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Putting words in people’s mouths is tougher than it sounds. A good political speaker must come across as credible and trustworthy while simultaneously being authoritative – all in a conversational manner. Speechwriters need to match the style and word choices to a speaker’s natural way of talking; what seems like an intelligible and articulate speech to you may sound awkward coming out of someone else’s mouth. Your grasp of political issues needs to be strong enough so your words resonate with voters and the media. Learning to structure political speeches so that audiences remember the most important points is important to long-term success.
You don’t have to meet specific education requirements to become a political speechwriter, but you will encounter expectations for writing and political know-how. Majoring in a communications field, such as journalism and public relations, is a good route for honing writing skills. Consider a double major or a minor in political science. If you're already a college graduate, enroll in some speech-writing and speaking classes; you’ll be a more effective speechwriter by listening to varied speakers. Also take courses on debate and principles of persuasion for understanding political discourse concepts.
Ask your college department office, career center or alumni association about possible internships. Journalism or public relations internships are helpful, but also grab any political internship you can get. You can explore many jobs for writing opportunities, but political connections and contacts will prove invaluable to you in any political career. If you get an internship as a legislative aide and feel more like a scrivener than an author, remember that political contacts provide a political career ingress. You will find opportunities to practice speechwriting are easier than forging political relationships.
Begin volunteering for political campaigns and causes as soon as you can, whether it’s in-between college classes, during summer breaks or on evenings and weekends. Your work or school experience may qualify you for a paid position, but don’t let that prevent you from getting involved; become ubiquitous to like-minded politicos to cement both your loyalty and your political connections. You will also learn a great deal about issues and the political process. Use your application cover letter to showcase both your writing skills and your grasp of issues relevant to a particular campaign. Even if your work is stuffing envelopes and answering telephones, you may get the chance to come up with a theme, slogan or positioning statement, increasing your political writing repertoire.
Begin your job search by targeting employers that will value your political experience. Government agencies are a good place to start, but there are also many non-profit organizations and trade associations that need politically savvy writers -- and have executives who frequently give public speeches. Common entry-level jobs include writers, public information officers and communications managers. Don’t ignore journalism opportunities; you will gain insight into what journalists remember in political speeches and topics they cover. You may go through a few jobs or need more experience before you begin writing political speeches, but keep the early connections you made in campaign work, even if it means volunteering a few hours a month.
- The New York Times: The Political Speechwriter’s Life
- Education Portal: Speech Writer: Career Profile and Educational Requirements
- Boston Magazine: Obama’s Ghost – Jon Favreau – Obama’s Speechwriter
- Scholastic: Tips From the Insiders: How to Write a Political Speech
- Harvard Law School: One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State: A Quick Guide to Working on Political Campaigns
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.