David Murray, long-time speech hound and editor of the invaluable Vital Speeches of the Day, is at it again. Actually doing stuff that others had only dreamed about. This time? Two major events. First, he's co-founded the Professional Speechwriters Association. And, second, he's arranging for the first-ever Professional Speechwriters Association World Conference.
He was gracious enough to share some of his thoughts about the association, the future of speechwriting and, mostly, the "why" behind the "what." Here's a short interview with him.
Fletcher: You’ve formed a new Professional Speechwriters Association. Tell me why you thought one was necessary.
David Murray: Car wash managers have a professional association! Almost 2,500 years after Aristotle, speechwriters don't? The question is, why has it taken us so long? This is a unique discipline, demanding more specific kinds of intellect, craft and emotional intelligence than other public relations specialties, like media relations or community relations. So speechwriters need a way to learn from one another—because they have many problems only fellow speechwriters can solve.
Also: Though speechwriters are generally better paid than their peers in other communication disciplines, they are also much more vulnerable. It's common that a leadership turnover leaves a perfectly good speechwriter suddenly out of a job, as the new leader wants to bring in his or her own person. So speechwriters need to have a one-stop shop for networking, and as PSA grows, it will provide that.
Finally, speechwriters are a tribe. They like to be together. For years I organized the Ragan speechwriting conference, and invariably people would come up to me afterward and pump my hand. Thank you for putting this together. The Professional Speechwriters Association is designed to give that sense of comfort, stimulation and sense of community all year round.
FD: What’s the benefit to speechwriters for joining?
DM: Members will basically get lots of stuff they need, for cheap or free. They get to use the PSA logo, which marks them to employers and prospects as committed members of the profession. They get a free subscription to Vital Speeches of the Day, which keeps them current on what the leaders of the world are saying on all the current issues. They get free access to an exclusive, members-only LinkedIn Group Almost half-off the annual World Conference.
They also get big discounts to industry events, discounted entry into the Cicero Speechwriting Awards and lots of other benefits. Basically, a membership is a bulk discount on all or most of the things speechwriters normally by. And we plan on adding benefits as we go—making discount deals for our members with conveners of speechwriting seminars around the world, and making affinity deals with regional speechwriting groups so that the whole speechwriting world.
Eventually, we also see ourselves conducting salary surveys, studying trends in the business and possibly providing member spokespeople to represent the point of view of the speechwriting profession in public conversations that call for it—really doing all the advocacy and information-gathering that other associations do, but just for this very select group: people who call themselves speechwriters.
Speechwriting, as a profession, seems to be changing since I joined the ranks 20 plus years ago. Do you see if changing and how?
DM: It's changing in a million ways, for good and ill. But the Professional Speechwriters Association is a sign of one of the best ways it's changing. Twenty years ago two speechwriters working in the same city would have had a hard time finding one another. Now speechwriters commonly have speechwriting friends all over the world thanks to the Internet and to regional speechwriting associations like the UK Speechwriters Guild and the European Speechwriting Network. Having a global umbrella organization like the PSA will only make the small world of speechwriting that much smaller, so speechwriters can find one another and get the information or inspiration they need. Speechwriting need not be a lonely job any longer.
To help kick off the PSA, you’ve organized the first annual World Conference. What’s the goal and what can attendees expect?
DM: Attendees can expect to listen to speakers and share space with other speechwriters who are committed to the profession and experienced in the peculiar facts of the life of a speechwriter or executive communicator. They can expect candid, high-level discussions. Among the keynote speakers at this conference are PR legend Fraser Seitel and a leader with experience on both ends of the speechwriting game, actually—former CIA director and U.S. Forces Commander (and onetime speechwriter, did you know?) ... General David Petraeus. But most speakers will be people you've never heard of—anonymous speechwriters—who have found better ways to do this difficult work, and want to share their knowledge with their peers.
Also at this first conference especially, we're going to talk explicitly about the profession itself, answering questions like yours, on how the business is changing, what speechwriters need to do to adapt—and how the Professional Speechwriters Association can help them do it.
And particularly cool—and I think some speechwriters might actually enjoy this aspect the most—attendees will get a chance to talk to undergrads at the NYU's Department of Strategic Communication, Media and Management about a speechwriting career: What it is, what it's not, and what it takes. NYU is hosting the conference this year, and we hope to make mentorship an important part of the conference every year—and a big component of the PSA.
Let's try to make speechwriting something more than a weird job people just "fall into" by accident. And let's make it a lot more comfortable landing for those who do.