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.]

Additions

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.

Announcing: A conversation with Felicity Barber on Women Speaking

Felicity BarberI first met Felicity in 2014 shortly after she moved from England to San Francisco. She’s a speechwriter who has worked in both the UK and USA and has expertise in B2B, finance, insurance and technology.

Felicity is currently the Executive Speechwriter at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. She’s a communications expert specializing in thought leadership, storytelling and speechwriting. Prior to joining the Fed she ran her own business, Thoughtful Speech for three years. She moved to San Francisco from London in 2014 where she was a speechwriter at the global insurer, Lloyd’s of London. She has also worked as a Policy Advisor to the Home Office in London and as a Parliamentary Assistant to the Labour Party member for Islington South and Finsbury, Emily Thornberry MP. Her claim to fame is that she wrote a book that was given as a gift to Her Majesty The Queen.

On Thursday April 26th the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable will host Felicity in a free conference call.

At this event Felicity will explain why she is frustrated that there’s so little published about women’s rhetoric and speeches. As a speechwriter who loves writing for women, she’ll share what inspires her and discuss her recent posting in Vital Speeches of the Day that highlighted five of her favorite moments of women’s public speaking from 2017.

She’ll discuss what speechwriters should do differently, if anything, when writing a speech for a woman vs. a man.

To register for the event (no charge) visit the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable site. We start at 11:45am (Pacific).

The 2018 Cicero Speechwriting Awards – A conversation with David Murray

CiceroMore than 2,000 years ago, Cicero called rhetoric a “great art.” Since then, staggering advances in mass communication haven’t diminished the transformative power of a great speech.

And the Cicero Speechwriting Awards recognize the speechwriters and the speakers who make it great.

Presented by Vital Speeches of the Day, the prestigious monthly collection of speeches, the Cicero Speechwriting Awards recognize the work that makes the speeches that help leaders lead—in every sector of business, politics and society.

In this podcast I talk with VSOTD editor David Murray about what makes a speech Cicero Award material, and the changes he’s seen over the last dozen years that the Awards have been given. To hear what David said, simply click on the podcast icon below.

Click here to enter the 2018 Cicero Speechwriting Awards today.

White House staffers resettle in Silicon Valley

Silicon ValleyKudos for the FT’s Hannah Kuchler for reporting on the number of Obama-era White house staffers who’ve gone West and taken up lucrative speechwriting and communications roles in Silicon Valley.

She notes that the talent from DC is a match made in heaven for Silicon Valley companies. There was always a simpatico feeling between leaders in tech and Democrats (with notable exceptions such as Republican ex-Cisco CEO John Chambers and libertarians including Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy and VC Peter Thiel). However, Kuchler notes that when Obama left office what had been a trickle became a flood:

Previously, tech companies had hired former Obama speechwriters and advisers, and a few Republicans. But last year came the flood: Facebook hired people who had worked on strategic communications for the National Security Council, trade policy and judicial nominations; Uber took on a special assistant from the office of international economic affairs; start-ups hired former Michelle Obama advisers on innovation and cyber-security policy.

These West Wing operatives will prove their worth if they are able to stem the backlash against the likes of Uber and Facebook as they struggle to win the hearts and minds of regulators worldwide.

Those of us who’ve written for the tech industry for years welcome the new blood, there’s a place for you in the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable!

Podcast: Shel Holtz on Social Media and Speechwriting

Shel HoltzOn Wednesday October 4th the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable hosted a conference call with Shel Holtz. We discussed the ways in which social and digital media — which have given rise to content marketing — offer a host of options to speechwriters to draw attention to the speech before, during, and after its delivery. Shel reviewed the rapid development of the many forms of social media available for speechwriters to use, from humble beginnings as blogs and chat rooms to the rich variety of streaming media solutions available today.

Among the tips Shel shared was the use of Poll Everywhere to engage audiences and the Mevo live event camera for streaming.

Click on the podcast icon below to listen to Shel discuss these topics and more, as well as answer questions from speechwriters who were on the call. (Apologies for the audio which suffered from occasional background noise, but nothing that should prevent you listening to whole 55 minute call.)

Announcing: A Conversation with Shel Holtz

Shel HoltzI’ve long been an admirer of communication strategist Shel Holtz. who is a regular speaker on topics surrounding the application of online technology to strategic organizational communication. He speaks regularly at IABC and Ragan Communication conferences.

On Wednesday October 4th the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable will host Shel on a conference call. We’ll be discussing the ways in which social and digital media — which have given rise to content marketing — offer a host of options to speechwriters to draw attention to the speech before, during, and after its delivery. From repurposing parts of a speech to taking advantage of trends in online video and audio, Shel will discuss how you can get much more mileage from a speech today than ever before.

To register for this no-charge event simply go to the Roundtable Meetup Group and RSVP. We start at 11:45am (Pacific).

Shel is the author of a number of great books on topics such as podcasting, blogging and more.

Shel_Holtz_Podcasting

Shel-Holtz-Blogging

Book Review: The Compelling Communicator, by Tim Pollard

The Compelling Communicator Cover The true value of Tim Pollard’s excellent new book is conveyed by the subtitle: Mastering the Art and Science of Exceptional Presentation Design. While much of the literature on what makes a ‘compelling communicator’ focuses on cultivating delivery skills and stage presence, Pollard rightly consigns these topics to a brief Epilogue. Rather, his focus on what makes a presentation exceptional is around design and content. This makes the book of equal, if not greater, value to speechwriters and communications professionals as it is to those who deliver presentations.

Pollard is a welcome enemy of two of my own pet hates: Subject Experts who force an audience to drink from a firehouse, and executives who start out by building every presentation in PowerPoint, which he condemns as ‘absolutely the wrong way to start–it’s like laying bricks on each other as a way to design a new office building.’

The Need for Presentation Design

His indictment of the delusions that many, if not most, presenters suffer from is a telling one. Pollard is relentless in calling out the sorry state of business presentations in the world today, which include:

  • Cramming in large amounts of irrelevant material that crowds out content that really matters to an audience.
  • Subject experts who drastically overestimate an audience’s ability to absorb complex information.
  • Delivering an unstructured message which confuses the audience. (Sorry Guy Kawasaki, just numbering points from 1-10 does not cut it.)
  • In sum: content that is boring, confusing, forgettable, sender-centric and unlikely to drive people to take action.

The root of the problem is ‘selling the car using the owner’s manual’ by failing to identify the ‘big ideas’ that will grab the audience’s attention.

Mastering Presentation Design

The second part of the book is a step-by-step guide building a speech around a few big ideas to make an impact. This requires us nailing three key presentation design aspects:

  1. Selecting the content that deliver insights to influence the audience in the ways we want.

    Building a comprehensive audience profile is a necessary first step. It forces us to think of the world in terms of the audience and how the arguments we present intersect with their world.

  2. Simplifying and sequencing the content, paring down excessive material and structuring a story that packs meaning into each word of the speech.

    The importance of building presentations that tell a compelling story has been addressed by others such as Nancy Duarte, Justina Chen and Michael Hauge. Pollard gives us the practical tools we need to create presentations in a corporate setting that make effective use of stories.

  3. Engaging the audience with relevant information that grabs attention by appealing to both sides of the brain.

    This starts by crafting an effective opening, creating supporting visuals that add impact and are relevant, and closing with a simple, memorable, proposition.

    I especially liked Pollard’s sensible advice on supporting materials and handouts.

A Valuable Online Resource

A hidden bonus in the book is a complimentary six-month subscription to Tim’s Message Architect Software Tool which manages the process of designing presentations according to the steps described in the book.

It’s worth the price of the book to gain access to this software.

Pod Save America

Pod Save America

I’m impressed by the new podcast from the Obama speechwriting team (who suddenly have time on their hands).

Pod Save America is a lively, irreverent and highly partisan discussion hosted by hosted by Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor. In the latest episode they are joined by second-term chief speechwriter Cody Keenan in a discussion that gives some great advice on what makes a speechwriters’ life pleasurable or painful, why edits to a draft are to be welcomed, and makes the unequivocal point on the importance of direct access to the principal, not mediated by comms staff.

There’s wonderful inside baseball tales on which sections of Obama’s speeches were written by who, and where the President made killer edits.

I love it that their Twitter account has over 30,000 followers but they only follow one person, can you guess who?

Check it out on iTunes or your favorite podcast syndication venue.

Guest Posting: How to Write and Deliver a Great Speech, by Simon Lancaster

Simon LancasterSimon Lancaster is one of the world’s top speechwriters. He first became a speechwriter in the late 1990s, working for members of Tony Blair’s Cabinet. Today, he writes speeches for the CEOs of some of the biggest companies in the world, including Unilever, HSBC and Intercontinental Hotels. Simon is a visiting lecturer at Cambridge University and an Executive Fellow of Henley Business School. He regularly appears on BBC and Sky News and writes guest columns for The Guardian, The Daily Mail and Total Politics. He is the author of two best-selling books on communication: Speechwriting: The Expert Guide and Winning Minds: Secrets from the Language of Leadership. You can follow him on Twitter @bespokespeeches

How to Write and Deliver a Great Speech

Emmeline Pankhurst’s speeches led to women winning the vote. Winston Churchill’s speeches inspired a nation to stay strong at a time of war. Dr Martin Luther King’s speeches persuaded the American Government to grant everyone equal rights, regardless of the colour of their skin.

Speeches change the world. Throughout history, whoever has held the gift of eloquence has held power: from the Roman Emperors to the kings and queens to politicians.

In the past, we all used to learn public speaking at school. In Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, rhetoric was a core part of the curriculum. In London, right up until the 19th Century, it was possible to gain a free education in rhetoric but not in maths, such was the importance that was placed on the topic. The thinking was clear: you could not have a fair society unless everyone had a fair opportunity to express themselves.

Today, teaching of rhetoric is restricted to a narrow elite. It is no coincidence that 19 of Britain’s last 50 Prime Ministers went to Eton. Eton has always invested in the teaching of rhetoric. Indeed they have just invested 18 million pounds in a new debating chamber.

Developing tomorrow’s leaders starts in today’s schools. The good news is that all the techniques in great public speaking from Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece remain just as relevant today. Aristotle taught us there are three essential ingredients to a good speech.

Aristotle said a good speech must have:

Character (ethos)
Emotion (pathos)
Argument (logos)

First, the speaker must demonstrate good character (ethos). A speech represents a chance to look into someone’s eyes and see the strength of their conviction. This means that when the person delivering the speech stay true to yourself. It doesn’t matter if they speak too quickly, wave their hands around a lot or um and ah. Great speakers can, and do, get away with all of this. The most important thing is that they believe what they are saying. That is something that just can’t be faked. A speaker must speak from the heart.

The second thing a great speaker does is speak about an issue everyone cares about (pathos). Too many speeches are boring. A speech should be as exciting as a film or a great television programme if it is to hold people’s attention. A great speaker will stir feelings within their audience that even their audience can not wholly explain: feelings of pride, passion or pain. They will tell stories, use emotive points of reference and explain why it is that something matters so much.

The third thing a great speaker must do is sound right (logos). The Ancient Romans used to talk about the rule of three. If you put your argument in threes, people are more likely to believe that it is true. There is something in the human brain that loves arguments that come in threes. ‘This, that and the other.’ ‘On your marks, get set, go!’ ‘Ready, aim, fire!’ Great speakers always use the rule of three – over and over and over again. They also combine it alliteration, rhymes and contrasts. It makes them sound more credible, compelling and convincing.

The world is in a state of flux at the moment. It is scandalous that at a time when such gargantuan issues are being debated – like climate change, security, religious freedoms – debate is being restricted to such a narrow minority.

Instead of teaching our children to sit down and shut up, we should be teaching them to stand up and speak out. Let’s put oracy right at the heart of the curriculum, for today’s children, for tomorrow’s world.

What shall we call this grand initiative? Well, here’s an idea. How about democracy?

Some great speeches to watch and discuss in the classroom:

TEDx talk – Speak like a leader by Simon Lancaster

This post originally appeared in First News Schools UK and is reproduced here with Simon Lancaster’s express permission.

Guest Posting: Rhetoric Revisited: FDR’s “Infamy” Speech, by Robert Lehrman

Former Chief Speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore in the White House, Bob Lehrman has written four novels, the highly praised The Political Speechwriter’s Companion (CQ Press 2009), and has now co-authored and co-edited a new book: Democratic Oratory from JFK to Barack Obama (Palgrave Macmillan 2016). He teaches public speaking and political speechwriting at American University.

Rhetoric Revisited: FDR’s “Infamy” Speech

Really, he’d hoped to spend that afternoon up in the second floor study, magnifying glass in hand, working on the stamp collection that since boyhood had taught him about the world. But FDR was president, with work to do. He was talking policy with one of his aides when Navy Secretary Frank Knox called.

“Mr. President,” he said, sounding doubtful, “it looks like the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor.”

Perl Harbor
USS Shaw exploding during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor. By an unknown photographer, December 7, 1941. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Roosevelt had no doubts. He knew it was true—and what it meant: war. And a war many Americans did not want, including Charles Lindbergh, whose America First campaign had blocked FDR’s attempt to build up America’s military. Three hours later, FDR called Grace Tully, his secretary, and dictated a speech he would deliver to Congress. The next day, he sat in the House Chamber, wheelchair carefully hidden from photographers, and uttered the words Americans remember about a day “that will live in infamy.”

It’s one of the most famous speeches in American history, though it’s safe to say most Americans remember only that phrase. But on 75th anniversary of the attack, it’s worth asking: What makes it so famous?

It’s not just because the United States would declare war. Who remembers a word of other speeches by presidents asking for war—in 1812, 1846, 1898, or 1917? In fact, I wrote a speech for my boss, Democratic Majority Whip, Bill Gray, during that 1991 debate on the First Gulf War. I remember sitting in the House Chamber watching an incredible sight: Members speaking, then actually sticking around to hear others. I don’t remember the declaration at all.

Is FDR’s speech memorable for its eloquence? No. The language is mostly flat. The readability statistics our computers now provide tell us it’s full of passive voice, with long sentences copyeditors today would think wordy—”In the intervening time,” not “meanwhile.” Even the word “infamy” is a little off; originally he had dictated another word: history. Roosevelt clearly didn’t want to sound neutral, but his usage of ”infamy” was at odds with conventions of the day; a descriptive word, ”infamy” usually appeared the way people talking about FDR often misquote him: “day of infamy.”

Neither was it substantive. FDR rejected the suggestions of those who wanted a longer speech giving listeners context. He wanted to convey urgency to Americans opposed to war.

Did it offer concrete detail—visceral specifics of the attack and casualties? That’s a rule of good speechwriting. Barack Obama used it effectively in 2013, when he told Americans about the Syrian use of chemical warfare: “The images are sickening … a father clutching his dead children, urging them to get up and walk.” Here, FDR gave listeners bland abstractions— “I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost.”

But if “Infamy” isn’t notable for its eloquence, it’s still a fascinating speech. Its intrigue lies not only in what FDR told Americans then, but what he didn’t tell them—and what the speech tells us now.

Speech Notes
The first typed draft of FDR’s speech spoke of a “date which will live in world history.” Roosevelt later changed it to the more famous “date which will live in infamy.” Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Looking back, for example, the speech gives us a glimpse into how technology could and would influence a nation.

When Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war in 1917, only those in the House Chamber heard and saw him. It took weeks even for the stereopticon slides of his appearance to reach American families. But by 1941 almost 90 percent of American homes had radio. That day four of five families with those radios tuned in to FDR’s noontime speech. The vast acceleration of technology had—literally—electrified a country, and given presidents a way to electrify its people.

Roosevelt’s brevity also exposes the rhetorical devices leaders often use in times of crisis. Take the five-step structure so popular with speechwriters it now has a name: Monroe’s Motivated Sequence (Google it!). In ”Infamy,” Roosevelt uses all five.

First, win attention. Right away, FDR tells us the bad news. ”Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

Second, present a problem. FDR shows us why the news is bad—not just loss of life, but the threat to Democracy and the evil of the other side. ”The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.”

Third, offer a solution. FDR assures us the country will fight back. ”As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.”

Fourth, envision the future: He not only predicts victory but shows absolute certainty about it. ”With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounded determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.”

Fifth, utter a call to action: FDR calls for one specific act: that Congress declare war. ”I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”

FDR Signs
FDR signs the Declaration of War against Japan on December 8, 1941. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

They are the steps of many such declarations—and many moments of crisis. In fact, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, speechwriter Peggy Noonan’s artful speech let Ronald Reagan make the same points, not about fighting a war but exploring space.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about this speech is what goes unsaid. Let’s be honest—while Roosevelt prided himself on using direct language, as if wanting us to know his views, he was hiding some. He presents a picture of himself taken by surprise—”looking towards the maintenance of peace.” There is no evidence for the allegations that FDR maneuvered the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor. But he did know war lay ahead. According to the diary of then-Secretary of War Henry Stimson, two weeks before the attack, he asked aides how to provoke Japan into “firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.” The only surprise was where the first shot would be.

And his certainty of the “inevitable triumph”? FDR had many doubts. He didn’t know whether the United States could handle a war fought on two fronts, and told Eleanor he expected many losses.

But when a president declares war, one should expect to hear confidence, not candor.

The decisions about this speech were largely Roosevelt’s own. That was unusual for this president — the first to use speechwriters for most of what he said. Except for a few phrases added by aides, and one echo of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, the language and strategy for this speech mostly came straight from his mouth into Grace Tully’s manual typewriter.

Would it work? FDR could not be sure.

But three hours after his speech, Congress passed its declaration with only one dissenting vote. It gave FDR the money he needed to rearm. The isolationists gave up the fight. “We have been attacked. We must fight,” Lindbergh said. In the weeks ahead, young Americans filled recruiting stations to enlist.

FDR’s doubts were reasonable. There were many defeats in those opening months. But Americans planted victory gardens, sent sons to fight, and kept in office a president who before the war had been very unpopular.

Dying less than three years later, FDR didn’t live to see the results of those decisions. But the 520 words he dictated then thundered out, set in motion a united and long-lasting response to the threat of Japan and Germany much more dangerous and uncertain than he could let on. FDR didn’t get to spend that afternoon organizing the stamps he loved. But by focusing on the future—he put his stamp on it.

This post originally appeared on the PBS American Experience website and is reprinted here with Mr. Lehrman’s express permission.