hillaryA great speech has seven qualities:

  1. It’s emotionally engaging — it triggers something inside you that gets your heart pumping, your adrenaline flowing, your pores opening, your tear ducts flowing
  2. It’s intellectually stimulating — it introduces you to new information, or new ideas, or new ways of thinking about things
  3. It’s clever — it uses smart, creative language, analogies, contrast and opposition of ideas, humour (or satire), compelling examples
  4. It’s memorable — by using stories, repetition and other techniques that help people retain what they’ve heard
  5. It’s concise — no wasted words, no unnecessary tangents
  6. It’s actionable — people leave knowing what they need, and want, to do
  7. It starts and ends powerfully — saves the best ’til last and starts with the next best

The last great speech I heard or read was this one. It has all seven qualities. I keep looking for more. I listen to political speeches. I selectively watch and listen to news analyses, read op-eds, attend lectures, watch dramas and comedies looking for these qualities. I read voraciously. There are few great speeches. There is more good writing in the blogosphere than in the mainstream press, network television, the universities, the business rubber chicken circuit, or the mainstream parties’ political podiums. I wonder where the good speech-writers have gone, or whether it has simply become a lost art.

When he accepted the Irving G. Thalberg lifetime achievement award at the Oscars four years ago, Norman Jewison spoke briefly and brilliantly about the importance of writing excellence in the arts and the entertainment industry. The sad irony is that the media barely mentioned his speech. The awards, and the media attention, was all about the actors, not about those who craft the content they merely deliver.

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