JFK’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen said that the best speeches come down to 4 words (levity, brevity, charity, clarity) and 5 lines (an outline, headline, frontline, sideline and bottom line).
As President-elect Biden prepares to make his inaugural address this Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of JFK’s “Ask not” speech, I’ve been analysing what made it so great.
JFK asked Sorensen for brevity, asking him to use short clauses and short words wherever possible, saying, “I don’t want people to think I’m a wind-bag”.
Winning the popular vote by one of the smallest ever margins (0.17%), his approval rating soared to 78% after he delivered this speech. It’s arguably one of the greatest speeches ever given.
When Sorensen was later asked by students for advice on giving a great speech, he simply replied, “If you don’t have mighty thoughts, you won’t make mighty speeches“.
** I have a healthy obsession with JFK, hoping that some of the inspiration rubs off when I sit down to write! Ted Sorensen is one of my heroes. If you’re looking for a powerful read, his books Kennedy and Counselor are outstanding **