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10 Tips from Lincoln on Writing a Kick-ass Speech

10 Tips from Lincoln on Writing a Kick-ass Speech
Lincoln

If you ever have to give a speech, unless you’re an accomplished public speaker, it’s often best to write your speech beforehand. Be prepared. And don’t just write a plain, boring old speech that anyone else can give any day of the week — make it a kick-ass speech, one that will be listened to and remembered.

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As a former speechwriter, I’ve studied many speechwriters and many public speakers. By far the best is Abraham Lincoln, and his best speech is the very famous Gettysburg Address — one of the best speeches ever, comparable to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Hamlet’s soliloquoy.

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So what can we learn from Honest Abe, a man who wasn’t very good-looking but who knew the art of rhetoric better than any of the modern masters? Here are the 10 best things we can take away from him:

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  1. Keep it short. Every year, Congress is forced to listen to the President give his State of the Union Address for more than an hour. Lincoln’s speech followed a two-hour oration by Edward Everett that was 13,607 words long. Lincoln’s speech, by contrast, lasted for two minutes, and was 10 sentences (or 272 words) long. But it was much more powerful. Capture the key emotions and ideas you want to convey in as little time as possible. If you can deliver a two-minute speech, instead of a 30-minute droner, your audience will actually listen, and will love your for your brevity.
  2. Abandon the formalities. The President usually starts his State of the Union Address by acknowledging all the dignitaries, and thanking a million people. Many other speakers make this same mistake, and ruin their speeches. By the time you’re done acknowledging and thanking everyone, you’ve lost your audience. Go right into the meat of the issue, and your audience will pay attention. Lincoln skipped any kind of intro and began with the key to his speech.
  3. Have purpose. Don’t just get up to speak and make yourself sound good or your organization look good. Speak to communicate a message, and to get your audience to act. Lincoln did this by regalvanizing his Union’s purpose and resolve to win a war for the ideals of the forefathers of the United States.
  4. Connect to your audience’s hearts. A speech is not a logical argument, or a listing of accomplishments or facts or events. Lincoln knew his audience, and spoke to their emotions, by showing them that the men who died on the battlefield of Gettysburg did so for certain ideals, and asking them to ensure that those men did not die in vain.
  5. Speak to larger truths. While it isn’t best to be too grandiose, especially if you are speaking to small audience like your child’s 2nd grade class on career day, it’s best if you connect your ideas and words to larger causes and ideals, as Lincoln did when he connected the cause of the Union to the ideals of liberty and equality conceived by the forefathers of the nation.
  6. Speak to the larger audience. When you give a speech, ideally, it’s not just to those before you. Lincoln knew that the Gettysburg address was not really addressed to the audience before him, but to the nation as a whole (and perhaps to history). But his short little speech was reprinted across the nation, and it had an effect on many people. This happens today — speeches by Steve Jobs, for example, are not just for the audience at the conference, but to the entire world. Think about how your speech will affect a greater audience, and what message you want to convey to them. With the Internet, your speech can be communicated to many others.
  7. Use imagery. Lincoln used imagery for birth and life and death — “conceived” and “brought forth” and “perish”. It is important to do more than use bland words, but to create a picture in people’s minds through your words. The imagery, of course, should be related to your central theme.
  8. Recall more famous lines. Lincoln opened his speech with a line from a more famous (at that time) document, the Declaration of Independence (“that all men are created equal”). The reference brings with it many ideas and emotions associated with the Declaration of Independence and the men who signed it. Other famous lines that could be referenced include the Bible, Shakespeare, poetry, songs, books, other speeches. The references bring a lot more with them than just the phrase or quote you use, if your audience is familiar with it.
  9. Revise, revise, revise. Lincoln wrote several versions of his speech before settling on the final version. Each revision should cut out the unnecessary, develop the central idea, make the words flow more smoothly, and powerful develop imagery and phrases.
  10. End strong. Lincoln ended the Gettysburg Address with the line “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” And that line went down in history. End with a line people will remember, that contains the message you want them to remember, because, aside from the opening, it’s the most important line.

Leo Babauta blogs regularly about achieving goals and becoming productive through daily habits on Zen Habits. Read his articles on 10 Ways to Reduce Your Work Week, Zen To Done (ZTD): the Ultimate Simple Producitivity System, the Top 50 Productivity Blogs, doubling your productivity, keeping your inbox empty, clearing your desk, becoming an early riser, and the Top 20 Motivation Hacks.

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Leo Babauta

Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving.

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Last Updated on June 13, 2019

How to Quit Your Boring Life and Start Living an Interesting One

How to Quit Your Boring Life and Start Living an Interesting One

Think you have a boring life?

The definition of boring is dull or not interesting. Maybe you’ve been doing the same thing and living the same life for too long, or maybe your daily routine is limiting your growth and happiness. Whatever your reason is, the following list of 20 things can definitely make any day more interesting. Some of them are silly, while some are more meaningful, so hopefully just reading the list makes your life less boring and sparks your creativity.

Let’s dive in the list to quit your boring life and start living an interesting (and meaning) one!

1. Channel Your 7-Year-Old Self

What would he or she want to do right now? Color? Paint? Run around outside? Play dress up? Eat with your hands? Play that instrument hiding in the back of your closet that you haven’t touched in years?

Just because you’re a grown up doesn’t mean any of this stuff will be less enjoyable than you remember it. Give yourself permission to play.

2. Go Play with Kids

Speaking of little kids, if you have your own or access to any (in a non-creepy way, like they’re your niece or your best friend’s kid, you get the idea) go play with them!

They didn’t create an entire show called Kids Say The Darndest Things because kids aren’t hilarious. They also keep things so simple, and we can really stand to be reminded of this and stop allowing ourselves to get bogged down in boring details.

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3. Order a Hot Dog

While you’re eating it, Google: “What’s in a hot dog?” You decide whether or not you want to finish it.

4. For the Ladies: Wear Your Sexiest Lingerie Under Your Work Clothes

Your “little secret” will leave you feeling anything but boring all day!

5. Play Cell Phone Roulette

You’ll need at least one buddy for this. Scroll through the contacts in your phone, stop on a random one and call the person.

You could spark an incredible catch up session or be incredibly awkward. Neither are boring.

6. Fill out a Pack of Thank-You Cards

Give them to random people who probably don’t get thanked too often for doing what they do ever day.

Ideas: police officers, librarians, servers, baristas, cab drivers, sanitation workers, teachers, people behind any check out counter, receptionists, your friends, the guy at the falafel stand, etc.

7. Sign up for a Class in Something You’ve “Always Wanted to Do”, or Something That Makes You Really Uncomfortable

Ideas: pole dancing, salsa lessons, improv, pottery, cooking, knitting (yup, there are classes for this, too!), karate, boxing, something techy like the workshops they run in Apple stores, get Rosetta Stone and learn that language you’ve always wanted to speak, etc.

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What’s good about joining an interest class is that you will also meet new people!

8. Interview Your Grandparents About Their Lives

You can bet they’ve had some crazy experiences you probably never knew about.

9. Get up on Stage at an Open Mic Night

Whether you’re funny or not, get up on stage and just talk funny. And if you’re not, memorize a few of your favorite jokes and tell those!

10. Do Something for Someone Else That You Wish Someone Would Do for You

We all have a few ideas on this list. I promise you will feel amazing after and anything but bored.

11. Start a DIY Project in Your Home

It doesn’t have to be super complicated. If you need ideas, there’re plenty on Pinterest. Or you can also check out these 30 Awesome DIY Projects that You’ve Never Heard of.

12. Plan a Weekend Trip or an All-Out Vacation

This will give you something to look forward to.

Even if you don’t have the time or money to go on a vacation, plan for a staycation, which is same fun and relaxing!

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13. People Watch

Find a bench in a crowded area (centers of transportation like airports, bus stops and train stations are great for this!) and just observe.

People are infinitely interesting.

14. Eat Something You’ve Never Eaten Before

Bonus points if it’s a random fruit or veggie.

15. Dance

You can get your friends together for a night on the town or just pull up a video on YouTube and bust a move from your own living room.

If you’re feeling extra brave, you can even dance in public and get other people involved.

16. Go to YOUTUBE and Search “Funny Pets” or “Funny Babies”

This is also a great quickie ab workout as you will be laughing hysterically.

17. Pick up a Book and Start Reading

Check out the NY Times Best Sellers lists and grab a new book you can get lost in.

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18. Step Away from the Computer and Go Get Some Time with People You Care About in Real Life

Facebook stalking doesn’t count as real social interaction. You can even share this post with your friends and vote on which one you’d like to do together!

19. Check out a Museum You’ve Never Been to Before

OK, depending on your interests, this one might actually be boring. If you love learning, art or different cultures though, this one is for you!

20. Write a List of Things You Desire and Truly Want

This is a great way to help you figure out the real reason why you’re feeling bored about your life. Maybe you haven’t really done things that you truly enjoy? Maybe what you’ve wanted to do all the time has been left behind?

Think about the list of things you really want to do, and ask yourself why you aren’t doing these things (yet). Then start taking your first step to make what you want happen.

Now go make your life interesting and live your dream life!

More About Living a Fulfilling Life

Featured photo credit: Kev Costello via unsplash.com

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