Political speechwriters prepare speeches for individuals in the political arena. They write for politicians in all branches of government, from the local and state level to the national level, including the president of the United States.
Political Speechwriter Career History
History is filled with politicians who were renowned as great orators. But what about those who helped them write the compelling and memorable speeches? Undoubtedly, all politicians have had some help with writing their speeches through history. The first president of the United States, George Washington, is said to have received help with his speeches from Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Judson Welliver is generally considered to be the first person employed as a speechwriter for a U.S. president, serving Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s. Nowadays, full-time speechwriters employed in the official White House Office of Speechwriting help the president craft memorable speeches. Presidents are not the only ones who sometimes need help creating a captivating and inspiring speech—politicians at every level and branch of government utilize speechwriters to communicate their ideas to a variety of audiences.
Political Speechwriter Job Description
Political speechwriters write speeches for politicians, or they may assist the politician in composing a speech. A politician may need speechwriters for several reasons.
Many politicians are extremely busy and simply do not have the time to write the many speeches they need to give. Others may not feel comfortable writing their own speeches and require the presence of a speechwriter to help them make sense of what they want to say, and how they want to convey that message in a speech. Still other politicians may have excellent ideas for their speeches but need help communicating their vision to others.
A political speechwriter usually begins writing a speech once a topic is selected. They may have a topic assigned to them, or they may have to determine the topic of the speech themselves. To do this, a speechwriter may meet with the politician for whom they are writing to receive his or her input. A speechwriter might also meet with representatives of the group to which the politician will be speaking, in order to discover their concerns and ensure that they are addressed in the speech. Next, the speechwriter will typically research the topic to be mentioned in the speech. To do this, they may utilize the resources of libraries, the Internet, or interview knowledgeable authorities in the field.
Once a speechwriter has gathered enough initial information, they begin to write the speech. Speechwriters must keep several things in mind while writing the speech. They need to ensure that the speech sounds like it was written by the politician who will ultimately be delivering it. They also need to keep in mind who will be hearing the speech, making sure that the speech is written so that it will be not only be understood by the intended audience, but that it will also be persuasive and effective in delivering the politician’s message. The speechwriter is also concerned with the mechanics of good speechwriting: allowing the speaker to engage the audience; providing clear, key points of the speech that can be easily recognized and digested by the audience; and ensuring that the audience identifies positively with the speaker by the end of the speech. They also have to be concerned with more mundane issues, such as making sure the speech does not exceed any time limits.
After the speechwriter finishes a rough draft of a speech, it will need to be approved by the politician delivering it. Depending on the individual, he or she may or may not have had any interaction with the speech-writer until this stage. The politician, as well as his or her advisers, may revise the speech and send it back to the speechwriter for additional work, changing anything the politician or advisers are not satisfied or comfortable with. At this point, the speech may be shuffled back and forth several more times before it is finally approved.
After the speech is approved, the speechwriter may be responsible for producing the speech in its final form, which varies across different situations. The speech may need to be typed on easily readable note cards for a politician speaking in a small auditorium, or the speech might need to be on a computer disk that can be input into a Teleprompter and displayed on a monitor for the politician to read at a large rally or televised event.
Political Speechwriter Requirements
Since speechwriters need to be strong communicators, you should take as many English, speech, and communications courses as you can. Take courses in civics, history, and government as well. If possible, join a speech or debate team to gain experience researching current events, analyzing data, and presenting information to others.
You will need a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a field related to communications or political science, to become a political speechwriter. In addition to taking as many writing, speech, and communications classes as you can, you should pursue a well-rounded education, taking courses in history and politics.
To be a successful speechwriter, you must stay up-to-date with current events and daily news. You must be flexible and able to integrate late-breaking news items into speeches you have written. You must also be able to work under pressure and meet deadlines. Because speechwriters need to interact with others, you should have good people skills.
Exploring Political Speechwriter Career
The best way to find out if speechwriting is something you wish to pursue is to write as often as possible. The more you write, the more you will improve your skills. You can practice writing speeches on your own, or you can participate with your school’s speech or debate teams. Join local groups to learn the basics of effective public speaking so you can write more successful speeches. Reading famous speeches will also help you to understand the components of a successful speech. You can also join nonprofit or political organizations and offer to assist with public speaking events. This will give you the opportunity to make contacts, observe their operations, and you might even get an opportunity to assist a speechwriter with research.
Most political speechwriters work for politicians or political consulting groups. Many jobs are in Washington, D.C., but there are opportunities available across the nation at the state and local government levels. One thing to keep in mind: It can be very difficult to write speeches supporting issues that go against you own views or morals. If you find employment with a politician who is closely aligned with your own opinions on issues that are important to you, your job will be easier and have the potential to be very rewarding.
One of the most important and effective ways of getting started as a political speechwriter is to make connections with people involved in politics. Volunteer for political campaigns and be an advocate of public policy issues that interest you. You can make good connections and gain valuable experience, working or interning in the offices of your state capital. You might also try for an internship with one of your state’s members of Congress; contact their offices in Washington, D.C. for internship applications.
Some people pursue a career as a political speechwriter directly by working in the press offices of political candidates, starting out as assistants to speechwriters or press secretaries, advancing as they are able to demonstrate their ability and as opportunities arise. Others make the jump to speechwriting after having worked in the political arena as lawyers, lobbyists, or journalists.
Political speechwriters have many advancement options. Entry-level speechwriters may progress from doing mostly research, to writing some low-profile speeches, to writing more important speeches. They may also start by working with politicians at the local level and move on to work with more prestigious politicians at the state or national levels. Or they may find themselves promoted to speechwriting positions that have more supervisory and organizational responsibilities, such as managing a team of speechwriters.
Some political speechwriters advance to non-speech-writing positions within public administration; for example, they may become politicians or political consultants. They may also make the transition to a career in media, finding employment as a writer, journalist, or a career in public relations.
Salaries for speechwriters (including political speechwriters) range from $53,000 to $68,000, with a median salary of $60,500. Entry-level speechwriters typically earn much less, sometimes starting around $20,000, and experienced speechwriters who work with high-profile politicians may make considerably more, earning salaries of $100,000 or more. Salaries also depend on geographical location and the level of government for which the speechwriter writes.
The work environment of political speechwriters can vary. At times, they may find themselves working in a relatively quiet office. They may also find themselves traveling on a crowded bus, train, or plane with the politician for whom they are writing, trying to craft a speech that needs to be finished by the time they arrive at their next destination. Work hours in this profession can be long and very irregular. This is especially the case when a speechwriter is working for a major political candidate on the campaign trail.
The work environment, whether it is on the road or in the office, has the potential to be frantic, noisy, and stressful. Politicians, political advisers, and speechwriters may have opposing views of what needs to be included in a speech, leading to heated exchanges. Speechwriters may have to make last-minute changes to a speech based on the day’s news events, all with the stress of deadlines looming. That said, not all speechwriters are employed in these high-pressured settings. Depending on their employer, a speechwriter may also work in a typical office environment, with fairly regular work hours.
Political Speechwriter Career Outlook
The U.S. Department of Labor does not provide employment outlook information for the career of political speechwriter. It is safe to say, though, given the prevalence of politics and the importance of effective communication in the world today, that political speechwriters will have steady employment opportunities for the next decade.