Words matter: Storytelling with President Obama in an age of sound bites

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What You’ll Learn:: 

When Jon Favreau, novice speechwriter, started crafting speeches for then-Senator Barrack Obama, he would ask himself, “What’s the clever line? What’s the snappy sound bite? What’s the clever and memorable line that I could write?”

The future president taught him that such questions are artificial. Focus instead, Obama said, on this: “What’s the story I’m trying to tell?”

In this session, you’ll learn:

  • How to craft your narrative arc
  • How to be a “mind reader” when putting words into the mouth of your leader
  • Why a sound-bite approach will sink your speech—think story
  • How to mine resources for ideas
  • How to change minds by capturing the essence of an issue

It is not only a talent with words that has made Favreau a success. While his rhetorical prowess has played a role, what sets Favreau above the rest is his unique ability to "see" or get behind the words—to capture the essence of an issue and create dialogue that clearly and powerfully articulates what it is about that issue that matters and why we should care.

Storytelling isn’t just about the anecdotes. It’s knowing your central theme, with a clear beginning, middle, and end.

“You should always be able to sum up your entire speech in a few very conversational sentences before you start writing,” Favreau says. “And later, if you find yourself adding words that don’t directly build on that initial summary, delete them.”

Find out how. Start with Ragan Training.

June 2014

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Presenter bio: 

Jon Favreau

From 2009 through early 2013, Jon Favreau served as the director of speechwriting for President Barack Obama, a job he also held during the 2008 presidential campaign.