, and its rail heritage is celebrated at the Crewe Heritage Centre 4. The railway industry has played a critical role in the town’s development and continues to be an important part of its identity 4.

Red Flag Warning!

Surprisingly, when I chose the option for Perplexity to ‘rewrite’ the answer with the ‘Copilot’ (offering “a more accurate and thorough search”), it started hallucinating:

The railway industry played a pivotal role in the growth and development of Crewe, England. Crewe owes its existence to the railways, with the arrival of its station in the 1930s transforming it from a small rural village into a significant hub of the UK’s railway network.1. The railway company owned and controlled almost everything in Crewe until 1938, when the Crewe Corporation Act was passed4. At its peak, the railway industry employed 20,000 people at Crewe Works, and even though it’s no longer such a major employer, a significant proportion of the workforce is still connected to the railways1. The town has retained and attracted many rail and rail supply chain businesses, which have innovated and evolved over time5. Crewe’s railway heritage has also contributed to its visitor economy, with its key role in the development of the railways attracting tourists 3. Today, while other industries such as automobile and clothing manufacturing have emerged, railways remain important to the town 4.The railway industry’s influence on Crewe extends to its future growth prospects. The town’s role in High Speed 2, a major UK rail project, has been evolving since 2014, ensuring Crewe’s continued relevance in the UK railway network6. In summary, the railway industry has been integral to Crewe’s growth, shaping its economy, workforce, and identity.

This is wrong in so many ways: It transposed the 1930s and 1830; the Crewe Corporation Act was passed in 1949; very few “tourists” ever visit what is, frankly, a depressed northern town; and HS2 was canceled in October 2023.

Verification and fact-checking remain vital functions of a professional speech writer. I triangulated the facts listed above with…Google!

But, putting aside that faux pas, the follow-up questions Perplexity suggests in response to the original prompt lead to a more thorough explanation (this time mostly accurate, except it still missed the October 2023 cancellation).

Perplexity suggested asking, “What was the role of Crewe in the development of the railways?”

Crewe, England, played a pivotal role in the development of the railways. The town’s significance in the railway industry is evident from its transformation from a small hamlet into a thriving community, largely due to the establishment of the Grand Junction Railway Company’s station in the mid-19th century 1 2. Crewe became renowned as the world’s greatest railway workshop, with the production of locomotives steadily increasing through the 19th century, and it was the birthplace of thousands of locomotives2. The town’s economy has been strongly influenced by its historical connection to the railways, with the railway industry being a major employer at its peak, and its impact extending to the diversification of industries such as motor cars, computers, higher education, and optical equipment12. Crewe’s status as a significant railway hub is set to be further reinforced by the proposed HS2 high-speed rail project, which is expected to bring economic benefits and contribute to the town’s continued association with the railways 3. In summary, Crewe’s role in the development of the railways has been fundamental, shaping its history, economy, and identity as a “railway town.”


Provided you remain vigilant and cross-check the data, Perplexity is a valuable addition to a speechwriters’ toolkit . Unlike Google, it returns succinct paragraphs and suggests follow-up questions.

But remember, AT NO TIME should ANY generative A.I. text be simply cut ‘n paste into a speech. OK?

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