Inside the dark art of speech writing

Tue, Jun 07 2016

On Thursday 9 May, Canberra’s PR practitioners took advantage of a rare insight into the sometimes dark art of speechwriting at lunchtime panel discussion.

Three speakers – and a lively discussion—meant that everyone went away with a better understanding of what makes up a great speech, and how some of the nation’s top speechwriters made it happen in sometimes difficult circumstances.


Panelists (L-R) - Thomas Parkes (FPRIA), Paul Ritchie, Duncan Sheppard and James Groves.


Paul Ritchie, speechwriter to the former Minister, Tony Abbott, reflected on life finding the ‘voice’ of Tony Abbott – the successes and the near misses.

Through a series of ‘war stories’ he covered the critical issues of understanding exactly who the audience was (both the audience in front of the speaker and the extended listeners); and the importance of weaving in the very personal interests and attitudes of the speaker.


Duncan Sheppard, the Director Communications and Policy for the Australian Logistics Council—the peak industry body for the Australia’s freight and supply chain industry—covered the non-government view.

He focussed on the results side of speeches – the ability of a speech to support an industry policy agenda and influence a government. He tracked through some powerful examples of where the industry CEO’s speech, through some careful management, had a direct effect on how the government thought about a particular issue.


James Groves, one of Canberra’s best known speechwriters and educators reflected on life inside government departments – and the skills and tools speechwriters need to deliver a successful speech in line with the government’s policy. James, who has written about 2000 speeches in the past decade (including the Governor-General), had some practical advice on how to survive the speechwriting task often thrust upon practitioners in government departments.

He covered the issues critical to government speechwriters – access to the minister; understanding the policy and most importantly, the ability to interpret complex (and often bland) policy into a meaningful speech.


Following the lunchtime discussion, James Groves led an afternoon workshop for 15 practitioners which looked in more details at all the factors which make up a high quality speech.


Author: Heike Phillips MPRIA, PRIA ACT Division President

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