You ordinarily see a speaker on stage for just a short time – but in most cases, an enormous amount of effort has gone into preparing for that brief performance. There’s content to write, facts, figures and references to gather, media and visual aids to design and set up … and then comes all the practice required to pull off a polished, professional presentation. With all that has to be done, all the special skills required, and the time investment required (not to mention stage fright, which can be a serious concern) it’s no wonder so many people would rather do almost anything rather than speak in public!
Still, presenting is a mandatory part of many a job description. In such a job there may be no way to avoid presenting, but there are ways to reduce the time and effort of preparation. One way is to hire a speechwriter to compose their messages. But is this really a good move? Is it more appropriate that you write your own speeches? After all, you’re the one who’s been invited (or required) to share your own thoughts. It’s you who knows your subject, and probably your audience as well. Why would you entrust your presentation’s most important element to someone who may not know the subject, and probably isn’t familiar with your audience?
When to Hire a Speechwriter
Those are valid considerations, and in some cases the answer to the question, “to hire or not to hire” is a definite “no.” But there are also cases where having someone else compose your talk may be the best way to go. Here are three examples:
- You’re at a loss for words. Sometimes expressing your thoughts in a clear, organized, effective way is just too big a challenge. If wordsmithing just isn’t part of your strong skill set, hiring a competent writer can be the best route to expressing your message with sufficient polish and punch.
- You’re short of time. If your schedule between now and presentation day is already too loaded to allow for decent speechwriting, hire away. Important public figures, high-level executives and other thought leaders are often confronted with such a situation. They’re the ones event organizers turn to for inspirational talks and keynote addresses – but they’re also the ones with the least open time to do justice to the task. That’s why CEOs, politicians and similar figures retain and work with speechwriting pros – but anyone could face a time-crush scenario now and then.
- Only perfection will do. When your talk is so important that only a perfectly-polished masterpiece will do, you may need to call in a pro. Even if you’re quite sure of what you want to say, and a clear idea of how you want to say it, there are times when getting it exactly right calls for the special skills and experience of a top-flight speechwriter – one who will work closely with you to get every bit just right, then add the fine touches that make it a sure winner.
What to Look For
When searching for a speechwriter, remember these two guidelines:
- Find someone who’s sufficiently familiar with your subject matter. For example, a politician would hire a specialist who was politically aware, familiar with the issues at hand, and in close touch with current events and the target audience too.
- Find someone who can write in your voice. A truly competent speechwriter studies the person he’s writing for – her background, her previous speeches and writings, her “public personality.” This enables the writer to compose a speech that sounds totally natural – as if the speaker herself had written every word. When this is done right, the audience has no clue the words aren’t all the speaker’s own. So find a writer who can empathize with your personality and principles.
Needless to say, you can’t expect your writer to just magically produce a great speech without any consultation. It’s usually at least a two-step process. You supply the message, important facts and figures, information about the audience, your objectives and the details of the speaking event, and the speechwriter comes back with a first draft.
Now it’s your turn to read through the draft, make notes, verify that facts are stated correctly, and work back and forth with the writer to make necessary changes and add a final polish.
When the job’s done right, the speech should be easy for you to prepare and a pleasure to deliver. And it will have exactly the intended impact on your lucky audience.