Calming words in volatile times

What speechwriters can learn from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “On the Bank Crisis” speech.

2008? Try 1933 when an earlier banking crisis also threatened to de-stabilize the American economy. The circumstances are eerily similar to today’s problems. And in some ways, the solutions are similar, too: Heavy government intervention and calming words from the only person who can deliver them effectively: the president.

In contrast to recent events, however, the president 75 years ago was fresh on the job. Franklin D. Roosevelt took office on March 4, inheriting an expansive economic quagmire from President Herbert Hoover. Many of the banks around the country had closed and others were falling every day as confidence waned.

The day after his inauguration, Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation closing the banks. On March 12, he addressed the American people for the first time about the problems.

That speech is notable—and instructional—for three important reasons.

First, it was the first of 30-plus fireside chats from one of our greatest presidential communicators. By itself, it began a remarkable rhetorical journey for a man who understood the power of words to change behaviors and motivate people.

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