Behind the bully pulpit: The (continuing) power of the presidential speech

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What You’ll Learn:: 

Americans, Jeff Shesol says, pay hardly any attention to what presidents say. What little they take in, they forget immediately.

But don’t despair. In this keynote address from a recent Ragan speechwriters conference, Jeff Shesol—former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton—explains why a powerful speech is still one of the best ways for presidents (and organizational leaders) to define the debate and move the nation toward their goals.

You’ll learn:

  • How to help your leader seize the role of educator-in-chief
  • Why you should trust your intuition
  • Why words still matter—and can move events
  • How to frame not only a speech, but a campaign of speeches
  • How every speech has to be about one major idea
  • Why the CEO model has changed, so your leader better learn to communicate through speeches

Jeff Shesol considers himself an accidental speechwriter. A founding partner of WestWing Writers, Shesol wrote a book (Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy and the Feud That Defined a Decade) that caught the attention of President Bill Clinton, who invited Shesol to become one of his speechwriters.

In this compelling session, Shesol lifts the veil on speechwriting at its most challenging: for the president of the United States. But he offers lessons that anyone in executive communications can learn from.

Learn how to seize the role of educator-in-chief, the way Franklin Roosevelt did in his “Arsenal of Democracy” speech. Just as Roosevelt helped prepare an isolationist public for the war that was to come, you can write a speech with a goal of teaching and inspiring an audience to action.

Hear of examples from Lincoln at Gettysburg, Woodrow Wilson on the eve of World War II and Barack Obama in Osawatomie, Kansas.

Find out how to make your words matter and move events. And learn how to trust your intuition, even if your leader lives and dies by metrics.

Hear how to write so your speaker can intuit the structure of the speech you’ve written—and why it’s all about writing like Hemingway, not Faulkner. And learn why table-pounding outbursts by former White House aide Rahm Emmanuel offer a lesson every speechwriter must remember.

Avoid becoming a “stuck whistle,” and learn why it’s necessary nowadays for your leader to take on the critics, rather than ignore them. With Shesol’s help, you’ll have audiences singing hail to your chief.

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Broadcast: 
March 2013
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Presenter bio: 

Jeff Shesol

Jeff Shesol is the former Deputy Chief Speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. A founding partner of WestWing Writers, Shesol is the author of Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. The Supreme Court, which was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 2010 and a Favorite Book of the Year by The New Yorker.