This blog post was written by Bec Susan Gill, Girls Write Now Mentor, on the Writing & Mentoring Program April workshop on speechwriting. Our pairs heard from Jamie Serlin, a speechwriter at the firm West Wing Writers and Kate Blumm, Chief Speechwriter for Mayor de Blasio.
Getting to work with inspiring leaders and craft their thoughts into words sounds like one of the coolest jobs in the world – but it’s one that also requires a special passion for anonymity. And while speechwriting may not be the career for those writers who aspire to see their name in lights – speechwriter Jamie Serlin’s insightful career advice contained countless nuggets of wisdom for every female writer committed to the craft.
Here’s a couple of key lessons I learned from Jamie’s talk:
PUT YOURSELF IN THE AUDIENCE’S SHOES
A lot of speech writing is trying to be persuasive – to instill trust, to get people to take action, or to support a vision or plan. I asked Jamie: “What’s your number one tip to being more persuasive?”
“Put yourself in your audience’s place – try and see where they are coming from, understand what they are thinking.”
It was great advice. In my own writing – both professional and personal – I’m sometimes guilty of rushing straight to thoughts of structure and language. But considering the emotions/positions of the audience before crafting your message is essential if you want to communicate successfully!
YOU CAN’T BE IN IT FOR THE GLORY
While there are many perks of a career in speech writing (like the prestige, joy of writing, and satisfaction that comes with translating complex issues into clear and compelling prose) – being publicly lauded as a great writer and thinker is not one of them. If you’ve done your job right – that praise goes to your client!
But what you also get when you’ve done your job well (other than solid career cred) is knowing that you’ve created ideas that resonated with people – and this is an invaluable skill in almost all areas of life and work.
YOU’VE GOTTA WORK WITH LOTS OF DUDES
My mentee, Mariel, asked Jamie the question: “Do you have tips for any women going into a male dominated field?”
We’ve discussed this issue a lot as a pair – given Mariel’s aspirations to work in science, particularly aviation engineering (like speechwriting; another field with lots of dudes!).
Jamie responded very candidly, telling us about her early career experiences with imposter syndrome, and how she was at first intimidated by operating in an environment that was essentially all men.
In Mariel’s words: “Jamie explained to us that it was very important that you speak up whenever you have a good idea. You can’t be afraid to do so, because you need to demonstrate that you’re just as capable as anyone else.”
Right on, Jamie! Thanks for such a sincere and thought-provoking talk!