The Power of Public Address


This column was originally published in the “Arvada Press” and affiliated Denver-area newspapers, and is reprinted here with permission.
Please leave party politics at the door.

This column is about power and politics, but not about political power…this column is about the power of public address.

For example, earlier this year we were reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, speech at the Lincoln Memorial, August 24, 1963. Through video or audio recordings, we recalled (or learned about) his most famous public address, “I have a dream.” This speech—which changed the course of civil rights legislation in the U.S.—was only 17 minutes long.

At his inauguration three years earlier in 1961, John F. Kennedy offered this historic line to his “fellow Americans” (borrowing from the early Roman satirist Juvenal), saying: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

Thirty years earlier…

Thirty years before that, during his first inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt—facing what was then the greatest crisis in American history since the southern states seceded—delivered a rallying cry for the Great Depression: “This great Nation will endure…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I was not sitting by the radio when FDR spoke, but from recordings I can hear his confident voice ringing out over the decades.

The unexpected horrors of World War II, so soon after The Great War, were the genesis to some of the greatest words of a generation. Winston Churchill unforgettably addressed the House of Commons throughout 1940, saying, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” and “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

On December 8, 1941, FDR described the preceding day to Americans as “a date that will live in infamy,” transforming his speech into a collective statement on behalf of a shocked nation.

More recently, in his inaugural address of 1989, George H. W. Bush memorably told us that we are “a thousand points of light” (coined by speechwriter Peggy Noonan from a 1955 publication of C.S. Lewis).

Ten of our most powerful sentences.

Even when the spoken word took days to print and months to distribute, the power of public address prevailed. On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the ten sentences of the Gettysburg Address, saying: “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here…”

Little did Lincoln realize the power of his words.

Social media—Twitter, Facebook, YouTube…and blogs like mine—are dominant in today’s communication. I can tweet, post, and blog with the best, and there’s no doubting the impact of going “viral” on the Internet; current president Barak Obama credits much grassroots success to social media.

However, some people believe Obama actually secured his presidency in June 2008 in Colorado during his address—“the American promise”—at the Democratic National Convention. What do you think?

As the campaigns of 2012 continue to play out…

…you make the call—tweets or speeches?

I’ll be watching myself.

P.S. You can find these historic addresses on the Internet!
A little more about the author:

Andrea W. Doray is a writer, blogger, and public speaking trainer based in Denver, Colorado. Her own public speaking has ranged from “Moolah for Munchies” to “Save What’s Left for the Goats: Lessons Learned from Turkmenistan about Building Community.”