Posts Tagged ‘Speechwriting’

One More Thing About Oprah’s Speech…..

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist adding a couple hundred more words to the millions that already have been written about that speech.

I won’t add to the chorus of voices pointing out Oprah is a great presenter who spoke at a turning point in history. Instead, what knocked me out as a speechwriter was the script. In only a thousand words or so, the speech demonstrated the power of a whole bunch of the most important “Principles of Great Speechwriting.”

I’ve tweeted about several of them, but here I want to focus on one of my favorite speechwriting tips: “Start Strong or Die.”

Clearly, Oprah knows that—and how.

The Golden Globes speech began with a three word “thank you.” And then…

In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee, watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: “The winner is Sidney Poitier.” Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remember his tie was white and, of course, his skin was black. And I’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that.


A personal memory, a great story with wonderful details (“his tie was white and…his skin was black.”) And a terrific introduction to the rousing themes of the speech.

So,  the next time you prepare to give a speech–or write one—take one more look at what Oprah said.

I Tried Stand-Up, and Improved my Speeches

Many thanks to Vital Speeches of the Day editor David Murray, for publishing my piece on the lessons speechwriters can learn from the craft of stand-up comedy. In the article, I describe how–after years of fear of failure–I finally took the plunge and tried my hand at stand-up. Wisely, I took a course first, which was superb, taught by our wonderful teacher Chris Coccia, a Philadelphia comic. The big surprise was how much the class and the experience also taught me about speechwriting. You’ll find the complete post here.

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