Last week saw two very important speeches - the State of the Union Address and the State of the State Address. Certainly the President and Governor had help writing those speeches. But what about candidates who have to deliver speeches on a regular basis? Would they benefit from having someone help them prepare their remarks?
We asked Maura Carabello, Managing Partner with the Exoro Group, whether it makes sense for politicians to hire a speechwriter, and what qualities they should be looking for.
Should politicians hire a speechwriter?
Yes, with the caveat being that some races don't have the resources. If you can't afford it or it doesn't make sense, you should definitely have someone that you trust read your speeches.
You should look for someone who can be picky with you or critique you aggressively. I would even tell you to hire someone even if it's a candidate who has strong skills, or at least hire someone to write your first draft of a speech for you.
What skills should you look for in a speechwriter?
There are two parts to a speech, and the writing and delivery have to be in sync. There's only one person in charge of delivery - and that's the candidate. A speechwriter needs to assess the candidate's skills in terms of delivery, their speaking style and ability, habits and other qualities.
I would look for someone who is a good listener. Someone who asks questions and has a good ear. You want someone who can pick up word choices and phrasing. A good speechwriter pays attention to a candidates ability to tell a story or preference to not tell stories. You want someone who understands storytelling.
You want someone who wants to spend some time with you first. Someone who wants to observe you in a small group setting. Someone who is about the candidate's agenda, not their own. They should be able to absorb what the candidate wants.
At the end of the day, you should look for a speechwriter who wants to push you and your style. They should push you hard, but don't want to change the candidate. The speechwriter must respect the delivery and the channel. If you are low key, don't pick someone who can't do low key. If you’re not someone who can whoop up a crowd with a call and response, then you look like an idiot when you try to do a call and response.
You should look for someone who can be creative and imaginative. Great speechwriters can be creative. Verbal speech needs rhythm and flow and lift. That's different than the written word. When you see speech written - doesn't look the same.
How do you craft a speech and decide what message you want to get across in a speech?
It differs from case to case.
Most importantly, you have to come to the table with some research. A speechwriter has to know policy briefings, and have a familiarity with issues. I think a well-done speech talks about the topical points and the emotions you want to evoke. What concepts do you want to convey?
Not so great speechwriting processes just include the white paper element and don't have an emotional aspect.
Once you have the information part done, put all of that aside and free write your first draft. Somewhere in the first draft, take a break...go get a sandwich. I self-edit twice before show it to someone else. Breeze through it once before you start to pay attention to the mechanics.
Good writers don't box themselves in. Don't stop yourself from writing the great lyric, because you can edit it later on.
It’s extremely important at every stage of the process to say it out loud. It may look good on paper, but when you try and say it, it sounds weird. Write it, then say it.
At that point you show it to the candidate and senior people. Some candidates have surprisingly little input. Some edit through delivery. If the candidate is an offhand speechmaker, you allow your team to edit it as you practice it.
Where do you find a speechwriter?
That’s a tough question in Utah. We don’t have a lot of politicos waiting for the next big election.
You can find a good speechwriter by looking for good communications people in companies. Retired journalists are another good place to look.
You could go to your party's website - they certainly have a “farm system” for speechwriters. But, if you're looking for a creative place, universities are nice hubs. Look for an articulate professor who speaks in large venues. Essentially they are giving speeches every day, so that could prove to be an effective source for someone who can write speeches.
Go back to elected officials you have admired in the past, or tap into who they use. There are generations of people who did speechwriting for them. Those people may be out of the game right now, but they haven’t lost their ability in that department.
There are people and consulting firms in town and PR firms in town as well if you want to look for someone outside the box.