Wonkish audience dictates tone of Clinton speech

Foreign policy address eschews entertainment value for straightforward concepts. Video

Foreign policy address eschews entertainment value for straightforward concepts

There’s an old adage about speechwriting that I always fall back on when I’m at a loss about style and tone: Above all else, know thy audience.

Which is why, in any other setting or at any other time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech on Wednesday might have been a bust. But she and her speechwriters do their homework as well as anyone. They understand that speeches on similar subjects can sound different, feel different and produce different results depending on the audience.

Her speech was ostensibly to the Council on Foreign Relations. But the forum before this august group was simply a conduit to a wider audience—the general public—that would never get the entire speech but only excerpts filtered through the media. (Exceptions, of course, to the relatively small numbers of policy wonks, speechwriters like us, and foreign diplomats who actually do mince every word.)

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