A Politician's Guide To Speeches
Nov 8 2011 8:28PM

Perhaps you've been quietly thinking: gee, it would be nice if I could sound like Barack Obama.Let's be blunt: everyone wants to sound like him; only he can pull it off. But that doesn't mean you can't make yourself a much better orator. I offer you a short check list to put you on the right track.

1. Why are you here?

Complete this sentence: “I came into politics because…”

Now: discard whatever you just wrote down, and try again. You may have a stock answer you've been using for months or even years; we may well have heard it a thousand times before. Don't settle for telling us what your party believes in, or repeating your stock phrase for the reporters; DIG. Try to recall a particular moment or event which has moulded your approach to life and politics; an injustice; a struggle; a revelation. A rip-off. A shock. Tell us all about it. Show us the view of the world though your eyes. Unless you are the very greyest of people, the most vacant-eyed of clones, there will be something about the way you look at the world that is new, and distinct. Share that; we need fresh insights. And so do you. Take your fresh insight and use it to guide your political career.

2. Disrobe
People lean forward in their chairs when you give them the unexpected.

We have many things on our minds that we keep to ourselves. Some should be kept there, but many others should not; we are the better for having them declared out loud.

Brave speakers embrace this idea. Speak candidly, cut through the blandness. Say what is in your heart. Be frank. Acknowledge the things you worry about in money, in work, in business, in relationships. Maybe you'll mention the coke you did in your thirties, maybe you won't mention the thing you have for high school uniforms. What matters is that you acknowledge people as they are, and not as they represent themselves to be.

3. Thesaurus: not a small dinosaur

Barack Obama takes familiar ideas and commonplace observations and makes them fresh. If you can produce just one line in your speech that sparkles enough to make the newspapers report it, you will have done well. Write and rewrite, with Mark Twain's advice in mind: The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

4. Tell a story

Management language is the curse of the modern world. Management language loves to speak in the abstract. You are here to share ideas, but not just in the abstract. The best way to share ideas in a speech is to bring them to life with real people, real life, real stories. How did Barack Obama describe the sweep of the 20th century? He told us the story of a 106 year old woman named Ann Nixon Cooper. Tell us about the people you've met; the places you've been; the remarkable and dreadful things you have seen. Take the stories of the people to your gathering of representatives and talk about the people you represent.

5. If you want to be Obama, do not try to be Obama.
The point of a speech is to achieve a connection. They call Harvard Law graduates like Obama cool cats. He speaks. The cool cat conveys his serene calm, his sure confidence, his perception and his empathy. The surely-crafted words buttress the style, and the style is buttressed by the truth of the words. There is authenticity, and lyricism, and a connection between speaker and audience is made.Make your character as evident as he makes his. You will be judged, as he has, by its content.

6. Arrive, and remain, realistic.

Winston Churchill was once asked, "Doesn't it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing? "It's quite flattering," he replied. "But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big."

Obama political story candor

Speech - The Great Dictator
Nov 8 2011 8:14PM

I'm sorry but I don't want to be an Emperor.  That's not my business.  I don't want to rule or conquer anyone.  

I should like to help everyone if possible. We all want to help one another -- human beings are like that. We all want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful. But we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men's souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in: machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little: more than machinery we need humanity; more than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me I say, "Do not despair".

The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass and the power they took from the people will return to the people and liberty will never perish.

In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written, "The kingdom of God is within man." Not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men -- in you, the people.

You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy let's use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men's happiness. Let us all unite!

Look up. The clouds are lifting, the sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow - into the light of hope - into the future, that glorious future that belongs to you, to me and to all of us. Look up. Look up!

excerpted from The Great Dictator (1940)

Political Chaplin Hitler

Wedding Speech Tips
Aug 1 2011 12:02AM

This is a simple guide to making your wedding speech. It answers some of the most frequently asked questions, and gives you some tips on making it as easy as it can be.


I won't tell you that you won't get nervous, because the plain fact is, you probably will. But you should know this: most people do. In fact, if there's no adrenalin, it probably won't be much of a speech. The important thing is to keep it in perspective. Just use these tips, and you'll find that there's nothing to worry about.

For starters, remember that you're not sitting an exam, you're talking to your friends. Your friends and family are the warmest audience you'll ever have. They've come to your wedding, and they're on your side. Think of it as a bigger dinner party than usual - and it's your turn to tell a story. Just relax and remember how comfortable you would be back at the dinner party - then go ahead and tell your story.

Here's another tip. It's the waiting that's more likely to make you nervous. Once you're on your feet, and you've started talking, as long as you know what you're going to say, it's suddenly a whole lot more fun. So remind yourself of that as you're sitting and waiting, and make it easier by repeating your first line to yourself. That way when you get to your feet, and the room goes silent, you won't suddenly freeze. Instead, you'll just say that line you've been repeating to yourself over and over. And with that out of the way, you'll find the rest just follows.


The usual routine is this:

A welcome by the master of ceremonies,

who introduces a friend of the family or close friend of the couple,

who makes a speech leading up to a toast to the bride and groom,

followed by a speech in reply by the groom, or bride, or both, who thank everyone who has helped organise the wedding, usually ending with a toast to the bridesmaids,

who have toasts made on their behalf by the best man, who then makes a toast to the hosts - who might or might not be the bride's mother or father or both - who reply.

But you don't have to do any of that. It’s all a question of saying the things that matter to you, and having the people who matter to you involved. Choose the people who you would like to say something, decide who should be recognised and thanked, and then work out an order that suits you best.

It's always a good idea to have a master of ceremonies, because they can keep it all in order, and you really should have someone to introduce all the speakers. But apart from that, choose what seems right for you.

One of the ways you can make it particularly interesting is to make some unconventional toasts. For example, each speaker could choose a year that they think is particularly appropriate to toast. (For example '1976, because that was the year that...'). By taking this approach, you give people the chance to think about things in an original way, and have more of a chance of steering away form making speeches that recite all the usual platitudes.


Write a speech to practice as soon as you can. That'll give you more time to hear how it sounds, and adjust it so it sounds like your usual style of speaking rather than your usual style of writing. And, more importantly, it'll make you so familiar with the speech that by the time you stand up, you'll know just what you want to say. Once you have it written, practice whenever you can - in the car, in the shower. The more you prepare, the more confident you'll be.


Be yourself, and speak your mind. This is a chance to say some things that mean a lot to you about people you care about, in front of all your friends and family. That's not a chance people get very often, so make the most of it!

wedding speech

Alex Dunphy, Valedictorian
Jun 12 2011 3:21PM

Last week's episode of Modern Family had some nice observations about speechmaking. Haley tries to discourage her smarter sister Alex from giving a valedictorian speech laced with barbs for the popular kids.

She's just seizing her moment to tell the the truth, Alex says. No one wants to hear the truth, Haley tells her. "In order to give a good speech all you have to do is take a song, and say it."

Like: don't stop believing', or: get this party started.

But Alex intends to challenge them. She's going to make them think. Haley tries again. "No one wants to think. It's a graduation, a celebration of being done with thinking." She's deteremined to dissuade Alex from giving a speech that will make her a "social piranha."

Ultimately Alex sees her sister's point, and improvises. Her speech uses goodwill, makes perceptive observations about people's shortcomings and anxieties, and finds a rousing ending by saying the words to the songs.

It's not the Gettysburg address, but the audience loves it. The story has other points to make, of course, but there are some nice lessons about speeches in there, about empathy for the audience, and writing for the ear and not the eye. Her words connect with the audience because she acknowledges their anxieties.

And of course those song lyrics will work. They're written for the ear. They have rhythm. So should the words of our speeches.

Valedictorian, Modern Family,

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