New Video: Of, By, and For the People

Have you thought much about the placement of the prepositions in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? Does their placement — “of the people, by the people, for the people” — matter much in understanding what they imply for our government?

In this video, I suggest that their placement is pertinent … and proper:

– Video: The Verbs in the Preamble
– More videos: My YouTube channel

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New Video: “Stand Up, If You Can” (a Public Speaking Tip)

It may seem a bit self-evident, but standing up to give your formal presentation can make a lot of difference in how your audience receives it — especially if the points you’re making are at all important.

One-on-one, or speaking only to a few people? Sitting down is often fine. But speaking to a bunch of people at once? You’re better off standing up, if you’re physically able to do so.

Unless you don’t care that much about your message, in which case go right ahead and sit on your butt to give your speech, or your presentation … or your sermon.

– Video: Public Speaking Tip: The Value of Inflection
– More videos: My YouTube channel

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The Power of Inflection

Since I worked as a speechwriter for a number of years — and would write more speeches, if the right clients came along — I thought I’d do at least one public-speaking-related episode of “Between the Black & the White.”

Public speaking can be hard, and some of us are afraid to do it. A lot of factors go into that fear — who the audience is, how well we know the subject matter, whether we’ve had a chance to practice, and so forth — and I’m not sure it ever goes away completely. One looming part of the fear of speaking in public is wondering how our words will be heard.

Most of us have had the experience of listening to someone speaking in monotone. They put no emphasis on any certain words or syllables, and live up to what “monotone” means: one tone, one sound. Their words change, but their delivery doesn’t. From that experience, we know there’s good reason for “monotonous” to be synonymous with “boring.”

If we remember what it’s like to be bored by a speaker, then we never want to be boring when we’re the one speaking! Avoiding a monotone delivery can help in that regard, but it can also do much more.

Back when I was teaching I developed an easy demonstration of how adding just a bit of emphasis can change the meaning of a simple statement. The nice thing is that we do it naturally all the time — it’s not a new skill to master, just a technique to be aware of that can help us make the points we want to make. “The Value of Inflection” lies not only in what it can do to help us avoid being monotonous, but in the fact that it’s something we already use in our day-to-day lives.

You’re probably comfortable enough with using inflection that this video won’t help you much, and it might be hard to find a tactful way to suggest that your monotone friend watch it — but, there it is:

If you’re a teacher, though, and you want to help your students develop their public speaking skills, feel free to use this exercise or one like it. Let me know how it goes!

Thanks, and have a great day!

More “Between the Black & the White”:
– Debut episode, The Musashi-Heinlein School
Series Introduction
Host Introduction

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If I Had Been Mrs. Trump’s Speechwriter

A thought experiment, of sorts.

I’ve been avoiding overt political topics lately, but Melania Trump’s apparent plagiarism in her speech at the Republican National Convention created quite a buzz in the speechwriting community (and everywhere else, it seems). My thoughts, as a speechwriter…

I understand Mrs. Trump gave the staffer who helped with the speech some passages she liked from Mrs. Obama’s previous speech. If the provenance of those lines was clear and I had been Mrs. Trump’s speechwriter, I would have recommended (if she really wanted to use them) that she preface them with something along the lines of, “like another woman whose husband was privileged to earn his party’s nomination,” etc. The way I see it, if she didn’t want to change the lines so the same message came through in a new way, then it wouldn’t have hurt to acknowledge the source (even if obliquely). But I hope I would have recommended, instead of using the same words, that she think of an example or two from her own life to illustrate the same points, because the strongest part of Mrs. Trump’s speech was when she focused on her own personal story. And this type of speech works best when it is deeply personal, heartfelt.

Mrs. Trump’s delivery was pretty good, especially considering that English is not her native language. But if I had been Mrs. Trump’s speechwriter, I would have encouraged her to deliver the speech in two parts. First, a short version — maybe three to five minutes — delivered in Slovene, because that would be more comfortable for her and her delivery would (I think) have been more fluid and consistent. Second, a little bit expanded version — perhaps ten minutes — covering the same material and delivering essentially the same message, in English.

(I have seen this work before, for a helicopter pilot from Cameroon who was in my flight at Squadron Officer School. When we gave presentations, he spoke first in his native French and second in English; even though most of us did not understand his French we could clearly see how much more confident he was presenting in his native tongue.)

I think if Mrs. Trump had prefaced her remarks with a brief explanation, the audience would have appreciated the interlude in her own language because her delivery would have been more natural and she would have been even more poised and confident.


Melania Trump addressing the Republican National Convention. (Image: “144070_2_1DA8023,” by Disney | ABC Television Group, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


If I had been Mrs. Trump’s speechwriter, my aim — as it has been with everyone for whom I’ve written speeches — would have been to help her sound like her most authentic self, not to make her sound like anyone else. That would extend beyond trying to help her avoid copying anyone else, to helping her find wording that complemented the natural cadence of her voice and stories that resonated with her and could connect her to her audience.

To me, she seemed at her best when talking about coming to the U.S. from Slovenia; that was a good springboard for her message. I think if she had spent a little more time talking about her story, and tied elements of her story to the problems we face and the upcoming campaign, her message would have been stronger — and she would not have had to endure the repercussions of lifting those lines from Mrs. Obama’s speech.

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My Ideal Speechwriting Client

Of all the writing I do, I find speechwriting to be some of the most challenging and rewarding. It’s a great privilege to help someone craft a clear and effective message for a unique audience.

In addition to enjoying speechwriting, I flatter myself that I’m fairly good at it. All told I’ve written over 200 executive-level speeches and presentations, and I’ve had two different full-time speechwriting gigs, first at Headquarters Air Force and then at NC State University.*

And (hint, hint) I’m always in the market for new speechwriting clients.

So how can you know if I’m the speechwriter for you, and you’re the client for me? Maybe by considering the second part of that question, it will help you answer the first part.

My ideal speechwriting client will:

  • Have Something Worth Saying. Presumably, if you’ve been asked to give a speech — especially a major speech to a sizeable audience — it’s because someone recognizes your experience or knowledge or enthusiasm and wants you to bring that to their event. My ideal client will start with a core message — a central idea around which to build the speech, or a single key item the audience can take from the speech that will help them in some way — that they are passionate about and excited to share.
  • Be Willing to Tailor That Message to the Audience. Every audience is unique, down to each individual in each seat. While it’s unrealistic to think that we can present any message so well that it’s equally powerful for each listener, we can make sure that the message touches on some common elements that unite that audience. My ideal client will want to find and rely on those common elements so the message reaches as much of the audience as possible.
  • Give the Audience Credit, But Not Take Them for Granted. Every audience represents a wide range of knowledge and experience. Some listeners will grasp the message immediately; others may need more time, or additional proof, or a different approach. Some listeners crave statistics and facts; some prefer stories and anecdotal examples. My ideal client will respect the audience’s intelligence and want to incorporate different ways of delivering and enhancing the message.
  • Not Try to Speak Like Someone Else. Think of any famous orator — it is unlikely you will think of yourself in that regard — and consider what my speechwriting teacher Joan Detz pointed out very early in my speechwriting career: your audience is not coming to hear that other person speak, they are coming to hear you. They are not expecting to hear you speak like another person or to watch you put on an act. My ideal client will know that they are the right person to speak to that audience, and will not try to present a false impression by speaking like someone else.
  • Practice. You would not perform a concert without practicing, or play a tournament without practicing, so why would you give a speech without practicing? My ideal client will put in the time to rehearse the speech, alone or with me and/or other trusted advisors in the room, to master the material and ensure that they can deliver the message clearly and confidently.

Lincoln, the Orator
Don’t try to sound like Lincoln. Be yourself. (Image: “Lincoln, the Orator,” by Ann Fisher, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

So, that’s what I’m looking for in speechwriting clients. If you need someone who can help you craft a keynote or other important speech, maybe I could be the speechwriter for you. I’m not cheap — speechwriting takes me away from my other gigs, after all — but I’m confident that I can help you whether your purpose is to educate the audience, motivate the audience, or advocate for a particular position or cause. I can help you make complex technical topics accessible to general audiences, and structure your message so it resonates with the particular audience who is coming to hear you.

Let me know if you’d like to talk about writing a speech together, or if you know someone else who might need some speechwriting assistance.

*In the Air Force, I was part of the Secretary and Chief of Staff’s Executive Action Group and wrote primarily for two different Under Secretaries and one Acting Secretary of the Air Force; at the university, I was part of the Industrial Extension Service and wrote primarily for the Executive Director.

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Excerpt from a 4th of July Speech

Ten years ago, I was the speechwriter for the Acting Secretary of the Air Force, the Honorable Michael Dominguez. And ten years ago today, on 4 July 2005, he spoke on behalf of then-President George W. Bush at the “Let Freedom Ring” event in Philadelphia.

During the ceremony, Mr. Dominguez was among the first to ring the “Normandy Liberty Bell,” a replica of our Liberty Bell commissioned by Frenchman Patrick Daudon for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landing. The Philadelphia ceremony was the first time the bell was brought to the U.S. (As seen below, it is now on display at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.)

Normandy Liberty Bell
(The Normandy Liberty Bell. Photo by Susannah Clary, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Mr. Dominguez spoke only briefly, and it was the first and only time one of the people I wrote for was directly representing — essentially, standing in for — the President. For the sake of my own sense of nostalgia, and to mark this Independence Day, here’s an excerpt from the remarks we prepared:

Whenever and wherever freedom rings, the world must take note.

The world took note when the Allies stood together against tyranny and aggression in two world wars.

The world took note of the Civil Rights and Women’s Suffrage movements, when we extended the self-evident truths of the Declaration — that we are all created equal — to those who had been treated unequally for so long.

The world took note when Afghani and Iraqi citizens voted in free elections.

And in the future, as freedom continues to ring through all nations, tribes, and tongues, the world will continue to take note.

I didn’t attend the event, so I don’t know if Mr. Dominguez actually used the prepared remarks — we learn quickly as speechwriters that what we prepare is often a guide and sometimes just a suggestion! And while the words are not stirring enough to go down in the annals of oratory history, I think they were at least fitting for the occasion.

And for this occasion, I can only add: Happy Fourth of July! And thank-you to all of our troops serving at home and abroad, ensuring that we as a people remain free and independent.

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Vanguard Launch Attempt, 1957

Fifty-five years ago today — December 6, 1957 — the U.S. tried to launch the Vanguard satellite from Cape Canaveral, atop a Vanguard rocket.

(Vanguard explosion. US Navy image, from NASA.)

Also known as Vanguard TV3, for Vanguard Test Vehicle 3, the spacecraft was “a 1.36-kg aluminum sphere 15.2 cm in diameter, [that] contained a 10-mW, 108-MHz mercury-battery powered transmitter and a 5-mW, 108.03-MHz transmitter powered by six solar cells mounted on the body of the satellite.” Its mission, other than testing the launch vehicle itself, was to “study the effects of the environment on a satellite and its systems in Earth orbit,” and to “obtain geodetic measurements through orbit analysis.”

As seen in the image above, the launch vehicle exploded shortly after lifting off the pad.

When I was writing speeches in the Pentagon, I included the Vanguard story in a speech I wrote for the Under Secretary of the Air Force to deliver on December 6, 2004:

At 11:44 Eastern time at Cape Canaveral, the test conductor gave the final “go” command and Paul Karpiscak, a young engineer, flipped the final switch. Out on the pad, the rocket’s first stage ignited. It rose about four feet into the air, but lost power and came crashing down after only two seconds. It fell against the firing structure, its fuel tanks ruptured, and it immolated itself in a roaring ball of flame.

That was the 6th of December, 1957. It was Project Vanguard — our first attempt to launch a satellite. The experience was so new to the engineers in the control room that, when they saw it blow up, someone shouted, “Duck!” — and almost everyone did.

To wrap up, … the Vanguard Story has a happy ending.

For one thing, as that first launch vehicle crumbled in flame, controllers noticed that the satellite’s transmitters were still beeping. The payload had been thrown clear of the launch pad — it bounced a few times on the ground, but it still worked! At least they knew their satellite design was solid.

And … three Vanguard launches were successful, starting with Vanguard I on Saint Patrick’s Day, 1958. It wasn’t the US’s first satellite — that was Explorer-1 — but Vanguard I is still up there. It’s the world’s longest orbiting man-made satellite, and still provides data on atmospheric drag and other phenomena.

The lesson I take from the Vanguard story is that failure is, much of the time, a necessary step on the way to success.

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Interested in Speechwriting? Consider These Classes …

My speechwriting teacher, Joan Detz, will be offering a number of classes next year.

Joan Detz, How to Write and Give a Speech

I’ve taken her basic and advanced classes, and I learned a lot in each one. If I can fit it into the schedule (and the budget!), I may trek up to Philly for her Business of Speechwriting class.

Here’s the schedule of her 2013 course offerings:

You can find more information about Joan, her books, and her courses at If you go to one of her classes, write me and let me know what you think!

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Onward in the 'Greatest Adventure on which Man has ever Embarked'

Twenty years ago today — September 12, 1992 — the Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on a joint U.S.-Japanese scientific mission that featured several space firsts.

(STS-47 in-flight crew portrait, aboard Spacelab-J. NASA image.)

The STS-47 crew consisted of U.S. astronauts Robert L. “Hoot” Gibson, Curtis L. Brown, Jr., Mark C. Lee, Jerome “Jay” Apt, N. Jan Davis, and Mae C. Jemison, plus Japanese astronaut Mamoru Mohri. The “firsts” on this mission included:

  • Jemison was the first Black woman in space.
  • Mohri was the first Japanese astronaut to fly on a Space Shuttle.
  • Lee and Davis were the first married couple to fly a space mission together.

The crew conducted 44 different science experiments aboard the Spacelab-J laboratory, of which 35 were sponsored by the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA). Seven were NASA experiments, and the last two were NASA-NASDA collaborations.

Materials science investigations covered such fields as biotechnology, electronic materials, fluid dynamics and transport phenomena, glasses and ceramics, metals and alloys, and acceleration measurements. Life sciences included experiments on human health, cell separation and biology, developmental biology, animal and human physiology and behavior, space radiation, and biological rhythms. Test subjects included the crew, Japanese koi fish (carp), cultured animal and plant cells, chicken embryos, fruit flies, fungi and plant seeds, and frogs and frog eggs.

Now, just because it’s cool, a look at the “Southern Lights” that the crew took from orbit:

(Aurora Australis, as seen from orbit aboard STS-47. NASA image.)

It’s also cool that this launch happened on the 30th anniversary of President Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University — 50 years ago now, on September 12, 1962 — in which he said,

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

President Kennedy closed his speech by saying,

Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.”

Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

I hope we never stop pressing on in that “greatest adventure.”

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The Apollo Speech: 'Now it is time to take longer strides'

Fifty years ago today — May 25, 1961 — President John F. Kennedy spoke to Congress about several national priorities, and laid out the goal of what would become the Apollo program. He said, “Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.”

(President Kennedy speaking to Congress. Image from NASA’s history site.)

Speaking close on the heels of Yuri Gagarin’s orbital flight and Alan Shepard’s sub-orbital flight, Kennedy proposed an ambitious agenda in the final major section of his Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs. With emphasis added, and a little commentary interspersed, here’s the text:

… if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.

The last sentence of that paragraph is speechwriting gold: a wonderful triplet that wraps up in the appropriately grand idea of the future of all mankind.

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of leadtime, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.

Another excellent phrase: “whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.”

I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals:

First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

Kennedy masterfully pulls the entire nation together into this grand enterprise. He will repeat the idea later, in a more direct way. First, some specifics …

Secondly, an additional 23 million dollars, together with 7 million dollars already available, will accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself.

Think how far out we might have space outposts if we had nuclear rockets. If you’re less optimistic, you might think about accidents with nuclear rockets; but still, nuclear propulsion would take us farther than chemical rockets ever will.

Third, an additional 50 million dollars will make the most of our present leadership, by accelerating the use of space satellites for world-wide communications.

Fourth, an additional 75 million dollars–of which 53 million dollars is for the Weather Bureau–will help give us at the earliest possible time a satellite system for world-wide weather observation.

Let it be clear–and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make–let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal ’62–an estimated seven to nine billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.

No doubt, then as now, many people believed it would be better not to go at all. I, obviously, am not one of them. I like the way he lays it out as a challenge, though: in effect advising Congress to go “all in” long before poker became a popular spectator game.

Now this is a choice which this country must make, and I am confident that under the leadership of the Space Committees of the Congress, and the Appropriating Committees, that you will consider the matter carefully.

It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventures in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of mastery of space.

I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.

This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further–unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.

Once again, Kennedy issues the call not only to Congress but to everyone who is likely to be involved in the effort. “This nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.”

All in all, a brilliant speech — and the rest, as is so often said, is history.

The quest for the Moon had begun.

Author’s Note: This is the 2nd attempt to make this post; the first attempt this morning appeared to work but then encountered a technical error.

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