Ask a little kid what they want to be when they grow up. They’ll never say “speechwriter.”
Is it any wonder?
Consider this from the May 18, 2009, New Yorker regarding a Malaysian politician:
Anwar was removed from the cabinet. He was charged with corruption -- and with sodomizing his speechwriter-- and convicted.
This could be one reason young people seldom ache to become speechwriters.
Speechwriters seem to materialize like mushrooms on a rainy morning. So where do they come from?
Usually, a diffident journalist or public relations staffer with passable brain bandwidth is “called upon” to write a speech for a client. Ta-da! A speechwriter is born.
Speechwriters are instrumental in articulating an organization's platforms. They put ideas on paper for a client to react to, adapt and adopt as his or her own.
But many clients take their speechwriter’s first draft and run with it without adding much thought of their own.
I was so struck by an experience with a newbie CEO that I fictionalized it in one of my novels (not yet published):
Lauterbach needed a motivational message for his first speech to his company’s employees as their new chief executive. After their exhausting effort to develop and launch the cluster product, the rank and file – more than 600 of them -- had to be re-energized for the implementation phase.
“The story you wrote about me in the newspaper made me look like a leader,” he said to Jenny. “If you can get that perception across in my first talk to the folks, that will give me a great head-start.”
Jenny asked him what he wanted to cover in the speech.
“Why don’t you write something for me to look at?”
With that, he ended the brief meeting. He had given her no direction, no idea of his strategy for Network Dynamics, no call to action.
“What made them hire this guy to run their company?” Jenny asked herself.
A week later, she was in his office for their scheduled 7:00 AM meeting. While he read her draft, Jenny sipped coffee from a china cup. She was too nervous to mix in sugar and cream, as she usually drank it, and the black coffee scalded her tongue. Like the last time she was in his office, not a single file folder, notepad or sheet of paper was on the desk except for her draft. She watched him turn each page of the speech as he read. He got to the last page, scanned it and said, “This is good. I can go with this.”
What do you mean, “go with this?” she thought. I made everything up! Don’t you even want to discuss it? Add some ideas of your own? Change some words, at least?
She put her thoughts aside and said, “I’m happy you’re comfortable with it.”
As she exited the building, Jenny was embarrassed to remember that she had left her half-empty coffee cup on his desk, complete with lipstick smear.
Incidents like this help explain why speechwriting pays so well. The pay could be even better if buggering a reluctant speechwriter qualified as billable time.
In my next blog: Can Single-Malt Scotch Help Your Career?