Sunday, 8 September 2013

What Makes A Speech Great?

I have always had a passion for english, and I recently began to think about how I could combine this with my passion for history. I soon realised that english plays a huge part in forming history; for example, all of the greatest speeches that are most remembered and celebrated are so great because they have been written so well (i.e. using the tools english teaches you).

Robert Rackleff, the former speech writer for Jimmy Carter said a speech should be "stirring, inspirational and upbeat". I believe all speeches should end on a positive note, giving the audience some hope for salvation, for example ending on a joke will relax the audience and renew their attention. Ronald Reagan is famous for ending his speeches on a personal anecdote; he would single out individual people and praise them for being living, breathing proof of how correct his policies were. He used to acknowledge 'American Heroes' at the end of every State of the Union address.

Derek Bok, president of Harvard, once ended a speech by saying "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance". I think inversions such as these are brilliant endings to speech, both dramatic and effective.

When Franklin Roosevelt gave a speech before Congress asking to declare war against Japan, he changed 'a day which will live in history', which his speechwriter had written, to 'a day which will live in infamy'. Infamy was the perfect word to express what had happened at Pearl Harbor, and the right word can make all the difference in making a speech memorable. Another example of this is shown from the Carter-Reagen debates, when, at the end of his debate with President Carter, during his summation Reagen asked the audience a simple question 'Are you any better off now than you were four years ago?'. This simple question optimized the public's fears, frustrations and anger with President Carter, and opinion polls showed a dramatic shift away from him the next day.

The final way to make a speech great, I believe, is to use a great quotation. For example using this quote, by Rabbi Hillel 'If I am not for myself, then who will be? But if I am only for myself, then who am I?' is evocative and will stir emotions deep within the audience, meaning people will still remember the speech in decades to come.