After this election, I am retiring from speechwriting. I’ve written you a barnstormer of a speech that is my swansong, and I think it’s my masterwork.
As long as you nail the first minute and a half, I think this will be the most important speech of your career, potentially a turning point in the campaign, and – at the very least, will be what you are remembered for.
This is for YouTube, of course. We want this to go viral. But it’s also for political television shows and soundbites 10, 20 and 50 years into the future.
It’s your legacy. But you have to get it right. So I’ve written you this handy 10-point crib sheet that will help you nail it.
As long as you follow the instructions in here, this should ring across Radio 4 in soundbites for the next few days, be sent around the internet by confirmed supporters and swing voters alike – and, if I can be so immodest to suggest it, it could even swing the polls back in your favour.
I’m immensely proud of it, and hope it lives up to all of our expectations. The devices I’ve used are utterly textbook, but they’re time tested and real winners.
Here’s how it works, and how to make it work:
Step 1: We start by making it about someone else. Thank someone that most people have never heard of. You will appear magnanimous and humble. Great starting point. Anyone who does or says anything that fits the bill on the day – make it all about them and get them a round of applause.
Incidentally, if you can get a priest to sit behind you somewhere, preferably just in shot, that would create a subliminal message of authority and also set the scene for an almost American-style evangelical sermon, which is one of the themes I’m going for here.
Step 2: Quieten the applause quickly. Make it look like what you have to say is urgent and important.
Step 3: You’ll notice I’m observing the rule of 3 almost fanatically. This is important. We talk only in sets of three. We think only in sets of three. Three is the magic number.
For instance, the speech starts:
When people say politics can’t make a difference…
When people say that people are apathetic and indifferent…
When people say that there are no great causes left…
Step 4: And then, once you’ve set them up, knock them down:
Let them come to Citizens UK. Let them come here!
Really underline it. Maybe shake your fist for emphasis, if you’re comfortable with that.
Step 5: You are not addressing an audience you’ve come to visit, you are leading a group you are part of. This is a key sentence and an important idea, so I’ll go over this one carefully:
Our shared belief is that wealth must serve more than the wealthy.
Really sell that. It’s what people need to have ringing in their ears as they go into the polling booth.
Step 6: Insist on everything. This has to sound like the most important message you’ve ever delivered. Shout it if you have to. In the above quote, give each word its own emphasis.
Wealth. Must. Serve. More. Than. The. Wealthy!
Step 7: You’ll notice we’re doing the rule of three thing again. It’s just a device, of course – but it never fails to be compelling, so I’ve filled the whole speech with it.
If you speak in threes, you sound presidential. Mostly because all of the presidential speechwriters for the past 100 years have used it. But it’s also a staple of the advertising world for a reason. We need a touch of that magic:
That wealth must serve more than the wealthy.
That prosperity must serve more than the simply prosperous
That good fortune must serve more than those who are just fortunate
You get the idea.
Step 8: And then knock ’em down again. While you’re at it, a spot of humble flattery – and you can use this line to prepare the way for the abundant connections to historical, literary and mythic figures that are coming up (just wait till we get to Cicero…)
And your movement is like every other great movement in history: it is built on moral convictions!
We want people to think of this as a timeless, historic event, so we’ll be seeding this whole thing with a greatest hits compilation of heroes of antiquity – though we’ll avoid some of the overused and clichéd ones.
Step 9: Rinse and repeat:
then hundreds of thousands of people they say…
I know that’s not strictly grammatically correct, and if I was writing for the page, I would word that quite differently of course – but when you get to the end of a set of three, people have forgotten how it started. I know it was just 7 seconds ago. Trust me on this one.
Inequality should not be woven into the fabric of our lives
People of compassion and good will should never journey without hope
And no injustice should endure forever
Get used to this pattern. We’ll be doing it a lot for the next ten minutes. Though I’ll ease off a bit as we go along.
Step 10: Make sure you point into the air on each emphasised word. You mean it. This needs to be important and compelling – and don’t forget to cut the applause quickly. Remember this is urgent.
Once you’ve mastered these first 90 seconds, you could pretty much talk about your favourite video and how it taught you more than books, and they’d be eating out of the palm of your hand to the point where anything is going to sound like the sermon on the mount.
In fact, I hope you don’t mind, but that’s exactly what I’ve done. Don’t worry, I’ll more than make up for it by making you sound incredibly literate and well-read – but video over books is something that’s self-effacing and relatable. Once all these are in place, it’s a sure-fire winner.
Please don’t mess this up. This is my ‘We choose to go to the moon’. I’ve invested everything I’ve learned in my political speechwriting career. This is Churchill, MLK, Kennedy, Lincoln – and every episode of The West Wing all rolled into one.
I’m counting on you. Good luck with it, and it’s been very nice working with you. You can count on my vote.