In the right hands, a speech's comms impact can't be rivaled

Crises are exciting. Don't get me wrong - everyone wants to avoid them, but in the industry in which this title's readers ply their trade, crises are measuring sticks.

Crises are exciting. Don't get me wrong - everyone wants to avoid them, but in the industry in which this title's readers ply their trade, crises are measuring sticks. A senior executive's and a company's ability to rise or fall under the pressure cannot be hidden in such situations.

PRWeek certainly devotes much space to crisis comms - and with good reason. But what of those instances where there is more time to prepare and rework the language to get it just so?

I'm referring, of course, to the speech - a key element in any communicator's toolkit. Speeches aren't about controlling messages as much as they are about implanting and cementing them. And in the past few weeks, I was given a couple of reminders as to how powerful a tool it can be in the right "hands."

As I pen this column on January 17, it's impossible not to think of Martin Luther King Jr's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech.

Why was it so effective? I went on YouTube to watch it again. I don't have ample space to answer the question fully, but what stood out for me was his brilliant tendency to begin strings of sentences with the exact same words. He repeated phrases such as "One hundred years ago," "Now is the time," and, of course, "Free at last."

Not every speech must follow this blueprint. King excelled at driving points home in a way audiences could never forget. On that criteria alone, this is the speech to which all others must measure up.

Fast forward to this January 12. President Obama, who gained great notoriety - and some say the White House - as an orator extraordinaire, reminded us of his speaking splendor.

Three days after the shootings in Tucson, AZ, that claimed six lives and wounded 14 others, Obama delivered a rousing speech. He called for common ground and an end to partisan bickering, all while maintaining a mainly apolitical tone.

For me, however, one of his many references to Christina-Taylor Green, a 9-year-old killed during the tragedy, really hit home. Of Green, who despite her youth seemed fascinated by the political process, he said, "I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it." Powerful and perfectly proper for the occasion.

Two memorable dissertations, separated by nearly half a century, but indelibly linked in their ability to remind today's communicators just how impactful a speech can - and should - be.

Gideon Fidelzeid is the managing editor of PRWeek. He can be contacted at gideon.fidelzeid@prweek.com.

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