Guest Post by freelance writer Dorothea Helms
Helping people put into words what they want to say in public can be a fun and lucrative source of revenue for freelance writers. Ghostwriting speeches and/or remarks for businesspeople is like writing dialogue in fiction: you have to put yourself into the “voices” of your characters rather than write how you’d say things. Here are a few tips on how to approach speech writing for clients.
Before you write
- Know the main purpose of the speech. Is it to entertain? Inform? Educate? Inspire to action? This should affect everything you write for the job.
- Keep in mind the rhetoric (speaker-audience-message) triangle. The words you weave must be appropriate for all three.
- Know your speaker. Have a conversation with the person to discover their speaking style. Does your client speak with flowery words or in straightforward business talk? If you cannot meet in person, at least video call or chat over the phone.
- Know your client’s event participation and timing. Will they be giving a formal speech or adding some remarks to an agenda? Will your client be the emcee? How long should the presentation be? Most people speak at approximately 140 words per minute. If your client speaks slowly or quickly, adjust your word count accordingly. If your client is the emcee, you’ll need to add some occasional (DIRECTIONS) in caps and bracketed to indicate when introductions and other parts of the event occur.
- Know your client’s audience. Who will your client be addressing? The presentation must be appropriate for the audience.
THE SPEECH ITSELF:
There’s an old saying that is still valid in today’s professional presentation world: Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em; then tell ‘em; then tell ‘em what you told ‘em. This is a good rule of thumb for a formal speech. Regardless of any speech’s length or purpose, follow these tips for effectiveness.
- Research – be sure that any statistics or other information your client uses are accurate.
- Use powerful verbs – a good power verb will always be more effective than an adverb and a weak verb (think “crept” rather than “walked slowly”).
- Add humour only if appropriate – again, think of the audience. People can be easily offended. Audiences are diverse, and it’s wise to use a light hand with jokes or funny anecdotes.
- Add personal or other appropriate anecdotes – this can give a personal slant that connects the speaker to the audience. “I wonder if this has ever happened to you…”
- Simplify language and read your draft aloud – remember, writing for speaking is different from writing for reading. If you stumble over a sentence when reading out loud, rewrite that sentence.
- Stay in the active voice throughout – this will have much more impact on the audience.
- Avoid blanket sweeping statements – a statement that can’t possibly be true will turn off an audience. An example: “Everyone knows that …”
- Be positive – whenever appropriate, say what it is, not what it’s not – use the power of a positive voice. The subconscious processes only the positive, so when you say something like “real estate sales cannot get any worse,” you plant the seed that they can.
- Make the tone conversational – The audience should feel as though the speaker is communicating with them.
- Be ready to edit – Your client may love the speech as is; however, remain open to making changes if you are asked to. Often, a client looks at remarks differently once they are written down. That person might realize something should be added or removed. One of the speeches I wrote went through six drafts before being approved. The client was happy with the results and the fact that I didn’t take suggested changes personally. This point is appropriate for all business writing.
How to get speech writing assignments
- Your website
- Business cards
- Add speech writing to your Facebook, LinkedIn and other profiles.
- Advertise to local organizations, wedding planners, new businesses, etc.
- Corporate newsletters
- Trade journals
- Existing clients (this is a major source of speech writing jobs for me)
I have written speeches and remarks for all kinds of events from Bar Mitzvahs to condominium openings. You can too. My motto is: If you write well, you can write anything well.
From a college creative writing course to a freelance writer earning six-digit figures yearly, Dorothea Helms has come a long way, baby. Now semi-retired, she is still in demand for her writing/editing services, including ghostwriting speeches for business professionals. Her work has appeared in dozens of publications including Chatelaine, CBC.ca/Parenting, The Globe and Mail, Canadian Architecture & Design, LICHEN Arts & Letters Preview, Stitches the Journal of Medical Humour, and Homemakers, to name a few. Yes, four of those publications are no longer in existence, but Dorothea accepts no responsibility for their demise. Wherever Dorothea goes, humour follows.