On January 21, 2013, Barack Obama delivered the 57th Inaugural Address as the 44th president of the United States. While the acceptance speeches of US presidents and other world leaders in the past have been remembered throughout history, only a few can be truly considered rhetorical masterpieces. The handful whose speeches are still remembered as a whole today seemed to apply four of the same basic principles: they kept it short, they kept it “real,” and, in addressing the audience, they said “we.”
Keeping it short
The average attention span decreases with each generation. Whereas older audiences stay attentive for up to 15 minutes, today’s youth can only sit through five. Keeping a speech short ensures it is heard from start to finish. At the very least, if the point is made early in the rhetoric, the audience will still be able to recall the gist of the speech even if they zone out.
Keeping it real
Speeches, even when made to the intelligent elite, are meant to resonate with every member of the audience. This means a speech should be easy to digest– as though it were being delivered to a person who knew nothing of the occasion at all. At the same time, references made in the speech should be relatable. Mentioning anything in the past risks losing appeal among the younger demographic; focusing on anything too trendy causes the reverse.
Saying “we,” not “I”
When a public address centers on the speaker, the audience tends to disconnect. Deliberately using the pronoun “we” allows listeners to feel empowered and included. They begin to feel as though they are a friend to the speaker. This simple speech trick made Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural speech so powerful in 1905. By using “we,” his words united a very diverse America, causing the whole nation to take pride in having granted him the presidency.
Past leaders are meant to be learned from. “A View from the Front Row,” by Gary Wandschneider explores several leadership qualities applicable to all individuals today. Follow this Twitter account for more updates.