a honcho i used to write for taught me a lot about nuances of speech. he didn’t like the phrase: “to tell you the truth,” because it implies that you are otherwise being deceptive. he was (and is) an amazing guy. when he walked into the room, the room changed — it was an aura, a feeling, a presence he had and it didn’t have to do with his title or the fact that he was the dude in charge. it had to do with his authenticity. he knew who he was, who he wasn’t and was very aware of his impact on others. i’ve often heard that bill clinton had the same magical effect. you can’t buy what these guys have: presence.
all the hub bub over Hillary’s anti-Obama catchphrase of ‘speeches versus solutions’ has got me thinking of the role of the speechwriter. not just because i am one, but also because of what it means on a broader level. there’s an awesome podcast on the economist web site talking about the history and philosophy of political oratory.
Check it out: Audio: Joy Connolly on campaign rhetoric
Some key ideas:
- it’s the leader’s job not only to come up with (or identify) new ideas, but also to clarify and articulate those ideas, however complicated, to the masses, using persuasion to inspire them to act.
- getting into too much detail and saying too many arcane things doesn’t work for two main reasons: 1) people can’t process/absorb/retain all that information and 2) it creates an unequal ethical divide between the speaker and audience, establishing the speaker as some sort of higher god-like entity that the audience ultimately resents and rejects.
- the purpose of public speeches should be to unify people and give them confidence in taking risks as a collective … confidence to face the future/the unknown. orators who focus on the negative often descend into demagoguery.
- So what’s a demagogue? According to H. L. Mencken: “One who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.” (Hey, I think I know one or two of those … )