Speechwriting rules you must never ignore

Useful tips from a veteran who’s been there, made those mistakes.

It’s been 15 years since I quit my secure, well-paying job on the dark side to hang up my shingle as a freelance speechwriter. Lots of speeches have flowed under the proverbial bridge since then. I recall some singular moments that I can only file under “lessons learned” about the craft.

One of my early efforts was writing a commemorative speech for the Department of Veterans Affairs honoring the sacrifices of World War II veterans at ceremonies overseas.

I was determined to make sure the words I penned for the government minister giving the speech were the very best I could muster. I spent days researching the ins and outs of the battles the vets fought in. I put maps up on the wall, charted the routes they followed and by the time I came up for air, I had crafted what I thought was a first-class tribute to these brave soldiers.

So I was confused by the silence at the other end when I sent the speech down to the client. Finally I received a cryptic note saying it was a great history lesson, but ahem, these veterans had lived and made that history—and didn’t need the minister telling them what they so clearly knew themselves.

The classic mistake—and its correction

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