diplomats and experts alike all described Obama’s inaugural speech as touching,
impressive, candid and down-to-earth. One thing is sure: Obama is a rhetorical
godsend. Whenever he speaks, people hang on his every word. The sentences
penned by his speech writer give millions of people goose pimples, but only if
spoken by Obama himself. The same words spoken by another politician would
sound unimpressive and bland. That is what makes a speech writer good: being at
one with the speaker. They must be able to read their thoughts and put the
right words into their mouth. If you are writing a speech for yourself,
however, you should heed the following rules:
- Have you concentrated on the subject matter and not crammed too much in?
Good! A speech is not a hawker’s tray. Limit yourself to a single
topic and divide it into a maximum of five logical points, otherwise
you will confuse your listeners. The speaker’s greatest art is
that of omission.
- Does your speech have a ’story-telling quality’
about it? Good! Get your message
across using anecdotes; there is no better way of keeping the audience awake
- Do you want to make your audience laugh or smile? Good! But be careful: nothing is more
embarrassing than a speaker who laughs alone at a joke. Limit yourself to jokes
or anecdotes that really are funny.
- Have you included quotations? Good! But likewise choose carefully: they should
be witty and pithy, short, from smart, well-respected people, not too numerous
and not too long. Always select only the best bits.
- Do you argue using numbers? Good! Nothing is more convincing than tangible,
verifiable figures. It is better to say "83 %" than "most" or
- Are you spicing it up with rhetorical questions? Very good! This will arouse curiosity and keep
people interested. You can litter whole passages of your talk with cleverly
placed rhetorical questions. In essence: a speech without questions is like a
room without sufficient ventilation.
- Do your sentences differ in length? Excellent! Sentences of equal length are
monotonous, tiresome and very good at gradually building up aggression.
Institut für Rhetorik,
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