The Born Freelancer Speaks Out on Speechwriting

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

the born freelancer

Looking back over my 150 posts, there’s one potential profitable revenue stream for freelance writers that I’ve not yet discussed:


I won’t presume to tell you how to write a good speech. If this interests you, there are relevant books at your public library as well as online resources and continuing education courses available through your local community college.

What I will do today is present some of my top tips and thoughts based upon my own experiences. I hope they will provide you with enough motivation to pursue the subject more thoroughly elsewhere.

Who needs a speech?

Who needs a speech? Everybody (sooner or later)!

Think of any business, organization or public individual. At some time they will need to make a speech. Maybe live, maybe on social media. A select few will insist upon writing their own. However, as most people find speech-making scarier than the prospect of death, you can imagine that writing their own speech is a task most will wish to delegate.

That’s good news for you.

The trick for a successful speechwriter is to create a recurring relationship with clients who have ongoing speechwriting needs. The best paying, corporate clients, will be able to afford the best speechwriters and consequently the competition will be fierce. But there will be many other potential clients, from charities and non-profits to local politicians and wedding planners, who may have less expansive budgets but who could remain a constant revenue stream once you have proven your talents and reliability.

Getting the speechwriting job

Getting started is always the hardest part. Once established, word of mouth may become your best means of promotion. But getting those first jobs is tough.

Determine who you might like to work for. Choose a company or individual with whom you can identify. Contact them directly and ask if they need speeches. If approaching a company, you should try to speak to the person in charge of speech-writing. If there is no such person, try the promotion or publicity director’s office. Look at smaller start-ups struggling to establish themselves or causes that you find compelling but that may be battling to find their public voice.

Get to know your client

In order to write an effective speech you will need to get to know your client. Well, superficially at least. Your speech will become their words and so you will be writing in effect as if you are them. What are their speech mannerisms? What is their general demeanour? Your speech will need to be constructed in-line with their established characteristics and mannerisms. Once upon a time this required in-person meetings, but today this can be more easily achieved using Zoom or similar. Naturally, you will build the time you anticipate spending in such preparation into your fee.

Do I have to believe what my client believes?

The old-school professional would probably say no. Wave a cheque big enough in front of the seasoned speechwriter and they will write whatever their client wishes. Personally, I would call that a misappropriation of their talent and would counsel only to write for what you believe in or could believe in. It should make the speech more credible and genuine if you can write it from a simpatico predisposition. (Of course, if who or what you believe in fails to enhance the human condition please feel free to ignore my advice.)

Using humour in speeches

Nothing is more important than the use of humour in a speech and nothing is more misused or abused. Humour in speeches can be used to make the speaker more relatable-to. This will help to make whatever message they have more acceptable. It can be used to disarm a potentially hostile audience, which is why most speeches open with it. If you can get a crowd to laugh you’ve already made friends. But if the style of humour is neither appropriate for your client nor to their audience, nor to the occasion, it can lead to disaster. I can recall a speech delivered by a public official who had somehow decided that the use of inappropriate street slang would amuse their audience. It did not, and the joke ended up going viral culminating with that official being forced out of office. Humour must be used judiciously unless circumstances warrant otherwise, such as writing for a professional comedian, which is a wholly different proposition worthy of separate article.


You can be a general speechwriter and become known for your ability to turn a phrase for any occasion. But if you have a specialized knowledge already why not concentrate on speechwriting in that area. It will make your marketing more targeted. Select clients you approach will be impressed with your expertise. If you are passionate and informed about the environment, for example, why not concentrate on those issues and work for clients focused on them. They may even become repeat clients. Your subsequent branding will certainly distinguish you amidst a multitude of speechwriters offering more general services.

What to charge as a speechwriter

Always the freelancer’s biggest question. What do I charge? That’s a tough one to answer. You will probably need to establish your fees on a sliding scale. Major corporations can usually afford bigger fees. Smaller charities or individuals may not be able to pay top tier prices. Do some research online, ask around your network. Check with the relevant unions or guilds. You can always offer discounts. But it’s almost impossible to increase your fee once you’ve stated it. Pro tip: that’s why you can also offer add-ons.


Add-ons allow you to customize a client’s package by charging for additional services you may offer as the work continues. For example, one such add-on service could be coaching. One of your responsibilities as a speechwriter (and a good way of insuring repeat business) is to instil confidence in your client’s ability to delver your speech. Most people hate the idea of speechmaking. You will become a much appreciated (and well paid!) ally if you can give them the confidence they require to really “sell” their speech.

The takeaway

I once wrote speeches for an independent candidate in an election. This semi-professional comedian offered policies that were highly idealistic but wholly unrealistic. They did so with a super-abundance of good-natured humour mocking the traditional parties and without any hope of actually getting elected. At the time I shared their dissatisfaction with the status quo and wanted to support them. So I wrote speeches satirizing the follies of mainstream political rhetoric. I accompanied my client from rally to rally and from TV interviews to candidates’ debates. I learned much about the “behind the scenes” political process. Had I been more of a political animal it might have become a profitable revenue stream. In the end my candidate won close to a hundred votes, cast in peaceful democratic protest, with my speeches having played their part.

It was a powerful reminder to me that words (written even in jest) can move people to take action, for good or ill.

We writers should always be aware of such moral responsibility. No more so than when putting our words into the mouths of others.

Posted on March 26, 2024 at 6:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: ,

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