5 tips for launching a career—or a sideline—in speechwriting

You have a way with words. How, then, do you get those bon mots flowing from others’ mouths? Try these tactics to become known—and get paid—for penning terrific oral presentations.

Speechwriting event

Maybe you’ve written a few rousing speeches for yourself or others.

Maybe you’re just attracted by the glitz and glamour of the profession. (Maybe you just fell over laughing.)

Whatever the reason, you want to start speechwriting professionally. How, though, do you begin?

Unlike aspiring doctors, bike mechanics and chefs, speechwriters don’t have a prescribed course of study and internship. There aren’t a lot of jobs out there labeled “speechwriter” and no one career path to follow.

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That means there are lots of ways into the business.

Here are five tips for anyone who wants to make the leap into professional speechwriting:

  • Talk it up. First, let people know you’re looking for assignments. Ask them to tell their friends and colleagues. Look through your contacts for anyone who could arrange an introduction to a potential client, and make the call.
  • Give a little bit. Find a cause, a candidate or an organization you support personally, and offer to write a speech for them as a volunteer. Then make it the best speech you possibly can. What could you get out of it? Three invaluable things: a superb piece for your portfolio, a new and grateful addition to your professional network, and a speaker who gives your name when people ask, “Who wrote that terrific speech?”
  • Carve out a niche. What issues or topics do you know really well? What genres of speech are you best at: keynotes, roasts, lectures? Letting people know that you have a special area of expertise allows you to define a market all your own. When you’re just beginning, a distinct identity goes a long way to helping you stand out.
  • Write to be noticed. Find opportunities to write for publication—especially the kind of publication that will be seen by your prospective clients. Columns in trade magazines, op-ed pieces in newspapers and other publications give you exposure and credibility, not to mention the chance to develop your skills in a sideline.
  • Stake out your online turf. Blogging—whether it’s on your own site, LinkedIn, Medium or another platform—is an easy way to build a compelling web presence. If you’ve followed the third tip and have carved out a distinctive niche, then writing about topics within that niche will help establish your authority. If you’re blogging on your own website, you’ll make it a magnet for people searching about those topics.

However you approach your online presence, be sure it includes your latest contact information and a professional profile establishing your speechwriting bona fides.

It can take some time to build up your clientele, but don’t let that discourage you. Speechwriting’s one of those fields where talent can take you a long way—and talent plus a little marketing savvy can take you even further.

Rob Cottingham is a speaking coach and speechwriter based in Canada. A version of this post first ran on his blog

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