Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The ear of a speechwriter

If you’ve been listening to the two political conventions, maybe you’ve noticed an interesting distinction.

At both conventions, there have been a number of warm-up speeches each night followed by one or two major speeches.

The majority of the warm-up speeches at the DNC shared a number of stock phrases—platform or campaign bullet points, basically—verbatim. This suggests (and one commentator I heard confirmed this) that these speeches were professionally written by a small group of speechwriters. While it was a bit boring to hear the same arguments repeated by every speaker, there was a cohesiveness to the presentation that got the message across.

In contrast, listening to the RNC, it’s pretty clear that all the warm-up speakers are responsible for their own speechwriting. That is, if they have help, it’s from someone on their own payroll, not from a speechwriting shop hired by the party. (That, or the party speechwriters are just not very good, but that seems doubtful.) The speeches are all over the lot in terms of content, emphasis, and points made; and they’re tremendously variable in terms of the writing craft—some are truly abysmal. The variety makes these speeches a bit more interesting, but the opportunity for really bad political gaffes is magnified tremendously. To me it seems like a tactical mistake—one I wouldn’t want a client of mine to make.

Both of these are essentially four-day infomercials, as many commentators have noted. As such, it seems to me they should have the best production values money can buy, and that includes professional writing.

Craft matters.

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