Speechwriting: Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Stay on message. Push in new directions. Make it sound like me. Let’s surprise the audience.

These are all directives I’ve received as I’ve started a speechwriting assignment. These suggestions seem to be at odds with one another, but they can come together if the person writing the speech has necessary information from and the trust of the person who will be giving the speech.

Therein lies the conundrum: Do you keep such assignments in-house, with people who know you and the material inside and out? Or do you take a chance on an external resource who can bring a different perspective and challenge your typical approach?

Determining the type of resource you need depends on your expectations for the end product and how collaborative you truly mean to be. Here are some things to consider:

Keeping In-House Helps If:

  • You need a lot of face-to-face to get the job done. Being able to walk down the hall and discuss the latest draft could be how you like to operate.
  • You have a short turnaround time and need your speech to be the top priority or move up in a staffer’s queue.
  • You need someone who has a lot of experience with your issues, preferences/style and audiences.

Keeping In-House Hinders If:

  • You are concerned that your angles and commentary are becoming a bit stale, especially if you deliver a lot of speeches each year.
  • The content a staffer is developing could be shaped by the perspectives and agendas of others in your organization, instead of the speaker alone.
  • You really need to push the envelope on a topic. An insider’s narrative could “play it too safe” because they may feel any feedback could jeopardize other areas of their job.

Contracting Out Works If:

  • You want a broader worldview. Consultants are exposed to multiple issues through their support of other clients — many of which may be in your field, or related to it. A consultant can connect the dots between issues, campaigns and other things they are in tune with.
  • You want to assess clarity, inclusive language and other elements that may be invisible to you because of your proximity to the topic.
  • You don’t always need the same level of support. Say you like to write your own speeches, but realize you need a good editor. With a consultant, you have more flexibility to customize the level of support you want without the pressure of keeping someone busy full-time.

Contracting Out Does Mean That:

  • There needs to be flexibility in the schedule for the consultant to get up to speed on issues quickly and remain in the know. The latter can be achieved by a consultant absorbing a weekly or monthly digest on the topic. You just need to budget for that.
  • Deadlines need to be carefully managed, since you are paying for only a portion of the consultant’s time. He or she is likely juggling multiple clients and deadlines and fitting your project in among a larger body of work.

I have had the pleasure of drafting speeches for clients as well as co-workers. In each experience, being effective relied on having a clear goal and collaborating throughout the writing process. If you can identify your goal and work together — no matter the resource — your speech is sure to make your audience sit up and take notice.