Tag Archives: Politics

Donald Trump notwithstanding, oversimplification and bluster aren’t winning strategies for speakers.

Will Donald Trump kill speechwriting? (Spoiler: no.)

A few months before the GOP convention, the leading contender for the party’s presidential nomination is Donald Trump: a man who draws huge, rapturous crowds… yet delivers long, rambling speeches that are apparently entirely off the cuff.

Now, let’s be clear: there’s a lot more on the line here than what that means for speechwriters. (For instance, I believe the presidency of an authoritarian race-baiting con artist would be bad for nearly everyone and downright catastrophic for most, American or otherwise. In related news, I don’t sleep too well these days.)

But a lot of leaders have to be looking at Trump and asking if that approach would work for them, too. Could they command audience adulation and overwhelming ovations if they just ranted from the stage for an hour or so, as long as they kept boasting, pressing the right hot buttons and insulting the right targets?

Continue reading

photo of burnt matches

When your audience isn’t feeling the Bern

This weekend, Bernie Sanders spoke to a predominantly African-American audience at the dining room of a South Carolina church. According to this account, the response from the mealtime crowd was tepid: polite clapping for all but a couple of lines.

We’re used to reading about packed stadiums roaring their approval for Mr. Sanders’ stump speech. So where did this one go off the rails?

It’s hard to judge from a single news story, but this sounds an awful lot like a rally speech delivered to a decidedly non-rally crowd.

There’s a big difference between a crowd that assembles to hear you speak, and a crowd assembled for a completely different reason, where you happen to be a guest. Continue reading


The Pigeon of Dorian Gray, and why you should throw it off the fire escape

Early in my speechwriting career, I was writing for a political candidate. It began with a few weeks of straight-up euphoria. Great news coverage. Enthusiastic volunteers. Support and donations rolling in.

(And I got to use state-of-the-art technology: a Compaq luggable computer, with a tiny amber-coloured screen. Imagine the form factor of a classic Star Trek tricorder, except built in the Soviet Union. At the time, it seemed like a miracle… a bulky, leaden miracle.)

Then we hit the doldrums.

Our momentum stalled, and we found ourselves in a dogfight. All that glowing news coverage began to dim: our momentum was stalling, people said—and impressionable lad that I was, I took that to heart, and so did many of the other young volunteers in the office.

More fundamentally, the candidate was still fairly new to elected politics… and to public speaking. In her* first few debates and speaking appearances, it was clear she was still finding her voice as a speaker. And I was still struggling to write material that would work for her. The audience response to her speeches was muted at best, and the media reviews were often snide. I took that very personally, and felt thoroughly frustrated.

It didn’t help that our committee room had all the air circulation of a coffin. And as the temperature and humidity climbed in tandem, there was one source of frustration that outstripped all others: the window.

The office had one opening window, which was latched shut. A sticky note warned that the window was not to be opened except in dire emergency (a fire escape landing was immediately outside), because that would set off a burglar alarm. And if that happened, well… actually… ah… The consequences weren’t spelled out, but in a way, that only made them all the more dire. None of us wanted to be the one responsible for a headline like Campaign idiots cause evacuation of building, SWAT team response”.

And it wasn’t as though opening it would turn the office into a springtime paradise; the window looked onto one of the city’s darker, less well-appointed alleys. You could practically see the air hanging there: a stagnant miasma of methane, garbage fumes and discarded poutine, laced with a soupçon of urine.

Still, we’d look longingly at it as the temperature climbed and the building’s feeble air conditioning did the bare minimum required to hold up the landlord’s side of the tenancy deal.

During the spring, the fire escape outside was the domain of a fairly randy flock of pigeons, doing the Three Cs of Pigeoning: Cooing, Crapping, and Copulating.

But sometime in June, a single pigeon waddled into the centre of the fire escape platform, slumped onto its side, and carried out a fourth C: Croaking. Continue reading

In which I am prescient

Last week, I tweeted this:

Today, I give you the second sentence of this Gary Mason interview.