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A speechwriter is a person who is hired to prepare and write speeches that will be delivered by another person. Speechwriters are employed by many senior-level elected officials and executives in the government and private sectors. They can also be employed to write for weddings and other social occasions.
Skills and training
A speechwriter works directly with senior executives or leaders to determine what points, themes, positions, or messages the executive would like to cover. Speechwriters need to be able to accept criticism and comments on the different drafts of the speech, and be able to incorporate the proposed changes into the draft. Speechwriters have to be able to work on several different speeches at once, and manage their time so that they can meet strict deadlines for finishing the speech on time. Speechwriters must also be able to accept anonymity, because with few exceptions, speechwriters are not officially credited or acknowledged. This aspect creates a dilemma for historians and compilers of speech anthology; namely, when some poignant phrase gains popularity such as John F. Kennedy's "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,". Should credit be given to the President, to speechwriter Ted Sorensen, or to both? Professional speechwriter Lawrence Bernstein writes:
Some clients have called with six months to spare, others with four hours to go; some want to meet up first, others want coaching afterwards; quite a few did everything by email and we’ve never even spoken.
While there is a guild called "The UK Speechwriters' Guild" for professional speechwriters, they do not usually have specific training in the area or field for which they are writing speeches. Instead, speechwriters often have a broad understanding of basic economics, political roles, and policy issues, which make them generalists who are able to "translate" complex economic and policy issues into a clear message for the general public. As with many other writing occupations, most speechwriters do not have specific training in their writing craft. Instead, speechwriters often develop their speech writing skills by combining a general liberal arts education (e.g., in political science, philosophy, or English literature) with a variety of work experience in politics, public administration, journalism, or a related field.
The delivery of the speech is part of the challenge speechwriters face when crafting the message. Executive speechwriter Anthony Trendl writes:
Speechwriters specialize in a kind of writing that merges marketing, theater, public relations, sales, education and politics all in one presentation.
A perennial challenge for speechwriters is writing authoritatively about topics for which they may know very little. As executive speechwriter Ben Roberts notes:
To be a successful speechwriter you must be able to digest large volumes of information quickly and become an 'expert for a day', as I like to say - rapidly acquiring information, condensing it into a coherent narrative, and then promptly forgetting it so you have room for the next lot of information...The key challenge in this is identifying what you need to know and what you don't need to know.
Writing a speech involves several steps. A speechwriter has to meet with the executive and the executive's senior staff to determine the broad framework of points or messages that the executive wants to cover in the speech. Then, the speechwriter does his or her own research on the topic to flesh out this framework with anecdotes and examples. The speechwriter will also consider the audience for the speech, which can range from a town-hall meeting of community leaders to an international leaders' forum. Then the speechwriter blends the points, themes, positions, and messages with his or her own research to create an "informative, original and authentic speech" for the executive.
The speechwriter then presents a draft version of the speech to the executive (or the executive's staff) and makes notes on any revisions or changes that are requested. If the speechwriter is familiar with the topic and the positions and style of the executive, only small changes may be needed. In other cases, the executive may feel that the speech does not have the right tone or flow, and the entire speech may have to be re-drafted.
Some notable political speechwriters include:
- Eva Christiansen wrote for Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel
- Henri Guaino wrote for French President Nicolas Sarkozy
- Sir Ronald Millar wrote for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
- Thilo Sarrazin wrote for German Minister of Finance and Defence Hans Apel
- Reuben Abati, wrote for President Goodluck Jonathan
- Olusegun Adeniyi, wrote for President Yar'Adua
- Farooq Kperogi, wrote for President Olusegun Obasanjo
- Historians believe Alexander Hamilton may have written speeches for President George Washington.
- David Humphreys wrote for Washington.
- Henry Lee wrote for President Andrew Jackson.
- William Dodd wrote for President Woodrow Wilson.
- Judson T. Welliver wrote for President Warren G. Harding in 1921 and is considered the first official presidential speechwriter, in the modern sense of the occupation
- Welliver also wrote for Harding's successor, President Calvin Coolidge.
- Samuel Rosenman wrote for both Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
- Robert E. Sherwood wrote for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- Orson Welles wrote for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- Samuel Beer wrote for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- Hugh S. Johnson wrote for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- Raymond Moley wrote for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- George Elsey wrote for Harry Truman.
- Ken Hechler wrote for Harry Truman.
- Josef Berger wrote for Truman and President Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Emmet John Hughes wrote for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
- Malcolm Moos wrote for Dwight Eisenhower.
- William B. Ewald Jr. wrote for Dwight Eisenhower.
- Arthur Larson wrote for Dwight Eisenhower.
- Richard N. Goodwin wrote for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote for John F. Kennedy.
- Theodore "Ted" Sorensen wrote for John F. Kennedy.
- John E. Pickering wrote for Kennedy.
- Harry J. Middleton wrote for Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Bob Hardesty wrote for Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Harry J. Middleton wrote for Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Pat Buchanan wrote for President Richard Nixon.
- Ben Stein wrote for Richard Nixon.
- William Safire wrote for Richard Nixon.
- George Gilder wrote for Richard Nixon.
- David Gergen wrote for Richard Nixon.
- Jeffrey Hart wrote for Richard Nixon.
- John McLaughlin wrote for Richard Nixon.
- Raymond Siller wrote for Presidents Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
- Ken Khachigian wrote for both President Richard Nixon and President Ronald Reagan.
- Aram Bakshian wrote for both President Nixon and President Gerald Ford.
- Ray Price also wrote for both Nixon and Ford.
- Robert T. Hartmann wrote for Gerald Ford.
- Robert Orben wrote for Gerald Ford.
- James Fallows wrote for President Jimmy Carter.
- Chris Matthews wrote for Jimmy Carter.
- Hendrik Hertzberg wrote for Jimmy Carter.
- Walter Shapiro wrote for Jimmy Carter.
- Peggy Noonan wrote for both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
- Peter Robinson also wrote for both Reagan and H.W. Bush.
- John Podhoretz also wrote for both Reagan and H.W. Bush.
- Landon Parvin also wrote for Reagan and both Bush Presidents.
- Mari Maseng Will wrote for Ronald Reagan.
- Clark S. Judge wrote for Ronald Reagan.
- Anthony R. Dolan wrote for Ronald Reagan.
- Ben T. Elliott wrote for Ronald Reagan.
- K. T. McFarland wrote for Ronald Reagan.
- Mark Palmer wrote for Ronald Reagan.
- Christopher Buckley wrote for George H. W. Bush.
- Curt Smith wrote for George H.W. Bush.
- Michael Johns wrote for George H. W. Bush.
- Andrew Ferguson wrote for George H. W. Bush.
- Tony Snow wrote for George H. W. Bush.
- Michael Waldman wrote for Bill Clinton.
- Mark Katz wrote for Bill Clinton.
- Jeff Shesol wrote for Bill Clinton.
- Josh Gottheimer wrote for Bill Clinton.
- Michael A. Sheehan wrote for Bill Clinton.
- David Shipley wrote for Bill Clinton.
- Katherine Reback wrote for Bill Clinton.
- Andrei Cherny wrote for Bill Clinton.
- Charlie Fern wrote for both First Lady Laura Bush and President George W. Bush.
- David Frum wrote for George W. Bush.
- Michael Gerson wrote for George W. Bush.
- William McGurn wrote for George W. Bush.
- Marc Thiessen wrote for George W. Bush.
- Adam Garfinkle wrote for George W. Bush.
- Matt Latimer wrote for George W. Bush.
- Matthew Scully wrote for George W. Bush.
- Jay Nordlinger wrote for George W. Bush.
- Jon Favreau wrote for President Barack Obama.
- Cody Keenan wrote for Barack Obama.
- Sarah Hurwitz wrote for Barack Obama.
- David Litt wrote for Barack Obama.
- Jon Lovett wrote for Barack Obama.
- Cody Keenan wrote for Barack Obama.
- Aneesh Raman wrote for Barack Obama.
- Stephen Miller wrote for President Donald Trump.
- Brittany Baldwin wrote for Donald Trump.
- Michael Anton wrote for Donald Trump.
Some fictional speechwriters include: James Hobert, speechwriter for the fictional Mayor of New York City Randall Winston on Spin City. Toby Ziegler, Sam Seaborn and later on, Will Bailey all wrote for the Bartlet Administration on The West Wing. Other fictional characters that are speechwriters include Violet Evergarden from the anime, Violet Evergarden, who wrote for any client who requested her through the C.H. Postal Company or any client who requested her by other means.
- Ghostwriter, a professional writer who is paid to write books, articles, stories, or reports which are officially credited to another person
- Judson Welliver Society, a social club of former presidential speechwriters
- "Speechwriter - Federal Government Job Profile". Archived from the original on 2009-01-23. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
- Bernstein, Lawrence. "Great Speech Writing".
- Trendl, Anthony. "Speechwriter Value".
- Roberts, Ben. "Writing Speeches with Impact".
- "Meet Merkel's 'girl camp': The secretive group of women keeping the German Chancellor in power". Retrieved 2018-07-19.
- Catherine Donaldson-Evans (May 12, 2005). "Different Writer, Same President". FoxNews.com. Retrieved 2009-06-12.
- Pilkington, Ed (2009-01-20). "Obama inauguration: Words of history ... crafted by 27-year-old in Starbucks". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-05-23.