Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Guest Post: Speechwriting never goes out of style

by David Murray

Tonight's the State of the Union Address, and today is the one day of the year when professional speechwriters emerge into the sunlight of cable news punditry, to bask for a day in their own importance as shapers of policy, articulators of arguments and supporters of leaders. And everyone vaguely wonders, "What kind of people are these, anyway?"

Today I'm here to answer that question, perhaps as authoritatively as it's ever been answered, with the results of the first survey of the global speechwriting profession.

First, I should say: I go back with these people. The very first business conference I ever attended in my first job out of college was a conference of speechwriters. I was assigned to work in the cloakroom.

So now, as the founder and executive director of the Professional Speechwriters Association, I can reliably interpret the findings of our first membership survey (co-conducted with Gotham Ghostwriters): Although the set and costumes have been rearranged—speechwriters no longer smoke pipes, nor research their speeches by leafing through quotation books, nor wear cloaks—the players remain and the script is unchanged.

See for yourself. According to the PSA survey:

• Speechwriters are older than their colleagues in public relations, more likely to be male, better educated—and better paid. 
The typical speechwriter is a 51-year-old man with a master's degree. More than half of the speechwriters surveyed make more than $100K, with 23 percent pulling in more than $150K (and half of those making over $200K).

• Speechwriters found their way into their work through serendipity.
Some speechwriters claimed a method to their professional madness, with one saying he joined the business "to fuse my love of writing with my love of policy/politics."

In a more typical answer to the question, "Why did you become a speechwriter in the first place?" one PSA member wrote that he "stumbled into the job—CEO needed a speech."

• Speechwriters love their work, and hate their work.
Asked what they like most about speechwriting, speechwriters said, "shaping public debates," "finding and telling stories," "intellectual and creative challenge and reward," "the variety of topics and amazing people that I get to work with," and "the silent hours when I through writing try to understand and share something important."

What do speechwriters like least about the job? Solitude, short deadlines, slow workflow, lawyers, leaders' indifference. Speechwriters resent clients who "don't care about content" and bureaucrats who care too much.

"I have to contend with constant micro-managing by people who see risk lurking in every corner and are afraid of letting the CEO take any kind of position," one speechwriter said. "They also have no feel for what constitutes good writing yet exert a huge influence over the process."

• Speechwriters fear for the future… 
Speechwriters feel threatened by new challenges, such as the increasing use of the Q-and-A format and other informal presentation techniques to replace formal speeches. And they face timeless ones, such as quantifying the strategic value of their work and "the everlasting suspicion of rhetoric."

• …and speechwriters envision a brighter future. 
Now that they're getting organized for the first time in a global association, they have very specific requests of their new Professional Speechwriters Association: They told us they don't want another rigid structure in their lives, nor an elaborate guild or union, but straight-up professional development and an expanded network through online and in-person networking programs.

Speechwriters are a joy and a pleasure to serve, because they're the most erudite, intense, joyful people in the communication profession. They're also the most frustrated. Now that they have a platform to organize, I hope they'll realize their potential as powerful actors in their organizations and in society.

Yes, I go back with these people. Now we'll go forward together.

David Murray is executive director of the Professional Speechwriters Association. He's also editor of Vital Speeches of the Day magazine.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Around the Word: Another Year, Another Roundup

Happy 2015, writers! Bidding goodbye to 2014 brought the inevitable influx of year-end roundups and articles on how to be a better reader and writer in the coming year. We waded through all the listicles and think pieces to bring you the highlights.

Up for a Challenge? 
Book Riot created the 2015 Read Harder Challenge for you adventurous readers looking to push your literary boundaries in the coming year. There are 24 book tasks total—two per month for the entire year—and the goal of the challenge is to “inspire you to pick up books that represent experiences and places and cultures that might be different from your own.” Tasks include reading a book that was originally published in another language or one written by someone when they were under the age of 25. Unlike many reading challenges, this one is definitely about quality rather than quantity.

National Novel Editing 
Last November’s National Novel Writing Month is over, but if you participated, your editing process may have just begun. If so, GalleyCat’s proposed literary resolution is for you: edit that NaNoWriMo manuscript. To assist in the process, they’ve put together a bunch of TED-Ed videos on grammar, word choice, and crafting stories.

Read More, Faster 
Feeling guilty that you never finished your 2014 to-read list? Head over to Shelf Awareness where you’ll find some short but sweet advice on how to make easily achievable reading lists.

Best of 2014 
If you’re not interested in resolutions or challenges and just want some good “best of” lists, the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and the Washington Post have all compiled their favorite books from 2014.

Looking forward, Flavorwire revealed their “Book Publishing Predictions” for the coming year and the Millions released their “Most Anticipated” books of 2015. 2014 may be over but we can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store.