I recently came across an article about speechwriting degrees. I didn’t know such an animal existed, but did a little research, and lo and behold … I found degrees offered at colleges and universities in the U.S., Singapore and England.
The speechwriting curriculum at Hillsdale College in Michigan, for example, includes Fundamentals of Speech Communication, Speech Composition, Business Communication, Interpersonal Communication, Theories of Persuasion, Organization Communication, History of American Public Address and Political Rhetoric and the Electronic Media.
Ohlone College in California offers an Associate Degree in Speech and Communication Studies. According to its Web site, “these classes prepare students to transfer to a four-year institution and entry into careers in which effective communication skills are important, such as public relations, law and teaching.”
The purpose of courses offered by the school’s Department of Speech and Communication Studies is to enable graduates:
• to communicate with diverse audiences in multiple contexts to meet the goals of the intended communication;
• to identify, evaluate and utilize evidence to support claims used in speeches and presentations; and
• to demonstrate through performance and analysis the importance of both verbal and nonverbal communication.
Courses include Introduction to Public Speaking, Voice and Diction, Career Communication, Critical Thinking and Persuasion and Intercultural Communication, among others.
My favorite course offering at both schools is Forensics. In the context of speechwriting, we’re not dissecting bodies or crime scenes, (although some speeches are crimes), but examining the characteristics of informative, persuasive, extemporaneous and impromptu speaking.
The London College of Communication offers an Effective Speechwriting course that will teach students “the devices and techniques used to engage, entertain, inform and inspire an audience.” Tut-tut, pip-pip.
Two public relations firms there—Pinnacle Public Relations and PMA Media—also feature “certificates” in speechwriting.
The Civil Service College of Singapore offers, a bit redundantly, “Effective Speechwriting for Speech Writers.” The course promises to “cover the full speech writing process, from doing research and conducting (an) interview to drafting of (the) speech. You will learn the importance of preparing and keeping to the outline, and understanding your audience so as to craft messages that speak to them. Tips on using statistics, figures, stories and humor to write a compelling and engaging speech will also be shared.”
I think about these courses and degrees and then I think about the way I learned speechwriting—beginning as a news reporter, then stints as a grants writer, policy analyst, a local government public information officer, then speechwriter for that elected official. From there to the private sector and speechwriter to the heads of a phone company, a diverse international corporation, and to a senior VP at IBM. Finally, the freelance speechwriter I am today.
Along the way, I took a week-long speechwriting class given by James Fox, one-time speechwriter to the chairman of AT&T, and another by speechwriter and author Joan Detz (How to Write and Give a Speech).
Today, I keep my speechwriting “chops” up-to-snuff by writing speeches, reading lots of speeches (good ol’ Vital Speeches of the Day), and studying books like Give Your Speech, Change the World, by Nick Morgan, and one being delivered by Amazon even as I write this, called The Presentation Skills of Steve Jobs: How to be insanely great in front of any audience, by Carmine Gallo.
Still … I think I would have enjoyed and benefited from a year or two of studying the dynamics of speechwriting in depth. Yes, things might have been different for me, if I only had a…speechwriting degree.
Cynthia J. Starks is a veteran speechwriter based in Central Indiana. She may be reached at [email protected].