Sunday, April 6, 2008

Weekend Assignment: Speechifying

Karen has a new assignment every weekend at Outpost Mavarin. Here's the latest...

Weekend Assignment #210: It's been 40 years since the Mountaintop speech, and even longer since the great speeches of John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and others. Are the days of great oratory behind us, or have you drawn inspiration from some recent public speaker? If so, what was the speech? Do you remember any actual quotes from it?

Yes, the days of great oratory are behind us. No, not too much inspiration from too many recent public speakers.

I think public speaking began to go downhill when politicians and others began to rely too heavily on speechwriters instead of their own abilities to craft inspiring words. It all sounds like stuff that's been tested in front of too many focus groups to avoid offending anyone. With our current president, too often the memorable phrases are something like, "Bring 'em on!" or "Axis of Evil." And if he gets off the script, he's liable to say anything like "Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." Ronald Reagan could deliver a good performance, but didn't often say anything I was much interested in hearing. You didn't want him wandering too far from the script either. Barack Obama has a good delivery, but I often think of the old Wendy's commercials when I hear him speak. "Where's the beef?"

Occasionally, I'll hear a politician give a speech and be impressed by the ideas, almost never by any lofty rhetoric. Their mostly just focus-tested words to appeal to the lowest common denominator...unless it's an old rerun of the West Wing.

Extra Credit: Have you ever given a speech, other than in a classroom?

I majored in Speech/Mass Communications in college and gave quite a few classroom speeches. I also worked in radio for a while, but that's not the same thing. It's a lot easier to get comfortable when you don't see all those eyes staring back at you.


Carly said...

Hi :)

Yeah, I have to agree, I think it is a dying art, although once in a while there is still something out there worth hearing. I liked Bill Clinton's speeches, and at the same time, who can forget the 4 1/2hour speech he made once. He even admitted that one smarted. LOL. In a weird way, I am going to miss Bush, he was interesting because you just never knew what form of verbal incontinence would come spewing from him next. It made things... edgy! ROFL. Have a good week! :)

Always, Carly

Karen Funk Blocher said...

Perhaps it's because we mostly don't sit through such things anymore. We just watch clips on tv. Do you suppose FDR knew his "Fear itself" line was a sound byte?

Mike said...

You are probably right. Using a speech writers has diminished the speaking skills of the nation's leaders. Though, as you point out, some really need them in order to be understood.

Kiva said...

I think you're right. When I listen to political speeches these days, I always wonder, "do they really believe what they are saying?" or in some cases, "do they really know what they're saying?"