When we think of speeches and rhetoric, these very ideas conjure up images of desks strewn with paper, random notes having been jotted down on an equally random Post-it note, and highlighted passages in drafts that are nowhere near ready. But then we remember that those invariably nervous, tense and rough moments of creative combustion are followed by "the spark": the tear rolling down someone's cheek, the smile caused and the deeper appreciation kindled in a sceptic. All of that through the power of the word.
I remember one of the primary debates during the 2008 election, when it had come down to then-Senators Obama and Clinton. One exchange particularly remained in my head: Hillary complained that Barack gave a nice speech, but that words alone didn’t matter. The senator from Illinois countered that, yes, words do matter – and a great deal at that. There are so many examples from thousands of years of history.
Whether the debates in the Roman Senate, Kennedy’s inaugural address, Reagan’s speech after the Challenger disaster or President Bush’s words comforting a stricken nation after the outrage of September 11: Words do matter. They provide hope, optimism, cause for reflection and energy for tasks ahead – but they can also indict, clarify injustices and shine the light on a cause whose time has finally arrived. That’s why I like public speaking.
Many years ago, when I was preparing my first speech for a public audience, no such high-minded discourse was on my mind – well almost. The occasions when I have had the pleasure of delivering a speech have been varied – in front of audiences big and small, across social strata and income disparities. Like anyone who has been involved with crafting a speech, I have had the moment when I’ve been at a loss or when coming across the perfect phrase "made" my speech.Writing a speech is by no means for the faint-hearted, the shy or the meek. Speeches are all about clarity, structure and seizing the moment.