Wednesday, September 3, 2008

7 Tips for Writing a Great Campaign Speech

PIONEERING NEWS correspondent Eric Sevareid, like the other stellar electronic correspondents of his day at CBS, considered himself a writer first -- he called his several published collections of broadcast analyses "oral essays."

Another CBS television peer, Walter Cronkite, in his autobiography entitled A Reporter's Life, tells a story about Sevareid the "oral essay" writer at the 1952 Democratic Convention. As Cronkite relates: "That was the convention that nominated as its presidential candidate the reluctant Gov. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, As we waited in the hall for him to arrive, an advance copy of his acceptance speech was passed out to the press. Eric Sevareid was sitting with me at the anchor desk, and we both began poring over the speech. I was deeply impressed by the beauty of Stevenson's language, unmatched by any other politician in my time. Eric and I finished our reading," Cronkite continues, "and as I looked toward that master essayist, expecting to hear a paean of appreciation, he tossed down the Stevenson copy with a look of disgust. And he said: 'I'm not sure I'm going to enjoy covering a politician who writes better than I do.'"

Now it's a fact of life that candidates running for political office at every level are surrounded by consultants and advisers. And each consultant, naturally, considers his or her particular area of expertise the most critical: the pollster knows that polling is the most important aspect of the campaign, the fundraiser is certain that fundraising is the most important and the grassroots GOTV organizer is convinced that direct mail and phone banks are the critical parts of the campaign.

And ultimately each may be -- but only if the candidate has already developed a rationale for running, has fashioned a central message that unifies and fires his or her campaign, and has developed the skill and ability to communicate it in a strong, logical, beautifully written campaign speech.

I am constantly amazed at seeing so many candidates for every level of public office, of every political party, with campaign organizations running as smoothly as a Rolls-Royce V-12 engine, get up before a crowd of happy supporters and absolutely bomb when giving a speech. Boring. Flat Clicheridden. Jejune.

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