How To Write A (Good) Political Speech

by drjim on February 1, 2011

Often It's A Good Political Speech That Gets The Vote Out

Often It’s A Good Political Speech That Gets The Vote Out

Political speeches, for the most part, are forgettable. Except when they aren’t. If you’ve spent any time listening to the types of speeches that politicians are giving these days, they are basically junk (the Phil Davison, GOP Candidate, Delivers Stark County Treasurer Speech on YouTube is a classic bad political speech). The question is whose fault is this: the speech writers or the speech givers? I’m willing to bet that the art of writing a good political speech has been forgotten by far too many speechwriters. I’m going to solve that problem right now…

What Is Rhetoric?

Political speeches are a specialized form of speech. According to Wikipedia, rhetoric is the art of using language to communicate effectively and persuasively. What this means for us is that when we use rhetoric to create a political speech, we want the speech to accomplish a goal – convince an audience to vote our way.

If you want to dive in deeper to rhetoric, you can explore the three audience appeals: logos (reason), pathos (emotions), and ethos (knowledge). For our purposes here we’ll stick with the understanding that a good political speech needs to win over an audience no matter how you go about doing it.

What’s Wrong With Political Speeches Today?

Most speeches given by politicians today suffer from the same fatal flaw: they are completely forgettable. Exactly who’s fault this is has not been resolved: is it the speechwriter’s fault or the speech givers? No matter, both are probably partially to blame.

Where did things go wrong? Jeff Shesol who is a political speech writer believes that one of the reasons that political speeches have lost their punch is because of how speech writers are writing them.

He points out that it’s all too easy for political speech writers to focus on the sound bites that they hope will be captured out of a speech. In order to make this happen, they over use such tools as alliteration (repetition of a particular sound in the first syllables of a series of words and/or phrases: “economy, employment, empowerment”) and cliches (an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect: “there’s no place like home”).

Even worse, too many speech writers / speakers believe that if they keep saying the same thing over and over again it will eventually become true. The reality is that the audience tunes out the speaker and the speech ends up being quickly forgotten.

What Does It Take To Write A Good Political Speech?

All of this negativity talking about political speeches might make you feel as though there is no hope – maybe it’s not possible to create a political speech that has an impact. The good news is that history shows us that this is not true. Churchill, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, etc. have shown us that political speeches can still change the world. They just have to be created the right way.

The first thing that you need to realize when you are sitting down to write a political speech is that the speech needs to have a point. What is the main goal: do you want the audience to take some action, vote a particular way, etc.? A political speech without a point is just a waste of everyone’s time.

Next, you had better take the time to organize your speech in a way that your audience will be able to follow what you are saying. Sure, you might believe that what you are asking them to do is the right thing, but if you don’t lay out your reasoning in a way that they can follow then they won’t come along for the ride.

Finally, and this may be the most important point of all, every single word in your speech must matter. This means that there can’t be any phrases that are in there just for filler or just to transition from one thought to another. Instead, ruthless editing is involved and every word that is not contributing to reaching the final goal needs to be chopped out and removed. Shesol points out that an excellent example of this is the speech that Bill Gates gave at the Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum in which he introduced “Creative Capitalism”.

What All Of This Means For You

At some time we are all called on to write a political speech. We may not be running for president, but perhaps we’re trying to get elected to the local school board. No matter, there are too many bad political speeches out there – we don’t want to contribute to this mess.

Instead, we want to write a good political speech. To do this we need to make sure that our speech has a very clear point to it. The speech will need to be well organized and every word in it will need to have a purpose for being there.

If we can craft a political speech that has these characteristics, then we will have created a very powerful communication tool. With tools like this, elections can be won and from there, the world can be changed.

- Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: How long do you think a good political speech should be?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So don’t get me wrong, I love Toastmasters. It’s a great organization and I’ve been a member since forever. However, it’s not perfect. They’ll do a great job of teaching you HOW to give a speech, but they won’t help you to do a better job at WHAT you say. That is where tag lines come in…

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Vivekananda January 18, 2012 at 6:44 am

I?ll immediately seize your rss as I can’t to find your e-mail subscription link or newsletter service. Do you have any? Please let me know in order that I may subscribe. Thanks.

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Dr. Jim Anderson January 20, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Vivekananda,

Follow this link to subscribe to the free The Accidental Communicator newsletter:
http://www.theaccidentalcommunicator.com/newsletter

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Jim March 9, 2012 at 8:25 pm

This was as helpful as a bad political speech. No point, no focus, no help…

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Dr. Jim Anderson March 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Jim: Ouch! Now wait just a minute, the post said that if you wanted to write a good political speech you need to make sure that your speech has a point, you have to organize it so that your audience can follow it, and you need to take the time to make every word count. That’s got to be at least a little bit helpful, right?

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