6 keys to drafting the speech you hope won’t be delivered

Nobody enjoys imagining worst-case scenarios, but proper planning will keep you on message during a crisis.

In 1948, President Harry Truman—traveling the country by train as he fought from behind in the polls—was prepared for defeat. He had his staff writers draft a concession speech, just in case.

His opponent, Thomas E. Dewey, was reportedly so confident he didn’t bother, certain he should be packing for the move into the White House.

It was not to be. Truman came barnstorming from behind, and Dewey was caught unprepared, says David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, a public relations agency. And so Dewey offered a lesson in the importance of an unheralded aspect of speechwriting: crafting the speech you hope will never be delivered.

“They were so convinced they were going to win, they did not have a concession speech,” says Johnson, who has worked for Gov. Jeb Bush in Florida and Sen. Bob Dole during his presidential campaign.

When all goes well, these are the speeches no one ever hears—notably William Safire’s moving statement for President Richard Nixon, crafted in case the Apollo 11 astronauts ended up stranded on the moon, dying beyond any hope of rescue.

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