I’ve just returned from coaching executives in Europe. A few words of advice I’d like to pass along to speechwriters:
1) Make sure you have a passport ready. If an international speechwriting assignment comes along, you don’t want to be caught with an expired passport. You need to be ready to meet your clients – whenever, wherever.
2) Brush up your foreign language skills. I used to be fluent in German. My current German skills are … well, they’re far/far less than fluent. But, I can hold a pleasant-enough conversation in German, and clients appreciate this. (Take heart: The bar is low! Americans have notoriously weak foreign language skills … so international executives will notice and value your efforts to speak their languages.)
3) Pay special attention to audience analysis. Writing a speech to be given in China … or Spain … or Germany? Within the past month, I’ve had to handle these specialized speechwriting assignments – and by taking the time to understand each audience, I was able to serve my clients well.
It’s a big world out there. Do what it takes to be ready for any assignment.
On this date in 1963, President John F. Kennedy was on his way to deliver a speech with these words:
“We in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom.”
Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas – on the way to give that speech.
The words still resonate.
November 20, 1863:
“I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” (Edward Everett, principal speaker at Gettysburg, in a letter to Abraham Lincoln)
On this date in history (November 19, 1863), Abraham Lincoln gave a few brief remarks to dedicate a national cemetery in Gettysburg, PA.
I’m reading an excellent book about the Gettysburg Address … THE GETTYSBURG GOSPEL: THE LINCOLN SPEECH THAT NOBODY KNOWS. Written by Gabor Boritt (director, Civil War Institute, Gettysburg College), it provides extraordinary insight into a speech that has been quoted by popes, presidents, public school teachers, grade school children, aspiring politicians … and almost everyone else.
You will learn much from this book. Perhaps more important, you will never forget the lessons it shares.
Working on any international speeches for this week? You might be able to use this bit of history:
On November 16, 1776, the Dutch garrison on the island of St. Eustatius (in the West Indies) fired a salute to the American flag being flown by a U.S. ship … marking the first time a foreign nation had recognized our flag.
American Education Week is fast approaching. You might be able to leverage its high visibility to give your speeches a stronger hook … or gain more media attention for your message.
Want to speak about opportunities in math/science careers? This is an “evergreen” topic … meaning, it’s good anytime. But, if you address this topic during American Education Week, you’ll make it more newsworthy.
Talking about the importance of “green” education? You’ll make more of an impression if you give your presentation during this week.
Appearing on a panel about the economy? Stress the need for financial education in our schools … and you’ll gain extra exposure for your message.
A reminder to speechwriters who were not asked to write any formal Veterans Day speeches this year: It’s not too late.
If your corporation doesn’t have an official Veterans Day program, your CEO can still recognize this day with an all-employee email or vmail.
It’s never too late to say “thank you.”
And it’s never too busy for any of us to write seven simple words: “To all of our veterans, thank you.”
Tomorrow the US celebrates Veterans Day. Many military speechwriters and government speechwriters (at federal, state, and local levels) have been working on these remarks for weeks.
May I suggest? Speechwriters in corporations, non-profit assocations, public school districts, colleges and universities can also make a difference in their communities by preparing Veterans Day speeches.
Let me share a personal story:
Several years ago, when my son was in middle school, I asked him how his school had celebrated Veterans Day. His reply was brief: “They didn’t do anything.” Given that teens are infamous for brief answers, I assumed he had glossed over something … so a bit later, I asked him again. This time he was more specific. “Our German teacher started the class by saying it was Veterans Day. But no other teacher mentioned it – at all. There wasn’t any assembly, or any ceremony, or anything.”
Well, to me, this was unthinkable. So, I called the PR person for the school district, and she very pleasantly dismissed the issue by saying, “We don’t really have any military families in our district.” I said, “But Veterans Day isn’t just for military families. It’s for everyone.” This point did not seem to register … it just brought another pleasant dismissal: “Oh, I’m sure districts with a lot of military families did something … for example, the area around Willow Grove Air Station. But, we don’t really have many military families.” Again, I stuck to my main point. (You can see the Media Trainer in me coming out here!) “But Veterans Day isn’t just for the military. It’s for everyone. The district needs to honor this holiday.”
In the past couple of years, the local school has acknowledged Veterans Day (at least in some modest day). That’s progress.
Will they honor Veterans Day tomorrow? I don’t know. But I’ll be watching. And I’ll speak up if they don’t.
I hope you do the same.
Many of you are busy preparing remarks for Veterans Day. Perhaps these quotations will give you some ideas:
“War demands real toughness of fiber – not only in the soldiers that must endure, but in the homes that must sacrifice their best.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower, in a 1944 letter)
“The soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” (Douglas MacArthur, in a speech to West Point Cadets)
“Men who have offered their lives for their country know that patriotism is not the fear of something; it is the love of something.” (Adlai Stevenson, in a 1952 speech to the American Legion Convention at Madison Square Garden in NYC)
“[The American soldier] is not only brave but he is generous; and when he has fought for a principle and won, he has no desire to crush his foe, but is eager to abide by the old Latin maxim of “live and let live;” and he forgets and forgives, and lends a helping hand when a disposition to do the right thing is shown.” (US nurse and philanthropist Clara Barton … founder of the American Red Cross)
“If we had not persuaded the United Nations to back up the free Republic of Korea, Western Europe would have gone into the hands of the Communists.” (Harry S. Truman, in his autobiography)
“The Union soldiers and sailors are now veterans of time as well of war.” (Benjamin Harrison, 1892 acceptance speech, second Republican nomination)
“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863)
“As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone.” (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “Four Freedoms” speech, 1941)
“A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards. More than that no man is entitled to, and less than that no man shall have.” (Theodore Roosevelt, 1903 speech)
“A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers and woods, but it is a principle; and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.” (George William Curtis)
“I’ve always loved my wife, my children and my grandchildren, and I’ve always loved my country.” (last words of Dwight Eisenhower, 1969)
After Richard Nixon lost the race for governor of California to Edmund Brown, he held a press conference. Much was said, but these are the words that linger: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”
Six years later (almost to the day) Nixon was elected President of the United States.