What makes an inaugural speech a success?

A top-notch address looks to the future and starts the healing, experts say.

A top-notch address looks to the future and starts the healing, experts say

Could the stakes be any higher for today’s inauguration speech? Barack Obama will speak to a distressed and anxious nation, with billions of people worldwide hanging on his every word. Already widely praised as a gifted rhetorician, he will face his toughest test yet on his largest stage, while trying to deliver the type of address that is quoted for decades.

Ragan.com asked the experts to explain what presidents try to do, and what’s on the line, at inauguration time.

“Inaugural speeches serve two purposes,” explains John Adams, coordinator of the Colgate Speaking Union at Colgate University, who’s written extensively on rhetoric. “They are designed to heal whatever rough roads people had to go down to get elected. The other purpose is to lay out the agenda and the key metaphors for what’s to come—and hopefully to induce people to cooperate.”

Bob Lehrman, a professor of speechwriting at American University, sees inaugural speeches as a time for the new (or re-elected) president to turn his gaze forward, not back.

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