I think we can all identify with Sam Seaborn. I have definitely done some last minute prep for presentations in my time in college. I can’t say that I’ve added finishing touches to President Bartlet’s State of the Union speech on the way to the event but I can definitely sympathize.
The West Wing is the show that first inspired me to want to venture into the world of politics and speech-writing. Around the same time I started listening to Pod Save America, the podcast by some of Obama’s former speech-writers, I was also listening to Civics 101. Another incredible podcast, Civics 101 is a crash-course podcast that focuses on answering questions as to how American democracy works.
One of my favorite episodes is Episode 29: Political Speechwriting. Host Virginia Prescott speaks with Sarada Peri, former senior presidential speech writer for Barack Obama, about the art of political speech writing. Peri explains that many political speech writers fall into the job while on communications teams or while working on campaigns.
“It’s less about getting how someone speaks and more about how someone thinks”
Political speech writing is a pretty specific trade, though the tools that it requires can apply to any branch of successful communications. Here are some more tips and points Peri makes about political speech writing:
- Immerse yourself in the person’s train of thought
- Speech writing is collaboration with a team, you are all trying to help that person communicate
- As writers, research is half the battle and a crucial part of speech writing
- Interesting stories, quotes, and historical references can help enhance the point you are trying to make or the story you are trying to tell
- If you generally disagree with the viewpoint your speaker is taking, it can be helpful to disagree so that you know how to counter the argument
And finally, what makes a great speech?
“What you will find it the best speeches, is a clear and persuasive argument, and the way you get to that is to have a central purpose. To know why you are giving this speech, and what exactly you want to convey so that at the end of the speech, the audience knows what it ought to think and feel and do.”
This short quote encompasses what all my professors have creatively pressed into my head for the past two years. It is true not only for political speech writing but for any type of communication that is trying to relay a message and encourage action from a public.
I will sign off with one of my favorite introductions written by Sam Seaborn, and communicated beautifully, as always, by President Bartlet.