Weekend Assignment #210 – Speechifying

The Weekend Assignment is posted each Friday at Outpost Mâvarin; a roundup of responses goes up the following Thursday, so if you’d like to join in, you’ve still got some time.


Weekend Assignment #210: It’s been 40 years since the Mountaintop speech, and even longer since the great speeches of John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and others. Are the days of great oratory behind us, or have you drawn inspiration from some recent public speaker? If so, what was the speech? Do you remember any actual quotes from it?

Extra Credit: Have you ever given a speech, other than in a classroom?

Well, I thought last week’s assignment was a challenge, but this one may be more so.

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I’ll field the extra-credit question first. One reason why I write is that I feel much more comfortable letting the words speak for themselves than I do reading or delivering them to an audience, and therefore I will avoid making speeches as much as possible. I don’t even want to do their cousins, presentations, unless I really have to. I gave the toast at the dinner for my senior class in college, and I have had to give short talks for work on occasion, but other than that I don’t think I’ve gotten up in front of a group of people to talk since college – certainly not voluntarily. Being the focus of a group’s attention in that manner is one of the reasons that I never gave serious consideration to a teaching career, let alone fields like acting, politics, or the ministry.

I would prefer not to believe that the days of great oratory are past, but it does seem to occur pretty rarely these days. I suspect that TV sound bites and short attention spans are both factors in its decline; modern communication has changed things.

Having said that, I know that there have been times when I’ve been impressed, stirred, or moved by things that I’ve heard in good speeches, whether I’ve watched them on TV or heard them in person. Granted, some of them were written for President Bartlet on The West Wing, so I’m not sure I should count those. (But when the writing on that show was good, it was very good. And let’s not forget that a great speechwriter may well be as important in producing a great speech as the speaker is.) As the victim of my own short attention span, I have to confess that even the best of these speeches don’t tend stick with me for very long; that’s compounded by the fact that I have a far better memory for what I read than what I hear. If you have me listen to a great speech and then read a transcript shortly afterwards, it’s much more likely to take hold.

However, other than the big lines that make it into the news stories and, later, the history books, I’m not so much for the quoting of great speakers. Quoting The Princess Bride, on the other hand, is something I can manage to do almost any day of the week.

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5 comments

  1. I’m with you on public speaking. I don’t like doing that either. I will say this, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” 🙂

  2. Yes, it’s true: fictional speeches, especially short ones, seem easier to remember: “Life is pain, Your Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

  3. “You really are that smart?”
    “Let me put it this way. You’ve heard of Aristotle? Plato? Socrates?”
    “Yes.”
    “Morons.”

    “Inconceivable!”
    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    This has to be the most quotable movie of the last twenty years.

    Mike – And that has to be the most quoted line.

    Karen – Westley is right about that.

  4. All too true. The Princess Bride is almost as quotable as Monty Python’s Holy Grail:
    “You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.”
    “Run away!”