Member Profile: Teresa Zumwald: A Manner of Speechwriting

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Since 1989, when she created Zumwald & Company, Englewood, Ohio-based Teresa Zumwald has worked with CEOs, entrepreneurs and subject-matter experts on speechwriting, speech coaching, executive communications, brand messaging and more. Teresa’s speeches have won 12 international, national and regional awards including six Cicero Speechwriting Awards from Vital Speeches of the Day. Among her speechwriting clients are board chairs, CEOs, presidents, vice presidents and a former chair of the board of two global manufacturing companies based in Europe. Teresa also manages complex communication projects, working closely with executives, managers and administrative staff as well as graphic designers, web developers, videographers, photographers, printers and other supplier partners. Her award-winning copywriting work—recognized by eight professional organizations—has been published in 50 magazines, journals and corporate publications and online.

What precipitated your decision to go into speechwriting?

Zumwald & Company initially focused on copywriting, trade magazine articles and corporate communications. But about 10 years ago, I wanted to find something more specialized to help grow my business. In 2008, I went to an IABC [International Association of Business Communicators] conference and heard ASJA member Joan Detz give a talk on “Nine Steps to a Killer Speech” and was just riveted. I knew I had found my niche.

Back then, Joan offered several high-level speechwriting training sessions in Philadelphia. I figured I knew enough about writing itself to just take a class on the business side of speechwriting. I left with my tail between my legs—that session made me realize how much I didn’t know. So, over the next few years, I made a commitment to take all of the seminars that Joan offered. Good speechwriting requires a lot of learning and practice.

What, exactly, does speechwriting involve?

It always starts with the audience—what are they looking for and what can they gain from the speech. There needs to a strategic purpose as to why an executive gives a speech. Every speech is an opportunity to add to your reputational capital … and that necessitates a great deal of thought and planning.

When preparing a speech for a client, I use a big board and Post-It notes, which help me define key concepts. It also provides a roadmap and the basis for an outline. Not only does this save time, but you get an overall mental picture of what needs to be said and how to build the speech from beginning to end. Unlike a white paper or other more detailed types of writing, it’s a matter of nailing down the essential concepts first to make sure that the speech is a solid fit for that particular speaking opportunity.

What other types of skills do you need?

Once you get the outline done, then you need to see how it translates into the spoken word via the speech manuscript itself. After the CEO or board chair rehearses the final speech, I almost always do a bit more editing afterward. The trick is in making it easy for the executive to deliver.


You’ll need to really get to know your speaker… and this takes time and trust-building. Because you’re writing in their voice, you should truly understand where they are coming from. In a sense they are baring their souls to you and that’s a big responsibility.

What are some of the rewards of putting words into someone else’s mouth?

It’s really great to have someone shine on the stage because of your efforts. Not only are you helping them get their message across but you are inspiring the audience to think differently or change their behavior. It’s a fantastic feeling when that happens.  

And it’s definitely high-paying—because you’re dealing with the top decision-maker, they are willing to pay you on time and what you are worth. Logistics and getting approval for things is a lot less complicated compared to corporate communications projects with large teams, because for the most part, you are working with one person. Plus, there’s a bonus: I’ve been able to serve as a strategic adviser and develop a close relationship with decision-makers over time.

Any advice for aspiring speechwriters?

You’ll need to take instruction, which will help save time and missteps. The Professional Speechwriters Association, IABC, Toastmasters, your local Chambers of Commerce and writer’s organizations such as ASJA provide networking and opportunities to hone writing and speaking skills.

Also lead with the fact that you’re a specialist… I had to rebrand my business as primarily speechwriting, speech coaching and executive communications, with a secondary emphasis on brand messaging and corporate storytelling [newsletters, website copy and white papers] for corporate clients.

You can find clients anywhere, which is why you want to cast as wide of a local, regional, national and international net as possible. (I like to throw out a lot of pebbles. When you do, it’s amazing what can happen.) You also need to invest in a website that will best showcase your samples and testimonials. People are always looking for crack speechwriters, and your website is one of the most effective marketing tools around.

This kind of expert advice is what makes an ASJA membership so valuable. Make sure you don’t miss a single benefit. Renew your membership today!