Posts Tagged ‘Speechwriting’

Learning from Great Commencement Speeches

microphoneI admit it, when it comes to the use of analytics, I’ve been a skeptic. I know the use of sophisticated statistical analysis has yielded important insights in many fields. But in some areas, like being a sports fan, it seemed to squeeze out the fun, and in other areas, like speechwriting, I was convinced it really didn’t have much of a useful role.

Well, I may have to give up some of my Luddite ways. Quantified Communications is doing really interesting work to (in their words) “combine data science and human expertise to improve the way people communicate.”

One blog post in particular caught my eye. QC used a proprietary analytical tool to see what CEO’s could learn from the 13 best commencement speeches of all time (as selected by Business Insider.) In particular, key characteristics of the commencement speeches were compared to important elements of the average executive keynote.

Every CEO and speechwriter for a CEO should pay heed to the findings.

First, the outstanding commencement speakers were much better at building trust through confident, authentic language than the average CEO. The commencement speeches came “across as 42% more authentic and 15% more confident.”

However, where the CEOs really lagged behind was in using “clear and engaging language to keep the audience’s attention.”  The great commencement speeches were a stunning 81% clearer and 86% more engaging than the average executive keynote.

Now, as someone who has heard and read a lot of executive presentations, I must say this finding doesn’t surprise me. I just hope these analytics will give communication pro’s ammunition they can use to encourage clients to do a lot more to build audience trust and engage listeners.

Inauguration Speech Advice Part 1: Learn from the Worst

170px-WGHardingI’m quite sure that Donald Trump’s speechwriting team will not be looking to me for advice on preparing his inauguration speech. But, what the heck, I’m going to offer some anyway, in my next couple blog posts.

Unsought bit of advice #1 … learn from Harding.

In the 1920’s, William Gibbs McAdoo a Democratic Senator from California, described the speeches of President Warren G. Harding, with these words:  “[A]n army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.”

Harding certainly got off to a really bad start, delivering an inauguration speech that is usually rated as among the worst, if not the very worst, ever given.

Just a few samples (I read it in full so you don’t have to.):

Let us express renewed and strengthened devotion, in grateful reverence for the immortal beginning, and utter our confidence in the supreme fulfillment.

But America, our America, the America builded on the foundation laid by the inspired fathers, can be a party to no permanent military alliance. It can enter into no political commitments, nor assume any economic obligations which will subject our decisions to any other than our own authority.

The unselfishness of these United States is a thing proven; our devotion to peace for ourselves and for the world is well established; our concern for preserved civilization has had its impassioned and heroic expression.

With the nation-wide induction of womanhood into our political life, we may count upon her intuitions, her refinements, her intelligence, and her influence to exalt the social order. We count upon her exercise of the full privileges and the performance of the duties of citizenship to speed the attainment of the highest state.

The speechwriting lesson here could not be more clear: stay away from platitudes, clichés, and leaden phrasing.

Quote Box: What Speechwriters Hate

At the White House, even the most rudimentary speech is read by about a dozen people (if not more). This is also a terrible process for any writer since their words are invariably dumbed down by some political operative or second-guessed by some literal-minded lawyer, or rewritten by some staff person with a literary bent who has the great American novel in his desk drawer.

Matt Latimer,  former speechwriter for President George W. Bush,

Politico, July 16, 2016

Quote Box: Speeches Can Make a Difference

… the timeworn method of repeating a clear message can still, over time, change minds and then outcomes. 

Jeff Shesol, Five Myths About Political Speechwriting, Washington Post, July 2016

A Surprise Issue in the Campaign: Speechwriting (Really?)

1-6-12-Rick-Santorum_full_6001Although I have lived through a lot of presidential races, I have to admit I never thought that my profession — speech writing — would become a campaign issue. Lobbying? Sure. Hedge fund partner? Ditto. Even community organizing got into the act in 2008. But I never suspected that us scribblers of prose for other people would come under fire.

Enter Rick Santorum.

As former George W.  Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson recently wrote in the Washington Post,  Santorum has this warning about political candidates — “It’s important for you to understand who that person is in their own words, see them, look them in the eye. . . . You’re choosing a leader. A leader isn’t just about what’s written on a piece of paper.” The great enemies of authenticity,according to Santorum:  “speechwriters.” (Thanks to Jim Beverley for sending this column my way.)

Gerson very elegantly rips this argument to shreds, pointing out that the collaboration between a political leader and a speechwriter ” is a process in which a leader refines his own thoughts, invites suggestions by trusted advisers and welcomes the contributions of literary craft to political communication.”