2018 Cicero Speechwriting Awards

CiceroI’m delighted that transcripts of the 25 best speeches selected by Vital Speeches of the Day are now available. In addition to the overall winner there are awards for a wide range of categories; from industry verticals such as Energy and Transportation; to motivational speeches, controversial speeches, commencement addresses, eulogies and more.

It’s interesting to see that of the 25 speeches which are listed, 64% were written by men and 36% by women, while 84% were delivered by men and only 16% by woman (for a perspective on this see Felicity Barber’s excellent post on Women Speaking).

Something else which struck me was that four of the speakers are in the mold of Winston Churchill — they both wrote and deliver their own content. Indeed, speechwriter Hal Gordon was one of the speakers who wrote their own material (else, who would write speeches for the speechwriter?) and his analysis of Churchillian roots (or scaffolding) is great background to appreciate the content of his 2018 Cicero speech.

However, what stuck out a mile, is that were it not for David Murray publishing these transcripts, much of the content would never have seen the light of day. None of the speeches would have been available to those of us who were absent from the auditorium at the time it was delivered. It is frankly amazing that in the era of social media, streaming video and audio podcasts, there were only (as far as I was able to discover) a mere five of the 25 speeches available on YouTube. These are to be applauded for using technology to magnify the impact of the speech after the event (as I’ve written is possible, if not required).

These savvy speakers (or speechwriters who went the extra mile for their clients) are:

Overall winner: “The Power of a Story”, UT Austin President, Gregory L. Fenves speaking at the Holocaust Museum of Houston.

…the reality is that our lives are not only the product of our ambitions, our talents, and a singular focus. Our lives unfold as our individual story intertwines with the stories of others—it’s happening right now, while we are in this room together.That is why institutions like The University of Texas at Austin and Holocaust Museum Houston are important. They make sense of these intersections. To educate, to understand, to enlighten and to bring people together with diverse perspectives and backgrounds so that we may improve lives for present and future generations.

Nonprofit winner: “The State of Civil Discourse”, Rotary International General Secretary John Hewko speaking at Stanford University (fast forward nine minutes into the video for the content).

The transformative change we seek cannot solely be delivered by the Facebooks and LinkedIns of the world. Civil discourse cannot rely on the very platforms which—if used unwisely—can perpetuate our present malaise.Twenty years ago, Robert Putnam identified a sharp rise in Americans’ civic disengagement over the last generation, with empty town hall meetings reflecting “a giant swing toward the individualist pole in our culture, society, and politics.” And his findings are still starkly relevant today.

Controversial/Highly Politicized speech winner: “Protecting Human Rights in Today’s Europe”, Michael O’Flaherty, Director, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights speech delivered delivered at University of Poznan, Poland.

We must have the courage of our convictions, the courage to speak out against human rights violations, and the courage to act. With this courage, with energy and with good will, we can overcome this crisis to ensure that human rights protection does not become a hollow shell, but remains at the beating heart of our societies.

Technology speech winner: The video is a part of the speech delivered by Dr. Jeffrey W. Evenson, Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, Corning Inc. While not the full speech, this video extract is a great illustration of re-purposing content from the full-length speech delivered at the International Biennale of Glass, Sofia, Bulgaria, six months earlier.

And despite its reputation for being fragile, glass can be engineered to be incredibly strong and damage resistant. Scientists estimate glass’s theoretical strength at more than 15 Gigapascals. Now, I realize there may be a few people in the audience who don’t measure things in Pascals. So I have an
analogy that might help. Imagine a scale that measures the pressure under an elephant’s foot. To get this scale to read one Gigapascal, you would need to stack 10,000 elephants on top of each other.

Inaugural Address speech winner: “What Kind of Leaders Will We Be?”, Dr. David O. Barbe, President, American Medical Association, delivered at the AMA Annual General Meeting.

Let us be the leaders who bring consensus solutions to difficult issues. Let us be the leaders with the creativity and drive to shape the future of medicine. Let us be the leaders who mentor our next generation of physicians. Let us be the leaders John Quincy Adams envisioned when he said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more… learn more… do more… and become more… you are a leader.”

I’m sure the remaining 20 speeches are worthy of reading, however, the impact of hearing and seeing the presentations adds immeasurably to the experience. When Vital Speeches of the Day began publishing in the 1930’s recordings of speeches were few and far between. You can watch grainy video of FDR’s 1933 Inaugural Address or part of Hitler’s first address as German Chancellor . But today, with a smartphone in every pocket, it’s inexcusable that presentations are not made generally available on social media — Award Winners or not.

[I’m well aware that there might be audio or video recordings of the speeches that I missed. If anyone can point me to them, please add the relevant links in the comments below.]


Government speech winner: “Seat Belts, State Budgets and the Art of Compromise,” John Cullerton, Illinois Senate President.

Thanks to speechwriter John Patterson for his comment (below) that pointed to this video. The first 14 minutes are the scripted talk.

I was trying to get people to vote for something that told 85 percent of their constituents to change their daily behavior. That kind of change isn’t easy. In my experience, here’s how you do it: You begin with a small step forward. And then, when the world doesn’t end, you recognize success, build your base of supporters and keep stepping forward to accomplish your broader goals.

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One more. Thanks.

“Seat belts, state budgets and the art of compromise.”

IL Senate President John Cullerton at the City Club of Chicago, July 6, 2017


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