Trip Hearts And Minds The JFK Way

Photo credit: BBC News

Photo credit: BBC News

Speech writing is the world’s most forgotten job and I’m giving it A-list status during November.

A month gives us enough time to celebrate one of the greatest speeches ever, delivered by President John F Kennedy, as we also pause to remember his assassination 50 years ago on 22 November.

You know the speech I’m talking about. Well you know this passage: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”.

What you may not know is that those famous words are taken from a speech crafted by legendary speechwriter Ted Sorenson, in collaboration with JFK, for the 1961 inaugural address by 35th US President.

Speech writing helps the world turn

Great speeches like that leave us gobsmacked and remind us of the beauty of speech writing. Yet, most of the time speech writing is forgotten.

We forget that speeches, written down, fill hours of stand up comedy, sitting parliament or Congress, council meetings, university lectures, school lessons, business meetings and briefings by firies.

Danish royals, Prince Frederik and Princess Mary at Sydney Opera House, October 2013. Photo credit: Sydney Morning Herald

Danish royals, Prince Frederik and Princess Mary at Sydney Opera House, October 2013. Photo credit: Sydney Morning Herald 

Speeches, written in minds, also fuel parents when they want to tell kids something important.

Imagine a comic book with no speech bubbles, or special events minus a speech, like the 40th anniversary of Sydney Opera House, or visits by dignitaries Down Under such as the Danish royals.

A world without speech writing is not possible.

Speech writing is the ultimate job

Speech writing is the ultimate job because it gives voice to an idea. The very words chosen for a speech can either build support for an idea – just watch TED – or it can tear it down. Even worse, the wrong words can cause confusion and alarm.

I reckon there’s no other ethical job that carries such absolute power or responsibility. Even the US President can’t declare war without the approval of Congress.

Great speech writing paints a picture for the audience. It takes a vision, point of view, or a happening – all based on an idea – and crafts it into a simple and authentic story. Ideally, it’s a story that moves and shapes perceptions.

President John F Kennedy giving his inaugural address. Photo credit: UK Daily Mail

President John F Kennedy giving his inaugural address. Photo credit: UK Daily Mail 

Better still if the hearts of listeners can skip a beat with joy or love as they hear the speech. If you’ve ever had to prepare a toast or speech for milestone events like birthdays, anniversaries and weddings, you know the power of tripping hearts.

After all, hearts are the shortest distance between people connecting, and the right speech is a way in.

JFK’s inaugural address and his following public speeches engaged hearts and minds.

Build compelling and authentic stories

Those speech writing guidelines also apply to speeches that launch services, products and help senior executives and leaders share good, bad or tragic news with interested parties. These are just some examples of speeches I write professionally, although I’m not a professional speech writer.

My speech writing also requires me to break down ideas and often complex concepts into tweet-size messages that, together, build a compelling and authentic story.

tape measure Size really does matter

Speaking of Twitter, don’t be fooled into thinking written speeches have to be long to be effective. Some of the most memorable speech writing is short: “I love you”, “You’re hired”, “You’re grounded” and “You’re fired”.

There’s also “I divorce you”. This must be said three times to your spouse in some cultures, which have it written into their law, to make it binding.

Walk the red carpet

As November is the month of giving speech writing A-list status, let’s also give speech writers everywhere, professional and otherwise, star treatment for their unseen and unsung efforts. Celeb speech writers like Lisa Wilkinson can double dip on the star treatment.

One more thing, if there’s a female executive out there in need of a speech, please get in touch. All the speeches I’ve ever written have been for blokes.

  • What do you like most about speeches?
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