Working with a Speechwriter
You may be quite a capable speaker, but not a particularly clear writer. Or your career responsibilities may be so heavy that the last thing you want to do in your free time is to try to come up with inspiring words for a special occasion. You cannot simply turn over the task to someone who knows your style and is a good manager of some aspect of the business but not an experienced writer of speeches. In short, you may want to hire a speechwriter for an important event.
Never circulate an outline of a speech or a first draft to a large number of senior executives for comment. You will end up with the proverbial camel designed by committee or end up offending those whose advice you do not take. Instead, ask department heads to submit the most important points or news to touch on, then show the draft to a couple of trusted advisors.
The first challenge would be to find the right person. The best and quickest way would be to recall a speech you liked and ask the speaker if she can refer you. Otherwise, just send out an e-mail to your electronic Rolodex and you will probably get several recommendations. Or check ads in the local business journal (including classifieds). You can also call the local chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators at
Check your ego at the door. If you have never worked with a professional speechwriter, this may be the first time you will be getting a real critique of your speaking style. Make it clear that you do not want a yes-man who will tell you that all your proposed changes are fabulous and you are reading the result perfectly.
Some other public-speaking books recommend a long list of questions to be asked before you hire a speechwriter. That probably will not get you much closer to the ideal than the essential questions. If you did not find the writer through a recommendation, ask him for some references, ideally someone he has worked with more than once (if you can find a client he served on a tight deadline or who had a particularly demanding audience, all the better). Ask the reference for a sample speech she gave and to state off-the-record at least one weakness of the writer.
Ask the writer to give you the nearest example of his work for the type of speech you are going to give. This does not mean it has to have anything to do with the particular subject. You may be in the cement business and the speech you are shown may have been delivered to financial advisors, but if customer service was the theme, it should give you a sense of relevant content and style. Ask for a second sample that has nothing to do with your subject but that will show you how flexible the writer's style is in capturing different voices. If the writer has a problem giving you entire speeches because they belong to clients, he can still show you excerpts.
Another approach to vetting the right writer would be to pay him to suggest improvements to a couple of your prior speeches (only a desperate non-pro would do this for free, knowing that he may be just one of many candidates in a very preliminary process and that a critique that will impress you will take some time).
Expect to pay $50 to $100 or more per minute of the proposed speech length. Alternatively,
Do not have the writer depend on written speeches to get your voice: interviews with you are also important.
Ask for an estimated time for getting the first draft and be sure both of you will have time for follow-up work before the day it has to be delivered. The earlier in the process you can start working with the speechwriter, the better the result is likely to be and the less it will likely cost.
If you want to have the writer turn the speech into a visual presentation, like PowerPoint, you will be charged much more. The most helpful element of a speech the writer can get is a story — or multiple anecdotes that illustrate the points you want to make. This usually takes brainstorming to recall the best examples, so prepare to give this real thought, not just offer the first things that come to mind.
Make sure the main objective of the speech does not get lost in the frills: stories that are not entirely on point, jokes, cute phrases, quotes from great minds, alliteration. You want the audience to remember your message long after they heard you.