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Advice From Obama’s Speechwriter


Advice From Obama’s Speechwriter

I had the pleasure of meeting Jon Favreau this week, in Washington DC. He was Obama’s main speechwriter for seven years. I thought you would like to hear his advice on how you can connect with an audience and bring your ideas to life.

Favreau said, “Twitter has changed everything. People won’t accept that old, formal style anymore. You need to be more conversational and authentic.”

Have you dreaded giving a ‘formal presentation’? The audience dreads them even more! We don’t like these overly formal situations. We want people to connect with us and talk to us as human beings.

On story-telling, Favreau said, “You need to be able to sum up a whole speech in just a few sentences. That’s how people will remember it.” For example, in 2007, while campaigning to be President, Obama had been called ‘an empty suit’, criticised for mot speaking about his policies. He reacted by delivering lots of 50-60 minute speeches in detail about policy. His poll ratings didn’t change. Then he did a short 10 minute speech, where he told Favreau, “I need to tell the story about why I am the only person who should be President right now”. The poll ratings shot up.

In essence, speeches, pitches and presentations are not the place to give people all of your data, statistics and in-depth analysis. They are much better delivered in a document. A speech or presentation is about sharing your core message. Numbers numb. Jargon jars.

What about statistics? Favreau said it was all about telling the story behind the numbers. In the State of the Union, Reagan started a tradition of bringing guests in to watch, who were mentioned in the speech. Suddenly, instead of talking about lives lost, or jobs lost, Obama could talk about Misty Demars, who had paid taxes all her life and just wanted a chance to work… (check out the video clip here, this section starts at around 25 minutes in)

Your time may be limited in preparing for presentations. Sometimes Favreau would have only 30 minutes to write a speech about breaking news of a tragedy. In those situations he would think, “What is the one thing I absolutely must communicate?”, and then focus on writing about just that. He didn’t think, ‘er…can someone knock together some slides for this story?…’

So before your next meeting, try thinking, ‘What is the core message? ‘ then tell the story as simply as you can. If you do this you’ll be less likely to dread the presentation and the audience will be more likely to enjoy and remember it.

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