Political Speech Writing

By Eric Hammer

Believe it or not, very few politicians actually write their own speeches. In most cases, they work with someone who is a paid professional in political speech writing to help them to write effective speeches, which they may then tweak on their own.

Even politicians who clearly know how to write well like President Barack Obama often do not write their own speeches. Partially, this is because they may not be comfortable with the idea. However, this is also in part because they just don’t have time. Politicians must deliver hundreds of speeches a year and even the best of them can’t keep up with coming up with something effective to say on whatever subject they happen to be speaking about.

Of course, politicians can also get themselves into some serious hot water when they work with others who are in the business of political speech writing. Take for example Carl Paladino, the former gubernatorial candidate in New York State. Many people say that his campaign was struck a fatal blow when he simply read a speech word for word that was prepared for him by an ultra-orthodox rabbi which criticized the gay lifestyle. In a liberal state like New York, this was a death sentence for his campaign when word got out about what he’d said. Therefore, politicians who hire speech writers tend to want to vet their candidates thoroughly in order to make sure you know what you’re doing and that your own views will mesh well with the candidate or politician.

How Much Can You Make?

As with most jobs that involve freelancing rather than working for someone, the amount you can earn varies widely. Most political speech writers get by, making around the same amounts that many freelance journalists and authors make, in other words, just barely a living – maybe $20,000 a year. However, for those who make it to the top of the profession, for example, those who are hired to work regularly with presidential campaigns and who may even become "advisors" of a sort to the president, the money you make could easily top $200,000.

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In addition to political speech writing, it is possible to land work helping others to write effective speeches. CEOs for example, while not generally in the habit of making political speeches often hire professional speech writers to help them prepare an effective speech for stockholders or for a press conference.

You may also be able to make a nice living helping ordinary people write speeches, for example when they have lifecycle events (bar/bat mitzvah, communion, wedding, etc.). Many people feel extremely uncomfortable making speeches and will pay good money to hire professional speech writers to help them.

Finally, a related skill to speech writing is writing opinion articles for the newspaper which are then published under someone else’s name (i.e. ghost writing). These kinds of articles are sometimes written by professional writers who are given a rough outline of what the politician wants to say and then put into quality prose by someone who works in the background.

Qualifications / Requirements

Becoming a political speech writer does not technically require any formal licensing or training, however, realistically you probably want to take a major in either journalism or political science in college in order to get into this business. People will feel more comfortable hiring you if they know you understand how to put things briefly and succinctly, while at the same time conveying a particular idea, skills you may get from either of those majors.

First Steps

Start by studying famous speeches and reading a number of books on writing speeches (see below). Learn some of the techniques of professionals speech writers (for example, many professional speech writers will group things into threes for the simple reason that human mind seems to be wired to accept things in groups of three more readily – think Winston Churchill’s famous "blood sweat and tears" or Hitler’s (for a sharp contrast) famous "eine volke, eine reich, eine furher" ("one people, one country, one leader").

Another common thing that many speech writers use is the contrast – as in John F. Kennedy’s famous "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country," or Winston Churchill’s combination of the two techniques, "Never has so much been done for so many by so few."

You need to learn these techniques and others of speech writing and only then start looking for work. Start with small time campaigns where they may not have the money to hire professional speech writers. Offer to volunteer. If your speeches help your candidate to get elected, your name will become known as well and their career will help launch your career.


Ask Deb: How to Become a Speechwriter – While more generalized than the topic of this article, this is still a good resource for those interested in the art of speech writing with some great information.

Amazon: So You’d Like to be a Presidential Speechwriter – This is a kind of course of study on the subject of political speech writing. While not nearly as comprehensive as you might want, it’s a good place to get started.

NPR: The Inside Art of Political Speech Writing – While not a guide on how to become a speech writer, this is essential reading for you nonetheless as it covers some of the techniques in speech writing.

Scholastic: Tips from the Insiders: How to Write a Political Speech – Another guide to the practical side of writing speeches as opposed to a how to get the job guide, but still a very useful read.

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