Speechwriting, to code

PSA adopts a "Speaker's Guide to Collaborating with a Speechwriter"; hopes speechwriters with it share with their communication bosses and their clients.

You’re a master carpenter. You’ve built a hundred houses.

You show up at Job #101 and the homeowner mentions he wants all the nails pointy side up. Yes, that’s right, driven from the bottom up. Because he read that the house will be stronger that way. He realizes it’s more difficult, but that’s the way he wants it done.

You turn to the the contractor and she shrugs, because the customer is always right.

And then you thank god for the building code.

That’s sort of what the Professional Speechwriters Association set out to provide for master speechwriters, who struggle with clients and communication VPs who, in the absence of any fixed idea about how speechwriting is supposed to work, have some funny ones.

Today we introduce a free, downloadable one-sheet called “Speaker’s Guide to Collaborating with a Speechwriter.”


The tool originated from speechwriting’s grass roots—an in-house “manifesto” written by the speechwriting team at a large organization, for their use in improving their internal client relationships. We distributed their document at the 2018 PSA World Conference and took feedback from participants, who were enthusiastic about having the PSA adopt it for use by speechwriters everywhere. Then we vetted the document with the PSA’s Advisory Council, and incorporated their suggestions.

The result is a simple 10-point guide that clarifies the proper relationship between writers of speeches and the leaders who speak them: What speakers should expect of their speechwriters, and what speechwriters need from speakers. We hope speechwriters use this document—and the weight of its official endorsement by the Professional Speechwriters Association—to get new client relationships off on the right foot, and perhaps, too, as a conversation-starter to make existing relationships more productive and rewarding for speechwriters and speakers.

We also hope these ideas slip the surly bonds of speechwriting circles, which is why we’ve made the guide free for anyone to download, and why we and our members are sharing it widely. And why we hope you’ll share it—with writers and clients (and contractors and homeowners).

To the extent that this document proves useful, we’d love to hear stories of how it helps. And although the document is official (like the PSA’s Speechwriter’s Code of Ethics, adopted a couple of years ago), we don’t consider it final. If you have ideas for iterative improvements, we’re keeping a file of notes from working speechwriters; we’ll revisit the document after it’s been in use for a year or so. Email me at [email protected]. —DM

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