So we have it all in one place, here are the answers (expressed here and on LinkedIn) to my question about the higher social purpose of speechwriting.
“Why don’t you ask the converse: does this profession have an insidious purpose?” asked veteran speechwriter Henry Ehrlich, who spent many years writing for big bangs. “I still get accosted by acquaintances from my old days in the banking business whose first words are, ‘This financial crisis is all your fault.’ While I would welcome some checks at the old prices, I’m at peace with myself for the fact that the best speeches I’ve written in the past few years were for my son’s wedding, my niece’s wedding, and my father’s funeral.”
“Even great leaders need help composing their thoughts into a conveyable, dynamic format that can be understood and accepted by the masses,” said communication veteran Jessica Richardson. “I would posit that without a great speechwriter, there are many great and worthy voices which would have gone unheard.”
Communication pro Jim Nichols has been lucky to write primarily for the CEO of “a philanthropic organization with noble intentions.” Helping such an organization in any way gives Nichols “pride in knowing, or at least hoping, that my work might have helped accomplish some socially worthy goals.” If ever he’s faced with the choice to work for an organization whose mission is less clearly good, “perhaps I’ll have to wrestle with some existential questions about the worth of what I’m doing. If that time comes, I’ll be glad to know I’m not alone.”
The main beneficiaries of great speeches aren’t speakers, but audiencee, says veteran speechwriter Hal Vincent. “Speeches are meant to affect audiences—sometimes well beyond a room. People listening and watching deserve to be informed, entertained, motivated, even inspired. Surely, the higher purpose speechwriting serves is to help speakers convey their thoughts in meaningful ways.”
And Boe Workman, a longtime speechwriter for AARP, gives the final word to Isocrates, who said in The Antidosis:
There is no institution devised by man which the power of speech has not helped us establish. For this it is which has laid down laws concerning things just and unjust, and things honorable and base; and if it were not for these ordinances we should not be able to live with one another. It is by this also that we confute the bad and extol the good. Through this we educate the ignorant and appraise the wise; for the power to speak well is taken as the surest index of a sound understanding, and discourse which is true and lawful and just is the outward image of a good and faithful soul … We shall find that none of the things that are done with intelligence take place without the help of speech, but that in all our actions as well as in all our thoughts speech is our guide, and it is most employed by those who have the most wisdom …
“There is no higher moral purpose than that!” Workman adds, unnecessarily.