10 time-tested techniques for any speechwriter

Former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton knows a thing or two about writing speeches. Here’s his best advice.

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“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States …”

In Washington, D.C., and countless communities, there are people who dream of reciting that oath and delivering an inaugural address. Many others dream of writing the speech.

Most of us won’t write speeches whose most memorable lines end up etched on marble monuments. But many leaders in every sector of American life give important speeches to shareholders, employees, community leaders, graduating classes and the news media. Often, they work with colleagues to draft and polish their remarks. For those occasions when you need to find and speak the right words, here are 10 time-tested techniques that can benefit any speaker:

1. Speeches are meant to be spoken and heard. If you have trouble pronouncing a word—or if an audience would have trouble understanding it—then don’t use it. For instance, the late New York Times language expert (and speechwriter for President Richard Nixon) William Safire wrote that he never used the word “pith” in a speech. As he (pithily?) explained, “It sounds like a vulgar word being spoken with a lisp.”

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