Write better speeches by including these six elements
What are the elements of a powerful speech? When writing remarks for a nonprofit leader , expert or other spokesperson, there are a number of elements that you should always include; not only to amplify the power of your words, but also to make speech writing much easier.
Here are six elements to include when writing any speech:
A grabber is used to open your remarks, connect with your audience and capture their attention. There are many techniques you can use to draw listeners in, including:
- Literary references
- Jokes (use with caution!)
- Commentary about a news story or current event
- Relevant personal experiences*
- Feelings or insights the speaker has about the audience*
- Traits, feelings or experiences the speaker has in common with audience*
*These are my personal favourites.
Explicitly state the subject of your remarks.
Doing so can be as simple as this example: “I’m here today to talk about the role of mentors in our work.”
Stating your subject might feel like stating the obvious, but it expresses a commitment to your audience. A stated subject shows that you have a plan and have prepared for your talk; that you value the time they spend listening to you and that you’re going to stay on topic.
Related to the subject but more specific, the message is a single sentence that encapsulates what it is you will communicate through your speech. Your message includes the thesis or point you intend to illustrate for your audience.
Following on the example above, a message might be, “Introducing mentors has allowed us to double the effectiveness of our programs.”
State your message within your speech introduction , and restate it in your conclusion to summarize your remarks.
A theme can be an image, a metaphor or a powerful word that adds interest to your remarks. A theme offers language that unifies the points in your speech, pulling your words together.
For example, a relevant theme in a speech about mentors might be ‘navigation’. The incorporation of language that reflects the theme of navigation (e.g. direction, compass, pathways, journey) can add interest, imagery and power to your speech. It can also support idea generation for other speech elements.
There are a number of ways you can structure your remarks. It’s best to think of your message as your thesis or position and then structure your remarks in terms of making the case.
A number of different structural approaches can be used depending on the message and subject matter. For example, a speech can be structured by:
- A chronological comparison such as ‘past’ vs ‘present’ or ‘present’ vs ‘future’
- The ‘ways’ or ‘reasons’ your main idea or message is true
- The ‘steps’ that have been taken or are underway for achieving a goal or vision mentioned in your message
- The ‘challenge’ you are facing and your ‘response’ to it
Once a structure is established it forms your speech outline; state it in your introduction to offer a roadmap of your remarks and to provide listeners with a feeling of anticipation.
For example, “Today I’m going to tell you what the mentorship program has done for our organization. First it has attracted new volunteers from our priority communities. Second, it has allowed for a more meaningful connection between participants and our organization. And third, it has created an opportunity for that connection to be ongoing.”
Having introduced your speech structure in the introduction, restate each argument or section as you proceed, to make your speech easy to follow.
6. Call to action
Every speech should have a call to action that is related to your message. It might be a big bold rallying cry or a simple step audience can take with them and implement. Close your remarks with a call to action to help your audience feel part of your message.
Use these speech writing elements to connect with your audience
These elements can make a huge difference in how your speech is received. By building them in, you’ll show your audience that you have thought about them and not just what you want to say. And using these structural elements as a framework prevents you from seeming disorganized or writing a speech built on lists of facts, statistics or accomplishments without cohesion.
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Speechwriting 101: Writing an Effective Speech
11 jan, 2013.
Whether you are a communications pro or a human resources executive, the time will come when you will need to write a speech for yourself or someone else. When that time comes, your career may depend on your success.
J. Lyman MacInnis, a corporate coach, Toronto Star columnist, accounting executive and author of “ The Elements of Great Public Speaking ,” has seen careers stalled – even damaged – by a failure to communicate messages effectively before groups of people. On the flip side, solid speechwriting skills can help launch and sustain a successful career. What you need are forethought and methodical preparation.
Know Your Audience
Learn as much as possible about the audience and the event. This will help you target the insights, experience or knowledge you have that this group wants or needs:
- Why has the audience been brought together?
- What do the members of the audience have in common?
- How big an audience will it be?
- What do they know, and what do they need to know?
- Do they expect discussion about a specific subject and, if so, what?
- What is the audience’s attitude and knowledge about the subject of your talk?
- What is their attitude toward you as the speaker?
- Why are they interested in your topic?
Choose Your Core Message
If the core message is on target, you can do other things wrong. But if the message is wrong, it doesn’t matter what you put around it. To write the most effective speech, you should have significant knowledge about your topic, sincerely care about it and be eager to talk about it. Focus on a message that is relevant to the target audience, and remember: an audience wants opinion. If you offer too little substance, your audience will label you a lightweight. If you offer too many ideas, you make it difficult for them to know what’s important to you.
Research and Organize
Research until you drop. This is where you pick up the information, connect the ideas and arrive at the insights that make your talk fresh. You’ll have an easier time if you gather far more information than you need. Arrange your research and notes into general categories and leave space between them. Then go back and rearrange. Fit related pieces together like a puzzle.
Develop Structure to Deliver Your Message
First, consider whether your goal is to inform, persuade, motivate or entertain. Then outline your speech and fill in the details:
- Introduction – The early minutes of a talk are important to establish your credibility and likeability. Personal anecdotes often work well to get things started. This is also where you’ll outline your main points.
- Body – Get to the issues you’re there to address, limiting them to five points at most. Then bolster those few points with illustrations, evidence and anecdotes. Be passionate: your conviction can be as persuasive as the appeal of your ideas.
- Conclusion – Wrap up with feeling as well as fact. End with something upbeat that will inspire your listeners.
You want to leave the audience exhilarated, not drained. In our fast-paced age, 20-25 minutes is about as long as anyone will listen attentively to a speech. As you write and edit your speech, the general rule is to allow about 90 seconds for every double-spaced page of copy.
Spice it Up
Once you have the basic structure of your speech, it’s time to add variety and interest. Giving an audience exactly what it expects is like passing out sleeping pills. Remember that a speech is more like conversation than formal writing. Its phrasing is loose – but without the extremes of slang, the incomplete thoughts, the interruptions that flavor everyday speech.
- Give it rhythm. A good speech has pacing.
- Vary the sentence structure. Use short sentences. Use occasional long ones to keep the audience alert. Fragments are fine if used sparingly and for emphasis.
- Use the active voice and avoid passive sentences. Active forms of speech make your sentences more powerful.
- Repeat key words and points. Besides helping your audience remember something, repetition builds greater awareness of central points or the main theme.
- Ask rhetorical questions in a way that attracts your listeners’ attention.
- Personal experiences and anecdotes help bolster your points and help you connect with the audience.
- Use quotes. Good quotes work on several levels, forcing the audience to think. Make sure quotes are clearly attributed and said by someone your audience will probably recognize.
Be sure to use all of these devices sparingly in your speeches. If overused, the speech becomes exaggerated. Used with care, they will work well to move the speech along and help you deliver your message in an interesting, compelling way.
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Elements of a great speech.
When giving a speech, there are two areas that must be considered: the content and the delivery. Each is an essential component of great oration; you can have the most exciting information to share, but if the entire speech is delivered in a soft, monotone voice, it won’t matter. Likewise, if you are an excellent speaker who delivers a message with animation and enthusiasm, you won’t get far without having anything substantial to say.
Creating Your Speech Content
Whether you are creating a speech for yourself or someone else, the writing process can be challenging. There are a number of factors to consider when creating a speech that will have your listeners yearning to know more, instead of heading toward the door.
Know Your Audience.
To make your content more effective, you should first consider your audience. Who will be listening to you speak? Why are they interested in what you are saying? How large is your audience? Are you delivering news that they will be glad to hear?
The more you understand your audience, the easier it will be to put together content that will work. For example, if you’re writing a commencement address, you know your entire audience has in common the fact that they are graduating, that they are feeling a huge sense of accomplishment (and possibly relief). They may be much more receptive to what you have to say than a roomful of stockholders who are being told that their company’s estimated sales for the quarter are far less than expected.
What Is the Essential Message You Must Deliver?
When you boil it down, your goal is to identify the main message you want to deliver. If you were to strip away everything about the speech and tell the audience in one or two sentences what your message is, what would you say? Before you can write effectively, you must know the core content of your message. Everything you put into what you will say, then, must support that core content.
What Is the Goal of Your Speech?
Are you the unfortunate bearer of bad news for shareholders? Are you the keynote speaker at a corporate conference? Are you running for office and gathering support for your platform? Are you giving a TEDx Talk , where the ultimate goal is to impart knowledge and inspiration? Before you write your speech, you must know whether you are trying to inspire, inform, entertain, or persuade.
Components of the Speech
A speech is comprised of three main parts: the introduction, the main body, and the conclusion. The introduction is crucial for capturing and keeping the attention of your audience. Not only do you need them to like you and want to listen to you, but you want them to believe you, too. When writing the introduction, personal anecdotes can be used to help the audience become more familiar with you. In the introduction, you should also deliver that boiled-down, stripped-down core message. When considering what to write, think about the 2005 Steve Jobs’ commencement address that is still one of the most shared and watched speeches today, 10 years after it was given. He started by saying, “Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.”
The body of the speech is where you deliver the full story of your message. Try to stay close to your core message by adding detailed information or anecdotes as needed to illustrate the points you are making. This is where most speeches fall flat; this is where most audiences zone out. So it’s most important that in this crucial section, you infuse passion into your message.
As you write your conclusion, remember that the last words the audience hears are likely the ones that they will remember the most. Be compelling. Restate your core message. Be passionate. Be grateful for their time and attention. Depending on the type of speech you are delivering, you may want to provide action items for the audience to do as they leave or provide a way for them to obtain additional information. But wrap your speech up with something that inspires your audience and leaves them with positive feelings about the speaker.
Speech Writing 101
When writing a speech, it’s important to write in a way that allows the person to be conversational. Don’t use a five-syllable word where a two-syllable word will work. Don’t make every sentence 22 words long. Some should be short, some should have pauses. Create pacing and structure, as well as interest for the listener, by varying the types and styles of sentences. Give the speech rhythm. Repeat the core message regularly. Include quotes from recognizable and credible sources. Read the speech out loud as you write to help create better delivery. And speaking of delivery, no speech can be great unless it is presented with the same level of detail and professionalism as that which it was written.
Delivering Your Speech
Delivering the speech well is as essential as having compelling content. From the modulation of your voice to the visual aids you provide, delivery matters.
We are in the business of training people for public speaking. Not many clients have ever come to us saying, “I am so excited to give this speech. I love standing up in front of an audience and doing this!” No. Most people who must deliver a speech are nervous, and nerves can be your worst enemy. Overcoming nerves is a critical step in successful delivery. Overcoming your nerves doesn’t mean you won’t be nervous; rather, you want to have the tools that will help prevent the anxiety from overwhelming you.
Practice, Practice, and Practice More
If you deliver a speech that you have only read through it a few times, reading is precisely what you will end up doing on stage. You will be reading your speech off of a page instead of delivering the speech to your audience. In turn, this will cause you to become more monotone, and you will make less eye contact with the audience. And because of your unfamiliarity with the content, you will likely stumble more throughout your delivery of the speech. You must practice enough to become fluid with your speaking. The more you know the speech, the more it becomes part of you. You will have the level of comfort that allows you to deliver your speech from the heart instead of from the page. And that makes a significant different to your audience.
Get Out from Behind the Podium
Whether you use comfort monitors to remain on track or simply work from memory, you’ll be far more engaging to your audience if you’re really there for them, and not there merely to hold up the podium. Make eye contact. Walk around. Be completely involved in what you’re saying and why. Engage with your audience.
You don’t have to be Winston Churchill to deliver motivating, inspiring, and memorable speeches. Your audience doesn’t want perfection; they want authenticity. Be you, be sincere, and be prepared, and your speeches will be better than ever.
Originally published on LinkedIn
Franchetti Communications delivers accelerated results by designing power-packed media interview and presentation training sessions around your unique goals, in person and via teleconference. Franchetti Communications works with corporations and business leaders to develop communication strategy, messaging, and PR strategy. Follow Franchetti Communications on LinkedIn , and be sure to download our special report: 6 Ways to Guarantee Your Message Cuts Through the Clutter .
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5 essential elements of a great speech
Have you ever been completely mesmerized by a speaker that can captivate an audience and hold their attention for seemingly endless amounts of time? What is it about these wizards of words that gets people to pay attention? For many, it’s their ability to create and present an effective and memorable speech. Here are a few ways that YOU too can write that kind of speech:
1. Practice to the point where you won’t need a script
For many people, a script is a speech-killer. The more comfortable you are with just talking about your topic without any notes or aids, the more people will trust your credibility. If having a notecard is absolutely essential to you, whether it’s because you have a bad memory or are more nervous without one, try to put it somewhere you can see it, but your audience can’t. And practice sneaking glances in a subtle manner so your audience can’t see you cheating – it will affect your audience’s level of trust more than you think. The key is to sound spontaneous, but having a plan at the same time.
2. Body language is absolutely necessary
Pay attention to everything you do on stage – according to this article that discusses a study done on TED talks, people form their first impression of you in the first seven seconds. So, even as you walk on stage, keep good posture and a friendly expression on your face so people will immediately perceive you as approachable and credible. During your speech, “work” the stage – walk around, use lots of hand gestures, and smile!
3. Jump right in with your attention-grabbing anecdote
Don’t start off by thanking/talking about the presenter, introducer or event (unless it is for an award ceremony, etc.) – jump right into your attention-grabber. This will show your audience how excited you are to talk about your topic. Many will expect you to go onstage with pleasantries – do the unexpected!
4. Avoid visual aids if you can
Sometimes visual aids can help a speech, but at times they are a cop-out and draw attention away from the speaker. If you want people to remember you and what you say, let yourself be the only visual they need or just use images that lend a feeling or emotion to your words rather than show series of bullet points on screen.
5. Try to involve the audience as much as possible
Whether you are sticking around for questions after your speech or pointing out to people in the audience to include them in your speech, make sure you are not just talking to the air around you. People tend to pay attention more when they feel they are a part of a bigger conversation instead of just being talked to. You can also use you-focused language or ask the audience rhetorical questions. Just make sure you and the audience are ‘in it’ together!
Giving great speeches takes practice and perfection and practice again. One day, with these five tips, you will be the one on stage captivating an audience.
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Structuring the Speech
Organizing speeches serves two important functions. First, organization helps improve clarity of thought in a systematic way. Second, organization increases the likelihood that the speech will be effective
Audiences are unlikely to understand disorganized speeches and even less likely to think that disorganized speakers are reliable or credible. Speeches are organized into three main parts: introduction, body, and conclusion.
The introduction of the speech establishes the first, crucial contact between the speaker and the audience. For most classroom speeches, the introduction should last less than a minute. The introduction needs to accomplish three things:
Focus your audience's attention. Speakers must have an “attention grabber” to interest the audience—a joke, astonishing fact, or anecdote. (Rhetorical questions like “Haven’t you ever wondered how…” are notoriously ineffective.) The introduction is the place where the main claim or idea should be stated very clearly to give the audience a sense of the purpose of the speech. Speakers need to orient the audience and make connections between what they know or are already interested in and the speech topic.
Establish goodwill and credibility. Many people believe the most important part of persuasion was ethos, or the character the speaker exhibited to the audience. The audience needs to see the speaker as someone to listen to attentively and sympathetically. Ethos is generated by both delivery style and content of the speech. Making eye contact with the audience and displaying confidence in voice and body are two important ways to establish ethos. In addition, if you express ideas that are original and intelligent, you will show what “intellectual character.” Audiences pay attention to habits of thought that are interesting and worth listening to.
Give a preview. Mentioning the main points to be covered in the body prepares the audience to listen for them. Repetition is an important aspect of public speaking, for listening is an imperfect art, and audience members nearly always tune out in parts--sometimes to think about previous parts of the speech, sometimes for other reasons. The preview should end with a transition, a brief phrase or a pause to signal to the audience that the speech is moving out of the introduction and into the body.
The body follows and is itself structured by a mode of organization, a logical or culturally specific pattern of thinking about ideas, events, objects, and processes. Having a mode of organization means grouping similar material together and linking the component parts together with transitions. Good transitions show the relation between parts of a speech. They display the logic of the speech. Common transition phrases include: in addition to, furthermore, even more, next, after that, then, as a result, beyond that, in contrast, however, and on the other hand. One special type of transition is called the internal summary, a brief restatement of the main point being completed.
In the body, the fewer the main points the better. For short classroom speeches, under 10 minutes, speeches should not have more than three main points. For longer speeches, more than five main points ensures that audiences will have trouble following and remembering the speech. In the speech, main points should be clearly stated and "signposted," marked off as distinct and important to the audience. Transitions often serve to signpost new points, as do pauses before an important idea. Additionally, speakers might number main points—first, second, third or first, next, finally. Always make it easy for the audience to recognize and follow key ideas.
There are several common modes of organizing the information in the body of your speech:
Temporal organization groups information according to when it happened or will happen. Types of temporal patterns include chronological (in the sequence it occurred) and reverse chronological (from ending back to start). Inquiry order is one special mode of temporal organization useful in presenting some kinds of research: here you organize the body in accord with the unfolding processes of thinking and gathering data, taking the audience from the initial curiosity and questions to final results.
Cause-effect is a related mode of organization, showing how one event brings about another. Cause-effect, like other temporal modes, may be used for past, present, or future events and processes. Cause-effect can also be reversed, from effect back to cause.
Spatial patterns group and organize your speech based on physical arrangement of its parts. If a speech is describing a place, a physical object, or a process of movement--downtown Mercer, a plant cell, or the Battle of Shiloh--spatial patterns can be useful.
Topical designs are appropriate when the subject matter has clear categories of division. Government in the United States, for instance, falls into federal, state, and local categories; or into executive, legislative, and judicial branches; into elected and appointed officials. Categories like these can help divide the subject matter to organize the main points.
Compare/contrast takes two or more entities and draws attention to their differences and/or similarities. Sometimes speakers explain a difficult subject by comparing it with an easier, more accessible one--to explain nuclear fusion with the stages of high school romance, for instance. The use of analogies often assists in audience understanding.
Following a transition from the body of the speech, the conclusion follows. The conclusion should be somewhat shorter than the introduction and accomplishes two purposes: summarize main ideas and give the speech a sense of closure and completion. Good conclusions might refer back to the introduction, offer an analogy or metaphor that captures the main idea, or leave the audience with a question or a challenge of some type. Brief quotations can also make effective conclusions (just as they can make effective openings for introductions).
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10 keys to writing a speech.
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“This is my time.”
That attitude will kill a speech every time.
You’ve probably sat through some lousy speeches. Despite the speakers’ renown, you eventually tuned them out over their self-indulgent tangents and pointless details. You understood something these speakers apparently didn’t: This was your time. They were just guests. And your attention was strictly voluntary.
Of course, you’ll probably deliver that speech someday. And you’ll believe your speech will be different. You’ll think, “I have so many important points to make.” And you’ll presume that your presence and ingenuity will dazzle the audience. Let me give you a reality check: Your audience will remember more about who sat with them than anything you say. Even if your best lines would’ve made Churchill envious, some listeners will still fiddle with their smart phones.
In writing a speech, you have two objectives: Making a good impression and leaving your audience with two or three takeaways. The rest is just entertainment. How can you make those crucial points? Consider these strategies:
1) Be Memorable: Sounds easy in theory. Of course, it takes discipline and imagination to pull it off. Many times, an audience may only remember a single line. For example, John F. Kennedy is best known for this declaration in his 1961 inaugural address: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what can do for your country.” Technically, the line itself uses contrast to grab attention. More important, it encapsulated the main point of Kennedy’s speech: We must sublimate ourselves and serve to achieve the greater good. So follow Kennedy’s example: Condense your theme into a 15-20 word epigram and build everything around it top-to-bottom.
There are other rhetorical devices that leave an impression. For example, Ronald Reagan referred to America as “a shining city on the hill” in speeches. The image evoked religious heritage, freedom, and promise. And listeners associated those sentiments with Reagan’s message. Conversely, speakers can defy their audience’s expectations to get notice. In the movie Say Anything , the valedictorian undercut the canned optimism of high school graduation speeches with two words: “Go back.” In doing so, she left her audience speechless…for a moment, at least.
Metaphors…Analogies…Surprise…Axioms. They all work. You just need to build up to them…and place them in the best spot (preferably near the end).
2) Have a Structure: Think back on a terrible speech. What caused you to lose interest? Chances are, the speaker veered off a logical path. Years ago, our CEO spoke at our national meeting. He started, promisingly enough, by outlining the roots of the 2008 financial collapse. Halfway through those bullet points, he jumped to emerging markets in Vietnam and Brazil. Then, he drifted off to 19th century economic theory. By the time he closed, our CEO had made two points: He needed ADD medication – and a professional speechwriter!
Audiences expect two things from a speaker: A path and a destination. They want to know where you’re going and why. So set the expectation near your opening on what you’ll be covering. As you write and revise, focus on structuring and simplifying. Remove anything that’s extraneous, contradictory, or confusing. Remember: If it doesn’t help you get your core message across, drop it.
3) Don’t Waste the Opening: Too often, speakers squander the time when their audience is most receptive: The opening. Sure, speakers have people to thank. Some probably need time to get comfortable on stage. In the meantime, the audience silently suffers.
When you write, come out swinging. Share a shocking fact or statistic. Tell a humorous anecdote related to your big idea. Open with a question – and have your audience raise their hands. Get your listeners engaged early. And keep the preliminaries short. You’re already losing audience members every minute you talk. Capitalize on the goodwill and momentum you’ll enjoy in your earliest moments on stage.
4) Strike the Right Tone: Who is my audience? Why are they here? And what do they want? Those are questions you must answer before you even touch the keyboard. Writing a speech involves meeting the expectations of others, whether it’s to inform, motivate, entertain, or even challenge. To do this, you must adopt the right tone.
Look at your message. Does it fit with the spirit of the event? Will it draw out the best in people? Here’s a bit of advice: If you’re speaking in a professional setting, focus on being upbeat and uplifting. There’s less risk. Poet Maya Angelou once noted, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Even if your audience forgets everything you said, consider your speech a success if they leave with a smile and a greater sense of hope and purpose. That’s a message in itself. And it’s one they’ll share.
5) Humanize Yourself: You and your message are one-and-the-same. If your audience doesn’t buy into you, they’ll resist your message too. It’s that simple. No doubt, your body language and delivery will leave the biggest impression. Still, there are ways you can use words to connect.
Crack a one liner about your butterflies; everyone can relate to being nervous about public speaking. Share a story about yourself, provided it relates to (or transitions to) your points. Throw in references to your family, to reflect you’re trustworthy. And write like you’re having a casual conversation with a friend. You’re not preaching or selling. You’re just being you. On stage, you can be you at your best .
6) Repeat Yourself: We’ve all been there. When someone is speaking, we’ll drift off to a Caribbean beach or the Autobahn. Or, we’ll find ourselves lost and flustered when we can’t grasp a concept. Once you’ve fallen behind, it’s nearly impossible to pay attention. What’s the point?
In writing a speech, repetition is the key to leaving an impression. Hammer home key words, phrases, and themes. Always be looking for places to tie back and reinforce earlier points. And repeat critical points as if they were a musical refrain.
As a teenager, my coach continuously reminded us that “nothing good happens after midnight.” He’d lecture us on the dangers of partying, fighting, peer pressure, and quitting. After a while, my teammates and I just rolled our eyes. Eventually, we encountered those temptations. When I’d consider giving in, coach would growl “Schmitty” disapprovingly in my head. Despite my resistance, coach had found a way to get me to college unscathed. He simply repeated his message over-and-over until it stuck.
Some audience members may get annoyed when you repeat yourself. But don’t worry how they feel today. Concern yourself with this question: What will they remember six months from now?
7) Use Transitions: Sometimes, audiences won’t recognize what’s important. That’s why you use transitional phrases to signal intent. For example, take a rhetorical question like “What does this mean” – and follow it with a pause. Silence gets attention – and this tactic creates anticipation (along with awakening those who’ve drifted off). Similarly, a phrase like “So here’s the lesson” also captures an audience’s interest. It alerts them that something important is about to be shared. Even if they weren’t paying attention before, they can tune in now and catch up.
8) Include Theatrics: During his workshops, Dr. Stephen Covey would fill a glass bowl nearly full with sand. From there, he’d ask a volunteer to place rocks into the bowl. In the exercise, rocks represented essentials like family, job, worship, and exercise, while the bowl signified the volunteer’s time and energy. It never failed: The volunteer couldn’t fit every rock in the bowl. The sand – which embodied day-to-day activities like transporting children, shopping, or reading – took up too much space. Something had to be cut. Usually, it was something essential.
Covey would then encourage his volunteer to consider another option: Start with placing a rock in the bowl, adding some sand, and then alternating rocks and sand until the bowl was full. Like magic, there was suddenly enough space for both, as the sand gradually filled any gaps between the rocks. The message: Maintain balance. Never lose sight of the essentials as you tend to the day-to-day (and vice versa).
Of course, Covey could’ve made his point verbally and moved on. Instead, he illustrated it with household items in a way his audience wouldn’t soon forget. If you have a smaller audience (or a video screen), consider incorporating visuals. Keep the props, storyline, and lesson simple. When you’re done, leave everything out to symbolize your point to your audience. Whatever you do, don’t play it safe. If you do, your speech will be forgotten in no time.
9) End Strong: In 2004, I attended a Direct Marketing Association (DMA) conference. I don’t recall much about our keynote speaker, except that he was tall and southern. I can’t even remember what his address was about. But I’ll never forget the story he used to close his speech.
The speaker was a friend of Jerry Richardson, owner of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. A few years earlier, the Panthers had drafted a fiery wide receiver named Steve Smith. While Smith excelled on the field, he was a nightmare in the locker room. Eventually, Smith was arrested for assaulting a teammate during film study.
Already reeling from bad publicity from other player incidents, Richardson was pressured to cut Smith. But he chose a different path. Richardson vowed to spend more time with Smith. He decided that Smith would be better served with guidance and caring than further punishment. Eventually, Richardson’s patience paid off. Smith became the Panthers’ all-time leading receiver – and scored a touchdown in their only Super Bowl appearance. In fact, Smith still plays for the Panthers to this day.
If the speaker intended to remind me how powerful that personal attention and forgiveness could be, he succeeded in spades. Fact is, your close is what your audience will remember. So recap your biggest takeaway. Tie everything together. Share a success story. Make a call to action. Don’t hold anything back. Your ending is what audience will ultimately talk about when they head out the door.
10) Keep it Short: What is the worst sin of public speaking? It’s trying to do too much! Your audience’s attention will naturally wane after a few minutes. They have other places to be – and don’t want to be held hostage. And the longer you stay on stage, the more likely you are to stray and make mistakes. So make your points and sit down. Never forget: This is their time, not yours.
- Editorial Standards
- Reprints & Permissions
Module 1: Introduction to Public Speaking
Elements in a speech, learning objectives.
- Describe the fundamental elements in a speech.
- Identify the main differences between writing a paper and delivering a speech.
Most college students are familiar with writing research papers or perhaps engaging in class discussions. Preparing and delivering a speech, however, differs from these activities in fundamental ways. All these elements will be covered in more detail elsewhere in the course.
- You can’t really adapt an essay to the context in which it is received. Is the reader (your professor) at home or in their office? Are they reading at night or in the morning?
- Because a speech is delivered at a particular moment in time, you need to adapt its content to the speaking context. Great speeches fit the moment. Reflect on the purpose of your speech, the amount of time you’ll have, and the speaking environment. These elements will influence what you can realistically hope to accomplish with your audience. Consider the differences you might make to a presentation if you are delivering it first thing in the morning, just after lunch, or late Friday afternoon. The context of your speech can also help you determine which delivery type to use: impromptu, speaking notes, memorized, or a manuscript. If you are speaking for an hour, it may not be realistic to memorize a speech, but speaking notes or a manuscript can be very helpful. If your context will be highly emotional or require careful wording, then using a manuscript may be the best delivery type.
- In writing , your audience has the benefit of reading at their own pace, visually grasping your organization through paragraphs or headings, looking up definitions for unfamiliar terms, and looping over detailed information.
- In a speech, your audience doesn’t have any visual guideposts about the organization of the material. To adjust, you must provide clear, audible, organizational indicators or signposts. It helps to use language that is relatable, simple, and familiar, and to include vivid imagery and anecdotes.
- In a research paper , your credibility is established through research, which is cited in the text as well and with a bibliography or footnote.
- In a speech, citations are a bit more tricky. If your speech uses researched support, you must properly attribute your sources. Although they may be included in your written outline, stating a full-source citation when delivering your speech can quickly lose your audience. Therefore, you will instead use abbreviated source citations, often with just the publication and date, or the author and title when citing a book.
- Especially when they rely on complex data or visual information, essays can include graphs, charts, and illustrations.
- In a speech, visual aids are often used to illustrate an idea, evoke emotion, summarize data, or draw attention to an important concept. A visual aid adds interest, can refocus your audience, and can help them remember an important aspect of your speech. If you use a visual aid, consider when to use it in your speech and what type of visual aid would best illustrate what you’ve chosen to highlight. The most common visual aid is PowerPoint, but visual aids can also be objects or any sort of pictorial representation. For example, a speech about a guitar could use a PowerPoint with pictures of various parts of a guitar—or an actual guitar.
- In the case of an essay, we only perceive the writer through the style of their writing. Unless we have seen them in person, or look them up on the internet, we probably know very little about how they look, what they sound like, or how they carry themselves.
- Unlike the invisible author of an essay, the speaker is physically or virtually present to deliver the speech. Their appearance, dress, posture, confidence, delivery style, and energy level will have profound effects on the audience’s experience of the event.
Ready to present? Maybe not so much…
- When turning in a paper, it doesn’t matter if you finished well in advance or the night before. Whether you wore yourself out finishing it or cruised to completion, the paper will be judged on its quality rather than your emotional and physical state at its completion.
- In a speech, the quality of delivery will impact how well it is received, regardless of how carefully it was written and prepared. Verbal and nonverbal cues set the tone and engage your audience. Even when using speaking notes or a manuscript, you must be familiar enough with your speech that you avoid simply reading it. Therefore, you must build in plenty of time to practice.
To Watch: John McWhorter
In this TED talk, linguist John McWhorter discusses some of the differences between speaking and writing. For our purposes, the first five minutes will be the most informative, but the latter half is very interesting as well, particularly if you’re curious about the linguistic changes brought about by texting.
You can view the transcript for “John McWhorter: Txtng is killing language. JK!!!” here (opens in new window) .
What to watch for:
Notice how McWhorter starts his speech: “We always hear that texting is a scourge.” This statement sets up his thesis, which is that texting isn’t the downfall of language, but rather a “miraculous thing.” This style of opening, sometimes called “stabilization-destabilization,” can be a great way to get a speech off the ground. First you state the stable condition, the thing that everyone thinks is true. Then you destabilize this idea by showing how it’s not true, or at least more complicated than the listener might think. The destabilizing move says “yet . . .” or “however. . . .” (McWhorter says “The fact of the matter is that it just isn’t true.”)
Note as well how McWhorter uses visual aids in this presentation. Even though he puts a lot of words on the screen, he is not expecting the audience to read and engage with the meaning of these passages. Instead, the words are there to say something about language style. When you really want your audience to engage with the meaning of words on a slide, you should keep the text as minimal and concise as possible. We’ll cover this concept in more detail when we learn about visual aids.
- Tired. Authored by : Shanghai killer whale. Located at : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chronic_fatigue_syndrome.JPG . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
- Teacher in office. Authored by : jsoto. Located at : https://pixabay.com/photos/woman-office-teacher-613309/ . License : Other . License Terms : Pixabay License
- John McWhorter: Txtng is killing language. JK!!!. Provided by : TED. Located at : https://youtu.be/UmvOgW6iV2s . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
- Elements in a Speech. Authored by : Anne Fleischer with Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution
Speechwriting in Perspective: A Brief Guide to Effective and Persuasive Communication
February 25, 1998 – April 12, 2007 98-170
The frequent delivery of public remarks by Senators and Representatives is an important element of their roles as community leaders, spokespersons, and freely elected legislators. Congressional staff are often called on to help prepare draft remarks for such purposes.
Writing for the spoken word is a special discipline; it requires that congressional speechwriters’ products be written primarily, although not exclusively, to be heard, not read. Speeches are better cast in simple, direct, and often short sentences that can be easily understood by listeners. Rhetorical devices such as repetition, variation, cadence, and balance are available to, and should be used by, the speechwriter.
It is important for speechwriters to analyze audiences according to factors such as age; gender; culture; profession; size of audience; political affiliation, if any; and the occasion for, and purpose of, the speech. Most effective speeches do not exceed 20 minutes in length.
After researching a topic, speechwriters should prepare an outline from which the speech will be developed. They should strive to maintain a clear theme throughout the speech. Most speeches will have a three-part structure consisting of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
The accepted style of contemporary American public address is natural, direct, low key, casual, and conversational. This puts listeners at ease and promotes a sense of community between audience and speaker.
Punctuation should reflect the sound structure of the speech, reinforcing the rhythm and pace of actual speech. Clarity of expression is as important a consideration in speech grammar as rigid adherence to rules for written language.
Effective delivery can greatly improve a speech. Congressional speechwriters should make every effort to become familiar with the speaking style of the Member for whom they are writing, and adjust their drafts accordingly.
A wide range of speechwriting resources are available for congressional staff from the Congressional Research Service and other sources.
Domestic Social Policy
Writing For The Spoken Word: The Distinctive Task of The Speechwriter
Repetition and variation, cadence and balance, rhythmic triads, parallelism, alliteration, sentence variation, rhetorical questions, sentence fragments, inverted order, suspension for climax, use of conjunctions, audience analysis, demographics, audience size, degree of political affiliation, occasion and purpose, information, entertainment, time and length, time of day, how many words, speech research, speechwriting resources, policy resources, additional resources, speech preparation, building blocks: suggested principles, the speech outline, thematic clarity, three-part structure, techniques of persuasion, attention-problem-solution, this or nothing, contemporary style and tone, pitfalls to be avoided, punctuation, grammar and syntax, speech presentation, analysis of lincoln's farewell to his neighbors, general observations.
Writing for the spoken word is a special discipline; it requires that congressional speechwriters' products be written primarily, although not exclusively, to be heard, not read. Speeches are better cast in simple, direct, and often short sentences that can be easily understood by listeners. Rhetorical devices such as repetition, variation, cadence, and balance are available to, and should be used by, the speechwriter.
"Rhetoric," wrote Aristotle, "is the power of determining in a particular case what are the available means of persuasion." This report reviews some effective means for the rhetoric of persuasive communication in speeches written by congressional staff for Senators and Representatives. By speeches, this report means draft statements prepared for oral delivery by Members. Such speeches are often prepared under the pressure of deadlines that leave minimal time for extensive revision. Moreover, they must often be drafted in whole or part for Members who may have little opportunity to edit and amend them. The burdens of public office (as well as of campaigning) and the insistent demand for speeches of every kind for a variety of occasions require some degree of reliance on speechwriters, a reliance that is heightened by the limitations of time and the urgencies of the media.
A speech thus "ghostwritten" should nevertheless reflect the intention and even the style of the speaker. The best ghostwriters are properly invisible; they subordinate themselves to the speaker in such a way that the final product is effectively personalized in the process of actual communication. The only ways to achieve or even approach this ideal are practice and experience. This report seeks to provide some guidance for congressional staff on the principles and practice of speechwriting. The suggestions offered herein, when combined with practice, attention to audience and occasion, and, most importantly, the Member's attitudes, convictions, and style, can help create a speech that can be a "seamless garment" when delivered by the Member.
Writing effective speeches requires a constant awareness of the distinction between the written and the spoken word: the speechwriter must learn to "write aloud." While the best speeches read as well as they sound, the novice speechwriter should give priority to the ear and not the eye. His or her speech must be written to be heard, not read.
This means that easy intelligibility should be a paramount concern, so that the listening span is not strained. One of the first rules of the speechwriting profession is that a sentence written to be heard should be simple, direct, and short. When the speechwriter "writes aloud," George Orwell's advice to cut out any word that can possibly be cut is helpful, so long as the resulting effect is clarity, and not verbal shorthand. 2 Ciceronian oratory on the one hand and Dick-and-Jane simplicity on the other are extremes to be avoided. The speechwriter thus faces the challenge of crafting words that convey the speaker's meaning clearly, but that also draw on the rich nuance and texture of spoken English.
The average spoken sentence runs from eight to 16 words; anything longer is considered more difficult for listeners to follow by ear, and according to one expert, may be too long for the average listener to absorb and analyze quickly. 3 By comparison, written sentences of up to 30 words are easily understood by average readers. 4 Given these generally accepted limitations, what devices are available to the writer to make more complex sentences and speech wording accessible to the listener? Complex sentences can be clarified by repeating key words and using simple connections. By numerous rhetorical techniques, the speaker states, restates, and states again in different ways, the central themes of the speech.
Repetition with variation is a basic speechwriting tool used by many of the greatest speakers to emphasize key elements while avoiding monotony. Some examples follow.
- Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech was a striking example of this technique, using that phrase to introduce a series of his visions for a better future.
- Lincoln at Gettysburg emphasized the significance of the day's events by restating the solemnity of the occasion in not fewer than three variations: "We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground, ..."
- Similarly, Winston Churchill's World War II speeches used repetition with variation to build a powerful climax: "We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on the beaches and landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills, ... we shall never surrender."
- Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1937 "One third of a Nation" speech imparted a sense of urgency by his deliberate repetition of a "here are" construction to describe conditions in the country, followed again and again with "now":
Here is one-third of a nation ill-nourished, ill-clad, ill-housed—NOW.
Here are thousands upon thousands of farmers wondering whether next year's prices will meet their mortgage interest—NOW.
Here are thousands upon thousands of men and women laboring for long hours in factories for inadequate pay—NOW.
Another venerable rhetorical device is the use of cadence and balance in the spoken word. This is a part of speechwriting where the speaker and the writer need cooperation to ensure success. The tradition of public speaking in the English language owes much to the poetic tradition, which was originally an oral tradition. As one observer noted, "the language of the speech should also be poetic —replete with alliteration, metaphor, and other figures of speech. Such adornments, far from being superfluous, enhance meaning and emphasize relationships among ideas." 5 As difficult to define as to achieve, cadence and balance impart movement and harmonious effect to any speech. Essentially a matter of ordering groups of words (and ideas) into rhythmic patterns, cadence and balance can be attained by such classical rhetorical devices as the ones described below. Do not be put off by the classic Greek names of some of these rhetorical devices; in practice we use them naturally in conversation and writing every day.
The grouping of words into patterns of three can lead to a memorable effect, provided the device is not overused. Some notable examples from classic oratory include " Veni, vidi, vici "; "Never ... was so much owed by so many to so few"; "The kingdom, the power, and the glory ..."; "I have not sought, I do not seek, I repudiate the support of ..."; "one third of a nation ill-clad, ill-nourished, ill-housed...."
The linkage of similar words or ideas in a balanced construction that repeatedly uses the same grammatical form to convey parallel or coordinated ideas: "Bigotry has no head and cannot think; no heart and cannot feel;" "Charity beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
The repetition of initial sounds in a series of words to give emphasis. For instance, "We need to return to that old-fashioned notion of competition—where substance, not subsidies, determines the winner," or, "... the nattering nabobs of negativism...."
This is the repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. Churchill's famous defiance of Hitler, "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds ...," which has been previously cited, is one of the most famous examples.
A common form of parallel structure comparing and contrasting dissimilar elements. For instance, "... give me liberty, or give me death."; "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."; "To some generations much is given; from others, much is demanded ..."; "A great empire and little minds go ill together."; "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of folly."; "If Puritanism was not the godfather to Capitalism, then it was godson."
This technique involves more than alternating longer sentences with short ones. The writer may employ either periodic sentences, that is, those in which the main clause comes at the end, or loose sentences, in which the main clause is presented at or near the beginning, to be followed by other main or subordinate clauses. Sentence variation also includes the use of such devices as those described below.
"Is peace a rash system?" "Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?" The speaker leads the audience to the conclusion he hopes they will draw by asking a question that makes his point, and that he intends to answer himself, either immediately, with a flourish, or at greater length during his remarks, through patient exposition.
"Dear money. Lower credit. Less enterprise in business and manufacture. A reduced home demand. Therefore, reduced output to meet it." The speaker dramatizes the situation by reducing it to a stark declaration, which he renders more striking by pausing to let the facts sink in after each sentence fragment.
"With what dignity and courage they perished in that day." This classic rhetorical practice, once more widely used, seeks to embellish the general flow of words, much like an ornament or a musical flourish. It also helps give a particular sentence special emphasis by causing it to stand out from others by its unusual form.
With this device, the speaker comes to a complete stop in his remarks, using the ensuing moment of silence to concentrate the listeners' attention on his next phrase. "My obligation as President is historic; it is clear; yes, it is inescapable." Even periodic sentences, if used with care, repeating the "suspended" subject or verb before modifying phrases or clauses can contribute to the effect: "Thus did he prove to be a leader who—victorious in battle, magnanimous in victory, skilled in the arts of peace—was able, in the face of his most determined foes ..."
Repeating key words and using simple connective conjunctions ( and , for , because , but ) can make many complex sentences more easily intelligible to the ear by breaking them up into "bite size" segments. For instance, "Be a craftsmen in speech that thou mayest be strong, for the strength of one is the tongue, and speech is mightier than all fighting."
No speech will sound fresh and vivid if it is not animated by imaginative imagery, by metaphor in its many forms: "the hatred of entrenched greed"; "America will always stand for liberty"; "Democracy is the healthful lifeblood which circulates through the veins and arteries of society ..."; "Whether in chains or in laurels, liberty knows nothing but victories."
Extended metaphors or analogies, comparing similarities in different things, should be used with care so that the principal subject will not be lost in the image. Two or more metaphors in a single sentence or thought can be safely ventured only by the most experienced writers—"To take arms against a sea of troubles"—without incurring ridicule (as in the famous—and perhaps apocryphal—example attributed to the newspaper Pravda , the onetime propaganda organ of the Soviet Communist Party: "The fascist octopus has sung its swan-song").
Above all, in the spoken word there must be an element of identity and rapport with the listener, whether the speaker uses a "natural" conversational tone or a more oratorical style. Effective speechwriting for Congress is not a branch of "creative writing." Its "rules" are meant to foster clarity of expression, whatever the occasion and purpose of any given speech. Mere clarity is not enough for persuasive rhetoric, however. Indeed, there are times when clarity, brevity, and the like are not appropriate. The issues, because of their import and complexity, may preclude such treatment; similarly, the gravity or delicate political nature of the occasion may call for some measure of deliberate ambiguity. The best speechwriter will take into account the context of the speech and the speaker's personality, the image that is projected—that is, the speaker whom the audience sees and hears. The section on speech analysis in this report attempts a closer look at Lincoln's great Farewell Address at Springfield, illustrating many of the principles considered in this report.
What Jefferson Bates called "audience analysis" is probably the single most important factor to be considered in writing every speech: know your listeners, and you will have a much better chance of connecting with them. 6
Bates and others list a number of criteria useful in audience analysis, including, among others: age; gender; culture; education; profession ; size of the audience; and affiliation. 7 Age is obviously an important factor; high school students, young parents, and senior citizens have different levels of life experience, different interests reflecting the challenges they face at their particular stages of life, and, to some extent, they even speak different languages. Although gender differences in societal roles are less pronounced than a generation ago, some believe that certain persistent disparities of viewpoint between many men and women on some topics persist. With respect to "culture," William Wiethoff, in Writing the Speech , states that it "has escaped a standard or preferred definition. Speechwriters, however, may envision culture as the race, customs, and religion shared by members of an audience." 8 The factors of education, profession, and income level can be a pitfall for the unwary speechwriter. Never confuse education with intelligence, or professional status and worldly success with moral superiority or virtue, or modest means and educational attainment with the opposite.
The writer must be sensitive to these varying frames of reference found in an audience. Draft remarks should be familiar, sympathetic, and topical, without being condescending. They must, as always, be phrased in a way that is natural for the Member; it is painfully obvious to an audience if a Member is not comfortable in his role or with his words.
The size of an audience is another important factor in preparing a speech. A large audience and a formal occasion usually call for greater formality in language and delivery, lengthier remarks, and greater reliance on some of the classical rhetorical practices cited in this report. By comparison, many Members will require only talking points for a town meeting, and will almost certainly speak extemporaneously in still more intimate gatherings. In the age of cable and satellite television, and Webcasts, the Member is often asked to address what may appear to be a very small group of listeners physically present at the broadcast venue; at the same time, however, many others, perhaps thousands, may be viewing from other locations, or from their homes. It is the writer's task to craft remarks that simultaneously take into consideration the people physically present in the studio or location, and those who may be watching from home or other locations.
Speechwriters must also condition their words to the degree of political affiliation, or lack thereof, in the intended audience. A gathering of the party faithful is usually ready for some "red meat." An audience consisting of a non-partisan citizen's group, such as the League of Women Voters, is almost certainly not. The writer must also always remember that, while the Member is affiliated with one political party, and comes from a particular part of the state or district, he or she represents all the people, and gives due attention and respect to the legitimate views and aspirations of all constituents.
Another of the speechwriter's tasks is to assess the occasion at which the Member has been asked to speak and tailor the remarks accordingly. In contemporary society, the delivery of remarks by public figures is an expected element in almost every secular public ceremony, and at many religious services. The speechwriter must ensure that the occasion and the speech agree with one another, in both tone and content.
For instance, Veterans' Day and Memorial Day are among the most solemn public holidays in the calendar. For these two events, the speechwriter should focus on themes of commemoration, service, and sacrifice. The atmosphere should appropriately be both somber, and hopeful: "their sacrifice led to a better, more secure life for those who followed them." High school and college commencements are of a different genre altogether. The occasion may demand inspirational remarks, but as one observer noted, "I've heard speakers ... deliver a tedious, solemn policy address at graduation ceremonies in which the graduates and families just want to hit the exits and have a good time." 9 Conversely, a formal address to a learned society will differ dramatically from friendly remarks at a neighborhood picnic, town meeting, or retirement home. Simply put, the writer should exercise common sense in preparing remarks appropriate in tone and content to both the audience and the occasion.
Another useful consideration for congressional staff is to plan the delivery of substantive remarks on substantive occasions. If the Member is scheduled to announce a major policy statement or initiative, it should be delivered in commensurate surroundings, and on occasions when media coverage will be adequate. Timing is also a serious factor; speeches delivered at mid-morning, at lunchtime, or early afternoon at the latest, are far more likely to be covered that same day by local TV news.
The purpose of a speech and the occasion at which it will be delivered are closely related. Most frequently, the latter will govern the former. William E. Wiethoff suggests a "purpose" template for speechwriters in Writing the Speech . 10 In it he establishes three categories of purpose: information , persuasion , and entertainment .
These speeches seek to convey facts or information to the audience. The speaker first identifies the information that is about to be presented, seeking to link the new facts with others the listeners may already be aware of. Next, the speaker elaborates on the details of the information just conveyed, while avoiding a level of complexity and detail that would confuse the audience. Finally, the speaker draws together the facts and ideas related earlier, ideally recapitulating the main points in order to fix them in the listener's memory.
The persuasive speech is a two-edged sword: it can seek to instill in the listeners either the acceptance of, or at least a more favorable opinion toward, a particular condition, fact, or concept. This variant is described as advocacy . Conversely, a speech may also attempt to change an audience's impressions, opinions, or most ambitiously, their convictions. Wiethoff calls this dissent , and asserts that it is more difficult than advocacy, since the speaker faces the burden of proving to the listeners that what they have heretofore accepted should be modified or rejected. 11 In both cases, the writer must marshal the arguments that will convince the audience.
Wiethoff's third category of speech purpose is entertainment. A great percentage, perhaps a majority, of Member speeches will fall into this category. The choice of title for this group may be misleading, however. These are not necessarily frivolous occasions, and they are not unimportant to the life and people of a town or village, students at a school, or members of a club who constitute the audience for such remarks. Speeches in this category serve the vital function of reinforcing the common ties and experiences that bind communities together and help reinforce the vitality of civic life in America. As Wiethoff notes:
These speeches are delivered during ceremonies or rituals that are significant in themselves. They do not need clarification in order to be understood. They do not need proof of their importance. Instead, on these occasions people share an expectation of what will happen, and they are dissatisfied if the events do not take place as expected. 12
"Entertainment" speeches may be solemn in nature, such as a Memorial Day address, or celebratory, such as remarks at the opening of a new school, library, or child-care facility. They remind citizens of their joint identity as members of a community; these events, seemingly everyday, or even trite, are actually vital expressions of civic life. The Member's role as a community leader and spokesperson on these occasions should not be underestimated; it is a great honor for him or her to deliver remarks at these community rites, and a congressional speechwriter should devote talent and originality to them.
Obviously, the three purpose categories cited here are not necessarily mutually exclusive; in order to convince an audience, a speaker often needs to combine persuasion with information. Similarly, while some types of remarks are intended purely for entertainment, such as a celebrity roast, the careful speechwriter will always seek to entertain audiences in order to capture and retain their attention.
How long should a Member speak? The answer to this fundamental question of speechwriting, like so many others, depends on a wide range of factors. Audience analysis and occasion have been previously noted, but the habits and attitudes of the speaker must also be taken into consideration.
The natural inclinations of the Member must be examined. Is the Member a person of few words, or is he or she a good talker? Does the Member stick to the text, or lay it aside to share anecdotes, personal reminiscences, or even humor, with the audience? These and other related questions can be answered only through experience on the part of the congressional speechwriter. Learning the Member's style and preferences will result in a better product that communicates more effectively.
Time of day should be considered by the writer. In the morning, people are relatively fresh, and are generally better prepared physically to listen attentively. By late afternoon, or after a luncheon, however, the audience may need to be stimulated, either by coffee or by lively remarks. Finally, lengthy after-dinner remarks should almost never be inflicted, especially on a paying audience. The potential auditors are full, tired, and ready to go home. It's best to give them their wish as quickly as possible.
Finally comes the classic question: how many words should the speechwriter prepare? Once again, the factors of audience, occasion, Member preference, and time of day should be considered. The question of length of time, however, must be dealt with at some point. A number of classic speech authorities suggest that in most cases 20 minutes should be the upward limit. Conventional wisdom often holds that most listeners tune out, perceptibly or not, after that period. 13 Ritual or pro forma speeches, such as occasional remarks at schools, churches, or public functions where the Member is a guest, but not the main attraction, benefit from brevity, perhaps being limited to five to 10 minutes. Although substantive public policy speeches may merit greater length, in modern America, only presidential inaugural and State of the Union messages seem to exceed the 20-minute limit regularly, with the latter often weighing in at over an hour.
The question of pace is also important; is the Member a fast talker? Different speakers exhibit considerable variety in pace, ranging from 115 to 175 words a minute. Once again, the speechwriter will factor these personal differences into his work. As a benchmark, however, an often-cited rule-of-thumb is that the average 20-minute speech contains about 2,600 words, or, about 130 per minute. Most word processing programs will provide a total document word count as part of their spell check feature. 14
Having a fixed time stimulates careful preparation. Both a time limit and notes or text help guard against logorrhea , or excessive verbiage. Time limits also encourage speakers not to be overly comprehensive, saying everything there is to be said on the speech topic. This is a temptation difficult to resist, but a speech is, by nature, a precis or digest. Excessive complexity or verbiage are capable of transforming an effective speech into something ponderous and exhausting. Jefferson's sharp judgment of 1824 applies today with equal force: "Amplification is the vice of modern oratory.... Speeches measured by the hour die with the hour."
Theme, audience, time, place, occasion and purpose—once these are settled, the speechwriter's next concern is to gather ideas, facts, examples, illustrations, quotations, and humor, in short, whatever is needed to give substance, character, and interest to the speech. There is no shortcut for researching a speech, although a number of resources can speed the process.
Congressional speechwriters often consult the Congressional Research Service first when preparing a draft statement or an address for a Member. CRS offers a range of speechwriting resources for the use of congressional staff, many of which are available from the CRS Home Page, at http://www.crs.gov .
To find this report and other speechwriting resources, go to the CRS Home Page and click on the tab on the right, "Reference Desk" http://www.crs.gov/ reference/ general/ reference.shtml . On the left side of the page you will find a link to "Speechwriting & Holidays/Commemorative Events" http://www.crs.gov/ reference/ general/ speechwriting.shtml . This page provides links to commemorative speech materials, many of them focusing on major holidays, such as the Fourth of July and Labor Day, and month-long celebrations like Black History Month and Native American Heritage Month. Information is provided on the history of and related facts about the holiday or celebration. The speechwriting page also accesses sources providing practical tips for writing a speech, quotations, the full text of selected speeches and United States historical documents and writing guides.
Other sources of information on public policy, reference resources, appropriations information, legal resources and many external links conveniently organized by topic are also available on the CRS Home Page. From the "Reference Desk," you can access "Basic Resources for Daily Work in Congressional Offices": government directories, encyclopedias, statistical sources, dictionaries, grammar guides, maps, and other online reference links. There is also a "Legislative Reference Source" page with links to facts about Congress including information on membership, committees, rules and schedules.
Providing timely, accurate, and unbiased information and analysis on current policy questions is the most important function of the Congressional Research Service. The congressional speechwriter can access the CRS Home Page to garner analysis on current policy issues. The page links to the Current Legislative Issues, such as the Economy, Homeland Security, Internet/Telecom, and Iraq. These are further divided into subcategories, with links to the full text of CRS reports, containing comprehensive and multi-disciplinary analysis and information. They are available exclusively to congressional staff from the CRS Home Page and provide a ready resource to the congressional speechwriter.
In addition to the Current Legislative Issues on the CRS Home page, on the left side of the page is a link to "Featured Products." The first Featured Product link is entitled "Floor Agenda: CRS Products." For a speechwriter who wishes to write about recent bills scheduled for floor action, this is an invaluable resource. This link accesses CRS reports about legislation that is scheduled for floor action that week. The link to the "Appropriations Status Table" accesses the latest status of and links to appropriation bills, as well as committee and CRS reports.
Congressional staff who wish to discuss any policy-related issue with the appropriate CRS analyst can call the Inquiry Section at [phone number scrubbed], to place a request or to ask for a briefing by an analyst. Alternatively, to find out how to contact a CRS expert from the Home Page, click on the "Contact Expert" tab. A request for analysis or research assistance may also be faxed to the Inquiry Section at [phone number scrubbed] or may be placed from the CRS Home Page by clicking on the "Place a Request" tab.
The CRS Hotline at [phone number scrubbed] is available for immediate ready reference requests, such as questions about presidential quotes on the virtues of the Constitution or perhaps variations in the Consumer Price Index for the past five years. In addition, the LaFollette Congressional Reading Room (LM-204, James Madison Memorial Building, the Library of Congress), Rayburn Research Center (B-335, Rayburn House of Representatives Office Building), and Senate Research Center (SR-B07, Russell Senate Office Building) provide a full range of in-person assistance, including many standard reference sources and CRS products. They are staffed full-time by information professionals available to assist you.
Legislative information is also available from commercial publications such as CQ Weekly , the annual Congressional Quarterly Almanac , and the same publisher's eight-volume history of major legislation and national issues since 1945, Congress and the Nation. A journal of similar content but with greater emphasis on executive branch activities is National Journal , which appears weekly.
There are sites on the Web that may be helpful to the speechwriter.
American Rhetoric http://www.americanrhetoric.com/ index.htm This is an Index to an expanding database of over 5000 full text, audio and video versions of public speeches, debates and interviews. This site has a useful set of communication links and is updated every two weeks.
Speechwriter.com http://wwwthespeechwriter.com This website contains many links to research sites, statistics, encyclopedias, business links, current events, anecdotes, quotes, speeches, toasts and biographies.
The Advanced Public Speaking Institute http://wwwpublic-speaking.org/ public-speaking-articles.htm This website has 43 articles on the use of humor in a speech.
Additional helpful resources may include books on speechwriting. Writing Great Speeches: Professional Techniques You Can Use ( Essence of Public Speaking Series ), by Alan M. Pearlman, has endorsements from two public speaking groups, the National Speakers Association and Toastmasters International. You may also wish to consult a work by Richard Dowis, The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write One—How to Deliver It . The author, a former journalist and public relations executive, discusses the content, the memorability, rule of three, and other speechwriting methods. Finally, Choosing Powerful Words: Eloquence that Works ( Essence of Public Speaking Series ), was written by Ronald H. Carpenter, a professor of English and communications. These books may be requested from the Loan Division of the Library of Congress, telephone 707-5441.
There are other basic materials with which every speechwriter should be familiar. These include a good standard dictionary (spell check is not foolproof, and has a rather limited vocabulary). The preferable dictionary is prescriptive as well as descriptive, that is, it prescribes or recommends usage in addition to providing descriptions or definitions. A thesaurus, such as Roget ' s , published in numerous editions since 1852, or J.I. Rodale's Synonym Finder , various editions since 1961, is useful in finding the right word and generally superior to the thesaurus feature offered with most word processing programs. For quotations, consult the standard Bartlett ' s Familiar Quotations in any one of its many editions, or Respectfully Quoted , a quotation dictionary compiled by the Congressional Research Service. Annual almanacs, such as the Information Please Almanac and the World Almanac , are often essential for quick reference.
Literary and religious sources include the works of Shakespeare in any readable edition and the English Bible, especially the King James or Authorized Version. Aside from its obvious spiritual aspects, the King James Bible is important for both its literary quality and its tremendous influence on spoken and written English.
Access to some standard encyclopedia, such as Americana , World Book or Britannica, is also helpful for fact checking and general information. Chase ' s Calendar of Events is a useful annual guide to special observances throughout the nation. A wealth of facts, statistics, and data useful in speech preparation can be found in the annual U.S. Government publication Statistical Abstract of the United States , published annually. For sample speeches on many topics of contemporary interest, the speechwriter may wish to consult Vital Speeches of the Day , published twice monthly, available through EBSCO Host and other Internet sources. It provides examples of speeches delivered by recognized public figures on topical questions and major issues and events of the day, and is annually indexed by author and topic. All these sources are available in the La Follette Congressional Reading Room, and most are also available in House and Senate office building reference centers.
Daily newspapers are a familiar, if neglected, resource for speeches; a dedicated speechwriter will read or skim several each day, noting and saving background items that may prove to be useful later. Both national and hometown papers should be included. Other useful sources include weekly news magazines and more specialized journals that cover public policy issues. Here, again, the advent of the Internet provides new sources of information valuable to the congressional speechwriter: home district newspaper web sites may be regularly scanned for local news on issues and events of interest to the Member. These are usually posted online the day they are published, and almost always well in advance of postal delivery of the printed product.
Certain general principles may be useful to guide the congressional speechwriter in choice of content and style:
- Quotations and humorous anecdotes or remarks are like spices, and should be used with discrimination, mindful of good taste and effectiveness. Speeches overloaded with quotations and anecdotes can sink from their own weight.
- Pseudo-quotations should be avoided. Never use a quotation that cannot be verified in an authoritative source.
- Unless a writer is gifted with lightness of touch, self-deprecating or gentle humor is usually more effective than satire or ridicule.
- Jokes aimed at people's personal lives or at religious and ethnic groups are invariably offensive, regardless of the speaker's motives. Avoid them.
- Statistics should be used with care and moderation. Like the points in an outline, they are better alluded to in context than cited in tedious detail. A speech filled with statistics becomes a statistical abstract, not a speech.
- When selecting material, the responsible speechwriter will take great care to quote accurately and give full credit for whatever is borrowed outright. Plagiarism is often illegal and always unethical . On the other hand, it is entirely proper to adapt existing materials to one's own purpose in preparing a new speech for any occasion. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in response to accusations that he had plagiarized parts of the Declaration of Independence from other works, "I did not consider it as any part of my charge to invent new ideas altogether and to offer no sentiment which had ever been expressed before." Straining after originality, which has been defined by an anonymous wit as "imitation not yet detected," can ruin the best of speeches.
- Finally, the seasoned speechwriter soon learns to recycle the best parts of previous efforts, to save time and effort, and also to preserve a particularly fine turn of phrase.
The task of actually writing the speech, once the preliminaries are completed, will be greatly facilitated in most cases by the use of an outline. The novice speechwriter may be tempted to dispense with this device, on the grounds that it adds a time consuming extra step to a process that is often constrained by tight deadlines. On the other hand, it forces the writer to plan and organize his thoughts, to determine in advance what he intends to say, and to begin at the beginning.
A speech outline generally is not nearly as detailed as an outline for an academic work, such as a journal article, or even a research paper. The outline serves as a skeleton, a framework to carry the flesh and blood of the fully developed speech. At the same time, this skeleton should eventually be invisible, clothed in delivery with ideas and emotions, and as simple as possible; beware of explicitly enumerating too many points or topics. Outlines may be written in topics, or key sentences, or in complete thoughts, so long as there is an orderly sequence.
The frugal writer will retain speech outlines, since they can easily be reworked for future efforts. In whole or in parts, these can be placed in folders in a word processing program, or written out into a looseleaf notebook binder or even on index cards. From any of these media, the outlines can be quickly cut, rearranged, or added to as future occasions may require. President Ronald Reagan, for example, was legendary for his expert use and reuse of note cards that included facts and themes he sought to emphasize in various speeches.
Throughout the speech, the writer ought to be constantly asking: "What is it I am trying to say?" and, after it is written: "Have I, in fact, said it clearly, succinctly, and well?" Every speech seeks in some way to move an audience, to win support, to motivate, to convince, perhaps to inspire, or simply to entertain. Adhere to the central theme or idea while addressing it in different ways, much in the manner that good sentences are constructed for a paragraph.
The arrangement of ideas and themes should follow a logical progression. Each fact establishes a certain point, which leads to the speaker's next point, and so forth, ultimately climaxing with the thematic conclusion. While it is more dramatic to gain an audience's attention by opening a speech with a grand conclusion, be sure that the initial dramatic assertion is followed up by the essential process of weaving the argument the Member seeks to make.
Do not try to say too much, particularly when the speech is intended as the vehicle for a major announcement or initiative. The most memorable presidential inaugural addresses have been those that set a single theme, or coherent group of related themes. 15 Stick to no more than three major points, rather than attempting to say a little something about everything. Anything more risks running afoul of Churchill's famous comment concerning a bland dessert: "This pudding has no theme."
Nearly every speech will have a basic three-part structure of introduction, body, and conclusion. An arresting introduction should lead into an emphatic statement of the main theme or themes. The argument that follows seeks to elaborate and develop the theme convincingly and effectively—that is, without too much detail. The central theme is restated in the closing peroration. One helpful approach for overcoming the feeling of word fright (what can I say and how?) is to write the speech in reverse: begin with the conclusion, which should summarize the central message, while abridging and restating whatever goes before. If the introduction sets the tone and establishes initial appeal or rapport, the closing communicates the final effect and is more likely to be remembered. Working backward is one way of imparting unity, coherence, and emphasis to the speech as a whole.
There are many techniques available for the actual writing of a speech. Almost all speeches delivered by, or on behalf of, Members of Congress, even those for ceremonial or pro forma occasions, will have a certain political character because of the Member's representative function, and also because of the way in which his or her office is perceived. In the rhetorical context, political means persuasive, including the expression of personal interest and concern, assuring and reassuring, conveying the Member's identity with each audience, and so creating a community of interest and trust. Three kinds of persuasive techniques are usually distinguished:
- the appeal to reasonableness: "Surely Democrats and Republicans alike can agree that there is no excuse today for hunger in the world's richest nation...."
- the appeal to emotion: "Can we, as a nation, close our eyes to the spectacle of millions of children going to bed hungry every night...?"
- the ethical appeal (that is, to the character of the audience): "our historic traditions of decency and generosity demand that we face squarely the question of hunger in America...."
All three approaches may be used in any given speech.
One popular option for developing a speech is the "attention-problem-solution" method, especially for longer speeches of a non-partisan character. Useful for many different occasions, this method begins by stimulating the interest of the audience, usually with attention-grabbing examples of a problem that needs to be recognized and confronted. The speaker then moves to define the "problem" situation, and concludes with the proposed "best" solution, presented so as to win listener support.
Another option, the "this-or-nothing" method, advocates a policy mainly by presenting and refuting proposed alternatives as inadequate or worse. It lends itself well to partisan occasions or to stirring those already convinced. In every case the speaker seeks to reinforce and strengthen his principal ideas as they are unfolded in the speech. Prior audience analysis and subject preparation will often help the speech "write itself."
No speaker should ever apologize for his or her presence, or for the content of the speech. If it truly deserves apologies, it is better left unsaid. Further, a prudent speaker, rightly wary of the impulse to speak "off-the-cuff," will make certain that "extemporaneous" or "impromptu" remarks are not unprepared. For most speakers it is also better not to memorize a speech (unless one has a gift for it), since memory is fallible and elusive at best.
The congressional speechwriter should not shrink from commonly accepted contemporary usage: the all-day speeches and obscure classical allusions of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay make wonderful reading, but they are history. The development of public address systems, radio, and, finally, the "cool" medium of television, and the perhaps even more intimate medium of the webcast have combined with other social changes to turn down the volume, both in decibels and emotions, of public speaking in the United States, for better or worse eliminating its more histrionic qualities.
The accepted style of contemporary oratory is generally low key, casual without being offensively familiar, and delivered directly to the audience in a conversational tone and volume. It puts the audience at ease and helps promote psychological bonding between listeners and speaker. The speaker is perceived as a neighbor or friend, as well as an elected official. This is, of course, what every Senator and Representative strives to be. Perhaps the first, and certainly one of the most effective, practitioners of this art was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his radio "fireside chats." His calm, reassuring voice and homey language revolutionized the bond of communication between the American people and their Presidents. It could be said that FDR spoke "with," rather than "to," the people, a standard to which Members can honestly aspire today. Once again, certain exceptions are allowed, but these are generally reserved largely to the President, or for only the most formal occasions.
Use natural words and phrases in a speech; let the sentences flow conversationally. It is helpful for some writers, time permitting, to prepare a first draft in longhand, shaping the sentences slowly, speaking aloud the phrases they intend to use.
The first person is perfectly acceptable in modern public discourse, and when combined with other personal pronouns—remember to avoid "I" strain—it can help connect listener to speaker and create a sense of community within the audience. While the first person singular is sometimes deprecated, it is its excessive use that should be avoided. Conversely, speakers should avoid referring to themselves in the first person plural (we) or the third person singular (he or she). The former has been reserved to monarchs, and is considered archaic in modern speech. The latter too often conveys a sense of excessive self importance to listeners. For instance, a Member should think twice before referring to himself or herself in the third person singular: "Dave (or Mary) Smith thinks the problem of hunger is the greatest challenge facing America today."
Writers should generally use simple, declarative sentences, preferably in active voice, when making important statements of fact, assertion, or opinion. Use of the passive voice should not be dismissed out of hand, however; it is sometimes the more desirable form, and can lend grace and variety to the speaker's flow of words that stimulates the listener. It is excessive use that should be avoided. Similarly, exclusive use of the active voice can impart a choppy, juvenile cadence to even a content-rich speech.
Just as there are points to emphasize in every speech, serving as clear transitions or aural signposts for paragraphs ("secondly," "nevertheless," "finally," "accordingly," "as a result," "in spite of," "as I have said," etc.), so there are things to avoid, and they are more numerous. While they are discussed in full in many reference works, they include:
- jargon and trendy neologisms: "impact" used as a verb, "stakeholders," "incentivize," "outside the box," et al .;
- redundancy resulting from excess verbiage, not deliberate restatement;
- mannerisms that may distract the listener, and trite phrases or cliches, with the exception previously mentioned, monotony of style or pace, and, in general, language inappropriate to the audience and occasion.
Punctuation is crucial to an effective speech; it helps to clarify the delivery of the spoken word. Good punctuation in English, apart from a few basic elements, is less a matter of inflexible rules than of purpose and style, particularly where speeches are concerned. Historically there have been two broad traditions of punctuation: syntactical—that is, guided by syntax or grammatical construction; and elocutionary—deriving from the rhythm and pace of actual speech. One writer has further distinguished three methods of punctuating:
- by structure or logic to indicate the sense of what is being said;
- by the rhythm of word order and intended meaning—a subtle use best avoided by novice speech writers;
- and by respiration—that is, by the physical ease of natural speech, which assumes that what is read is really spoken. 16
This last method, essentially the same as the elocutionary style, is the most widely used and certainly the most appropriate for speeches. In short, punctuate according to the ear and not the eye. This also means punctuating for the lungs: give the Member time to breathe! A long and convoluted sentence (something to be avoided in general) can leave the Member literally gasping for breath as he or she concludes it. A useful practice for congressional speechwriters is to declaim aloud (speak aloud, not in a conversational tone, but as if one were speaking to an audience) any lengthy sentence intended for the Member. If the writer finds it taxing on the lungs, then so will the Member; in such cases, it is advisable either to fashion shorter sentences, or to repunctuate the original, using such obvious "time out" devices as the colon and semi-colon, both of which are described in the next paragraph.
Commas and dashes are useful to the speaker and listeners alike as guideposts to what lies ahead in a speech. They also provide pauses where the speaker can let the import of the previous sentence sink in, or simply catch his or her breath. Opinion is divided on colons and semicolons; some consider them as serving the same functions as commas and dashes, while others suggest that they are more emphatic, demanding a full stop in the flow of remarks, rather than a short pause. They are also sometimes criticized as leading to long compound sentences that are difficult for audiences to process, and that are better replaced by shorter declarative ones. In the final analysis, the Member's personal preferences and style should be the congressional speechwriter's guide.
Correct grammar and syntax in the context of speechwriting and delivery mean using a level of English usage that is appropriate to the occasion. While it is highly desirable, the formal grammar of the written language is not an end in itself; it exists to further the clarity of expression. Far more important than the grammarian's rules is the communication of personality by which a speech, as opposed to a lecture, is clothed with emotion and enthusiasm, so that the speaker is perceived to be sincere and trustworthy, neither "talking over people's heads" nor "talking down" to them. While this may belong more to the presentation or delivery, the writer should strive for it in speech preparation as well.
Effective delivery can transform a weak speech and make it sound very good. Poor delivery can ruin the best-prepared speeches, and sometimes does. Although delivery is not the concern of the speechwriter as such, it must be always in mind as a speech is actually written. The speaker's pace, his or her style, mannerisms, tendencies (such as departing from a text), peculiarities, or special difficulties (words to avoid)—these are elements with which the writer should be well acquainted before preparing any speech. Knowing how a Member speaks is essential in preparing a draft that is both useful and realistic.
Ideally, a speech draft ought to be reviewed three times—by the writer, by the prospective speaker, and by a disinterested third party. Of these three, priority should ordinarily be given to the speaker. The revised product is likely to be more effective. With speeches, as with food, however, too many cooks are undesirable. Moreover, time seldom permits this much critical evaluation and rewriting. It may even be easier to provide for some appraisal of the speech's impact and audience reaction after delivery. For example, it is said that Senator Robert F. Kennedy's speech writers would follow his delivery of a speech word by word, noting those phrases or ideas that were well received, or others that created problems.
An effective political speech is defined not by rules of rhetoric, but by the character of response it evokes. The speaker, then, is always concerned to measure that response and to elicit "positive feedback." This means a network of contacts that can report on the opinions and reactions of the audience, and evaluate the interest generated and evident a week or more after the event. It requires an awareness of media coverage and subsequent treatment from constituents, the sponsoring organization, and others. In short, it means adding a political relevance to the familiar phrase, "keeping in touch."
Although there are substantial distinctions between legislative and non-legislative speeches, the basic principles of preparation and presentation are identical for both. Good writing is nurtured by wide reading, which in turn fosters a sense of style, enriched vocabulary, accuracy in grammar, and a feeling for English syntax. The best speechwriters will, through regular daily reading, bring an ever more abundant background to their work. Everything is grist for the speechwriter's mill. Moreover, nothing is surer in speechwriting than that "practice makes perfect." The more one writes, the easier the task becomes, and the smoother and more conversational the flow of the Member's remarks.
As with so many aspects of speechwriting and delivery, the physical form of a speech is a matter of personal preference. Some speakers prefer to work from a completely polished text, one that may include carefully tailored "spontaneous" anecdotes and jokes at appropriate places, and may even incorporate hints on speech delivery or effective body language in the text. Others prefer to speak from notes derived from such a text, proceed from a series of "talking points," or simply extemporize. Whichever method is used, preparatory notes or an outline are recommended, with the cautionary warning that dependence on a manuscript can deaden the delivery, just as the excessive use of notes or cards can stimulate verbosity.
President-elect Lincoln's farewell speech at Springfield, Illinois on February 11, 1861 is arguably the shortest great speech ever delivered from the back of a train. Its railway car setting recalls to mind the now-vanished connection between political events and the railroad, including the whistle-stop campaigns of most presidential candidates from William Jennings Bryan to Dwight Eisenhower. What Jacques Barzun called Lincoln's "workaday style [would become] the American style par excellence," undermining the monopoly exercised by purveyors of "literary plush." 17 The Springfield speech illustrates with extraordinary brevity—it is only a 15 line paragraph—the Lincolnian qualities of precision, vernacular ease, rhythmic virtuosity, and elegance.
The sense of right order and emphasis throughout culminates in the closing sentence—"one of the greatest cadences in English speech." 18 The effect is achieved by the simple yet artful devices of parallelism, the balancing of similar and antithetical words phrases, and ideas, evoking rich Biblical overtones among his hearers. Lincoln's style is rooted in the "speaking intonations" and "humanly simple vernacular" of everyday speech, heightened by form and rhythm, the distinctively American tradition seen at its best in such writers as Emerson and Frost. 19 Although some hold that today there is no place for rhetorical eloquence, arguing that "bluntness and clarity" and simplistic thoughts are the norm, 20 others assert that the craft of speechmaking, the impact of skilled political rhetoric is as significant as ever in our history. 21 Lincoln's mastery of that craft remains a formidable example.
My Friends: No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when or whether ever I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell. 22
The rise and, indeed, the virtual triumph in American political speaking of "the popular conversational idiom," with its emphasis on simplicity, brevity, and terseness, has tended to encourage "simplistic language together with slogans or catch words ...," influenced perhaps by the techniques of mass media advertising and particularly television. 23 "Repetition and retention of a few simple ideas are stressed more than a complex concept." 24 In consequence, some have noted a growing trend toward what some have characterized as a numbing mediocrity: "Since the 1920s more political speakers have addressed larger audiences on a wider range of topics than at any time in history. Yet so marked is the decline in the quality of style that the majority of speeches are pedestrian, prosaic, and impotent." 25 This last may be an excessively pessimistic evaluation of the state of contemporary political speech. Few, moreover, would advocate a return to the florid style of public speaking that prevailed as recently as the 1920s.
The remedy, in part, may be the cultivation of style. "Time should be devoted," writes L. Patrick Devlin, "to using impressive language," which he defines as "the most vivid, clear, concise, and meaningful style." 26 It will be most effective if it bears the personal stamp of the speaker. "The process of persuasion is ... more a matter of communicating values than logical information." 27 In essence, good speechwriting requires that the speaker assume a role: to some extent, he or she must be able to impart confidence and to sense the character of an audience. We need not agree with Talleyrand's cynical observation that "speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts" to recognize that effective persuasion calls for the ability to win the hearts and minds of listeners. To seem natural is not easy; as George Fluharty and Harold Ross wrote in Public Speaking :
The speaker is estimating his audience and his audience is estimating him. His ethics, his integrity, understanding, and humanity are strong forces for good and also strong components of his "ethos" or personal effect upon not only his present but also his future audiences. The speaker should therefore make sure that the actual situation permits him to use a given persuasive device. 28
Once again, the words of Abraham Lincoln, himself no mean practitioner of the public speaker's art, may serve to summarize the speechwriter's ultimate goal:
When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim that "a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall." So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great high-road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really is a good one. 29
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