Leading a Team? Preparing a Presentation? Think Different. Think “Speechwriting”.

Superb Speechwriting = Precision + Power + Poetry

Question: Why should you consider doing some speechwriting?

Answer: Because speechwriting forces clarity and brevity. Because speechwriting forces clear thinking. Speechwriting is both a foundation and a construct of clear thinking. Clear thinking is a catalyst for success. Speechwriting is a good way to force and habitualize clarity and brevity into your day-to-day communication. And when done well, speechwriting combines precision, power and poetry in a way that is magical. I encourage you to try it. GOOD LUCK!

Having written well over 100 speeches in Toastmasters and over 10 (keynote / break-outs) 60-minutes speeches, I have a genuine appreciation of the profound power and extreme difficulty of this form of writing.

I’ve wondered what I would do if I were tasked with writing a major speech for a world leader. I’ve often wondered how presidential speechwriters feel when they are tasked with writing a major speech. I can’t imagine a more consequential and stressful writing assignment.

So I was delighted to stumble on a talk yesterday – Jon Favreau @ Oxford Union: Life as Obama’s Speechwriter. Full Address and Q&A, where he discusses just these matters. It has wonderful insights. The segment where Favreau discusses his telephone conversation with 106 year old Ann Nixon Cooper (minute 14:15 to 16:45) is particularly powerful.

I have long recognized the closing Ann Nixon Cooper story of Obama’s President-Elect, 2008 Victory Speech, as masterful–and a reminder that simplicity is indeed the ultimate sophistication. Lot’s of ideas and imagery can indeed be communicated with few words.

There is no reason why anyone of us cannot aim to write as well. There is no reason why anyone of us cannot aim to communicate as eloquently.

Here’s a video, and the text, with analysis of a powerful speech closing (President-Elect Victory Speech delivered 4 November 2008) with the Ann Nixon Cooper story. Hope it stirs your imagination and prompts to to at least give speechwriting a try. If you do, it will serve you well. Feel free to step out of your comfort zone and give it a try. If you do, it will serve you well

The speechwriter beautifully and seamlessly integrates multiple themes into one effortless narrative.

  • Thematic message = Yes We Can.
  • Ann Nixon Cooper story.
  • Reminding Americans of our history.
  • Stitching America’s history into Ann Nixon Cooper’s life story.
  • Reminding Americans that we are constantly changing.
  • We can change – through the best of times and darkest of hours.
  • Staying on message with “Yes We Can”.

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Italics in green = my (Rashid N. Kapadia) comments

Transitioning to “strong-close” and setting up the story
… a story that’s on my mind tonight’s about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: surprise twist, attention grabber, Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old. appreciative audience response 

moving Ann Nixon Cooper story forward
She was born just a generation past slavery;
reminding Americans of our history
a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons: because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

moving Ann Nixon Cooper story forward
And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America — the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress;
staying on message with “Yes We Can”
the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

stitching America’s history into Ann Nixon Cooper’s life story
At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot:
staying on message
Yes we can. slight audience chant – yes we can

stitching America’s history into Ann Nixon Cooper’s life story
When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose:
staying on message
Yes we can. stronger audience chant – yes we can

stitching America’s history into Ann Nixon Cooper’s life story
When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved:
staying on message
Yes we can. even stronger audience chant – yes we can

stitching America’s history into Ann Nixon Cooper’s life story
She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “we shall overcome”:
staying on message
Yes we can. very strong audience chant – yes we can

reminding Americans of our history
A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.

closing Ann Nixon Cooper story
And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change: Yes we can. this is core message + strong audience chant

transitioning to “Call To Action”
America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves —

projecting past successes into the future’s challenges
if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made? open ended questions

Call To Action
This is our chance to answer that call.
This is our moment.
This is our time,
to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids;
to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace;
to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth,
that, out of many, we are one;
that while we breathe, we hope.
And where we are met with cynicism and doubt and those who tell us that we can’t,
we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:
concluding on message
Yes, we can.

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Writing like this is really hard—and really worthwhile.

Question: Why should you consider doing some speechwriting?

Answer:
Because great speechwriting speechwriting combines precision, power and poetry in a way that is magical.
Because speechwriting forces clarity and brevity.
Because speechwriting forces clear thinking.
Speechwriting is both a foundation and a construct of clear thinking.
Clear thinking is a catalyst for success.
Speechwriting is a good way to force and habitualize clarity and brevity into your day-to-day communication.

GOOD LUCK!

_____________________________________________________

 

Ann Nixon Cooper,
January 9, 1902 – December 21, 2009
 noted member of the Atlanta African-American community & civil rights activist 

 


APPENDIX

In the rarified world of presidential speech writers, Ted Sorenson (John F. Kennedy) and Peggy Noonan (Ronald Reagan) have an elevated status. Some day Jon Favreau (Barack Obama) may be elevated to a similar status. Only time will tell.

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Every engineer can be a better engineer
by being a better pubic speaker and storyteller

Every professional can be a better professional
by being a better pubic speaker and storyteller

Every citizen can be a better citizen
by being a better pubic speaker and storyteller

I help citizens, professionals, and engineers become better public speakers and storytellers.
www.NecessaryBridges.com

Book Description
Necessary Bridges: Public Speaking & Storytelling for Project Managers & Engineers

Every engineer & STEM professional can articulate an engineering & STEM challenge as eloquently and inspirationally as the speaker does in the audio of this clip. At the very least, every engineer and STEM professional can aspire to do so.

STEM = Science Technology Engineering Mathematics
Audio = JFK/moon speech segment/Rice University Sept 12, 1962

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