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How to Hire a Speechwriter (and how Power Point fails you)

  A well-crafted speech can sell you, your company, a new strategy, your book or your message. As you make the speech your own, practicing and practicing, you’ll make small adjustments along the way. Ideally, your speechwriter will have enough interaction with you that the speech will sound much the way you talk, but better.



Speechwriting is a specific skill tying marketing to information and persuasion (and usually entertainment.)

The speechwriter may do some research related to your project, but generally, you or your company will be providing the core information. And you’ll need to provide lots of it. I’ve written half-hour to hour speeches. For one coherent message, I had to read through dozens of documents and interview one or more people to arrive at the content to be delivered.

Before you pick up the phone to call a speechwriter, the most important question to answer will be this: what is your core purpose for this speech? Every speech must communicate value, but who is your audience and why are you talking to them? Is this a membership drive for your organization? Is this a review of the deliverables you’ve provided to stockholders and stakeholders? Are you asking for money? Are you demonstrating how the money you were given was wisely spent? Are you proposing a new project or a new direction for your organization? Who are you trying to persuade and what do you want the audience’s take away to be?*

Shocker 1: Don’t depend on Power Point templates. They lock you into an outline that won’t suit your presentation.

Shocker 2: Don’t depend on Power Point to do all the work. The speech and how well you deliver it comes first. Power Point is not your speech. It is an accessory.

Shocker 3: They call it death by bullet point. Your Power Point slides should be mostly cartoons and pictures that accessorize your brilliant speech.

Shocker 4: Many good speakers do well without bothering with Power Point. Many poor speakers read their Power Point deck to the audience, turning their backs to the group. They lose their audience because the people in the chairs can read faster than you can speak.

What about fees? My fee for an hour presentation is $4,000 (not including Power Point.) Typically, one speech is delivered repeatedly and once I deliver the final product, it’s yours forever. Speechwriting is heady stuff. It’s the most exciting corporate work I do. Unlike unread pages at the back of an annual report, speeches can change things (laws, membership numbers, policy, income, and even minds.) If you have a speech you want crafted contact me about your project here.)

How to help your speechwriter:

A. Provide the fodder for the content. Your company or association has research. Make it all available to your writer and when he calls to ask a silly question, make time to answer that question. Remember, your writer is in the business of making you look great in front of a room of important people (whether you’re brilliant or not.)

B. For a great speech, give lots of warning to your writer. Long deadlines make for better speeches.

C. Whoever is to deliver the speech should probably be the contact person for the speechwriter. There are exceptions to this guideline, but please keep in mind a speech edited by a committee is like a horse put together by committee. You get a camel.

*The take away is the one core message the audience will be talking about when they get into the parking lot. They won’t remember much. Whatever the take away is, you want that part to be especially memorable. The most amazing speeches will only have two or three things that stick (and one of those things will be your best joke.)

Filed under: Speeches, speechwriting, ,

Mickey Spillane and Presidential Speeches

Whether you sniffed at Mickey Spillane’s prose or not, he was clearly a great guy who wrote a lot of books. (And I, the Jury is very readable stuff. Take a break from Atwood and read something with a plot for a change.)

A lot of people who don’t read, read Spillane. Yeah, I mean men. I do wish more men read. Male readers are becoming a weird minority subculture roughly equal in number to fart huffing fetishists (though I’m not suggesting there’s a set overlap in that example.)*

Spillane had a great life most authors could only dream about. Though prolific, he wasn’t always motivated. However, when his accountant called to tell him he was running out of money again, he suddenly found his muse.


*Which reminds me: In a recent post I discussed coming publishing trends. Here’s another: more graphic novels and a new category, graphic short stories (comic books are graphic short stories, but I mean your literary efforts illustrated.)

My own editor confessed that she’s reading shorter and shorter mag articles due to the demands on her attention and her time. The reading shift is even evident in presidential speeches. In Abraham Lincoln’s time, sentences in speeches were 60 words long. In modern times, 20 words is average.

Filed under: Speeches, speechwriting, Writers, , ,

How many words makes a minute?


I just finished another speech writing gig for a lobby group. It was an hour presentation. When the speech is that long it had better be good and it better be funny here and there to keep the audience from thinking about how numb their bums are getting.

Ever wonder how many words on paper equals how many minutes of a speech?

If you’re writing a radio script, I use the BBC standard of three words per second. However, for a speech, 125 words per minute is safe. That can still be a little fast for some. Power Point also adds a little time. Still, it’s useful as a rough guide and once the individual speaker does a run-through, you can cut from there.


Never make your speech exactly what appears on the screen. You’ll lose your audience as they read or, worse, your speaker will just read the Power Point visual. Instead, use the Power Point deck for (brief!) headings and let the speaker explain them a bit.

Filed under: speechwriting, ,


Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

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