How to Choose a Speechwriter
There are literally thousands of freelance speechwriters out there, each with their own personality, specialty and skill level. If you do a Google search, you’ll find way too much information. And, unfortunately, unless you’re looking for a speechwriter to write a speech about SEO-based web content, the first one on the list in Google is not necessarily the best one for you.
Here are a few factors to consider when narrowing down the selection:
Geography – Although the ease of modern communication no longer makes geography the limiting factor it used to be, it definitely is a bigger factor when choosing a speechwriter than most other writing specialties out there. A speechwriter worth his fee is going to make an effort to capture your voice and manner and mold the speech he writes to fit the tone and message you are going for. If you never meet, that job is not as easy as it could be, even for a talented professional. The most practical means of doing this effectively is by means of face-to-face interviews. You can get around this by means of telephone, video conference, e-mail and other forms of instant or near-instant messaging. But you and your writer both may prefer the face-to-face method. This becomes an expensive proposition if a plane ticket is involved every time.
Specialty – As is the case across the writing field, speechwriters tend to be generalists in that they will take on any project they feel they can handle successfully. But, every speechwriter will also have a particular subject, format or media that they specialize in. If you are an executive on the board of a cutting-edge technology corporation looking to have a speech written for your annual stockholders meeting, and you know a speechwriter who your boss and seven other executives from similar companies have used under the same circumstances, you’re going to give him a second look. This is fair and right. But don’t overlook a writer new to your niche. You may very well find her fresh perspective creates that new twist on the material your audience has never even considered before!
Personality – Don’t ever underestimate the importance of getting along with this person you’re considering partnering with on one or more projects. No matter how great a writer he or she is, if they’re a jerk, it’s not going to be a pleasant transaction. Especially in the case of speechwriting, which requires more one-on-one face time with the client than most other writing pursuits, avoiding personality clashes becomes vital to the success of the project. You can get a good feel for a speechwriter’s personality by reading through their marketing materials and website, because (for obvious reasons) writers generally write their own. And, most freelancers realize that they really are their own brand. In other words, the only thing a freelance speechwriter has to sell, really, is herself and her skill. So, hopefully, she’s going to try to make both as appealing as possible.
Experience – This one’s tough, because a lot of a speechwriter’s body of work is secret by nature. Many speakers would prefer their readers don’t know they used a speechwriter because that eliminates a lot of the power that comes from public speaking: the impression that this individual is an expert on their topic and knows how to get their message across flawlessly. It is completely acceptable to ask for a client list and/or samples of work done for other clients, and most speechwriters should be able to comply. Remember though, that, at its heart, speechwriting is a unique form of writing. It’s a special skill in its own right, and may not be connected at all to the writer’s ability to put words on paper. One option to consider while you’re searching: call the writer up on the phone. Ask them a few questions and pay special attention to how they answer rather than just what they say. Consider their verbal skills as samples of their work. Do some searches to see if the writer is a speaker too. If the speechwriter speaks publicly about their own subjects of expertise, you’re getting a firsthand sample of their speechwriting ability. By seeking out these opportunities you’ll hopefully see a much thicker portfolio, even from a relatively green writer. Even though they didn’t write those speeches in a client’s name, you can judge the quality of the work on its own merits. By doing so, you may find there are a lot of very talented, enthusiastic up-and-coming writers out there who would do an incredible job on your project, and likely at a lower fee than some of the heavy hitters.