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20 years

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Inaugural Address vs. Speech to Congress

As a speech writer and speech coach, I watched/listened to these as profoundly different addresses. In the inaugural address, it was if the speech writers had the reins placed on their keyboards. Or it was like the Go-Kart at the track that could only go so fast in terms of rhetorical flourishes and applause lines. In his first address to the nation, President Obama was restrained and calm. For example, any time he had a chance to deliver a trilogy of reasons for an idea or program the speech stopped at two. There were few if any quotable lines.

Fast forward 35 days and there was a need for more rhetoric, a stern but positive tone, and writing that matched the content. In the President's speech to the joint session of Congress, his speech writers were allowed to display their craft. First, it was the theme: "I represent more of the American public than you do" was the between the lines theme of the talk.

There were ample trilogies - a speech writer's staple: "It cannot wait. It must not wait. It will not wait." is one example. I can't recall any trilogies in the inaugural address.

Another rhetorical device was repetition: The President said if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime. Any speech writer looks for the chance to put in a little repetition.

The other key difference was - as the concert promoters like to say -- the venue. It's really hard to feel close to a crowd of 2 million people. First the sound is delayed and you have no sense of what messages or lines click with the audience. President Obama was at home in the close, confined quarters of the House of Representatives. He said he was talking to both Congress and the American people, but he fed off the crowd and the energy in the room.

What did you see as the difference in the two talks? Does anyone want to compare this talk to other Addresses to Congress/aka State of the Union addresses?

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