Great Speeches

Great Words Matter

President Abraham Lincoln did not expect the Gettysburg Address to be remembered. He said within the speech itself, “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” How wrong he was! Almost every American is familiar with its first line, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Through history, we have certain speeches that lead the pack. They inspire, convince, and persuade.

Often it is a combination of rights: Right speech, right speaker, right audience, right era, right venue, right public relations, and right history. It is a strange soup that needs to mix to arrive at this greatness, some of which a speechwriter can control, and some of it is beyond his reach. In some cases, a writer faces the daunting task of careful wording to comfort a nation in the midst of a tragedy. Writers were given this responsibility, for example, when President Bush announced the Twin Towers in New York City were hit, and when Ronald Reagan announced the Challenger explosion. We understand the trust and diligence required to bring our best, as in that moment or writing, we can help serve the world.

One way speechwriters learn is through the study of such speeches. We set our political views aside and ask, “Why is this effective?” We then ask a related question, “What of this can I steal for my own?” That’s not about plagiarism, but style, structure, cadence and that sort of thing. We likewise look at the speeches which flopped and examine what didn’t work. Occasionally, a seemingly brilliant speech was misunderstood, or, strangely, a speech that broke a number of rules, succeeded wildly. How come? That’s what we try to analyze because we can then improve our own work.

These listed here are an example of those great, history-making speeches. Learn about college commencement speeches.

Which do you recommend?

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