How to write a great speech—guaranteed

Why have most of the best speeches over the last few years been on gay rights? The answer to that question is the secret to great speechwriting.

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A small-town newspaper reporter called a few weeks ago, looking for quotes on some cockamamie story her editor dreamed up “tied to the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.” (Yes, because all the residents of Grand Junction, Colorado, turn to you for a perspective on the Magna Carta.)

The reporter asked me and a number of other speechwriting people, “Can a person set out to write ‘enduring words,’ or do words—speeches, plays, poems, essays, novels, etc.—simply endure because they represent a particular moment in time/history or because they’re of a particular beauty?”

I gave her an answer that I’ve found fits most basic questions about what makes good speeches: The way to make an impact is to deliver a speech that only you can deliver to a particular group of people at a particular moment in history. “Do that, and you have a chance—a one in a million chance—to be remembered by history,” I told her. “But if you do that, you have a hundred percent chance of being appreciated by the audience in front of you.”

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