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Michael Long is a speechwriter, author, educator, and award-winning screenwriter and playwright.

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Fact Solves Some Problems, But Not Yours
Executives get rewarded for sticking to the facts, so naturally that's what they want to do in a speech. But they'll need more.

WELCOME BACK! It's been a busy summer: two stageplays, several seminars to present, teaching at Georgetown, lots of writing, and plenty of travel. But I'm back, and I'm beginning this new season of newsletters with a series of essays that deal head on with the hardest problems in speechwriting.
For a long time, the only trick my dog could do was roll over. When I tried to teach him something new, he wouldn't do it. He'd do what always earned him the biscuit, he rolled over.

Every day, your boss gets rewarded for doing things by cold fact, so your boss’ instinct has become to use that in every situation. Which explains why your principal so often insists that you add "one more fact" to a speech, as if audiences are persuaded when the volume of data reaches some critical mass.

A speech needs fact, but not only fact.


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Running a business, university, or philanthropy brings challenges different from those that come with making a speech. Management is an exercise first in fact. Persuasion, which is the core purpose of speechmaking, is an exercise first in feeling.

A doctor friend of mine, an expert in obesity, tells me that anybody can stick to a diet for a few days on the white-knuckle basis of its being the right, smart, logical thing to do.

But those same people break that diet quickly because the logical thing to do motivates us only for so long. We have to have a deep-seated motivation to stick with it. We desire to live longer for our children. We hope to look better to our mate. We wish to feel healthier. We long to fit into nice clothes, or the airplane seat, or the good-looking crowd downtown. We need to feel something that keeps us engaged when it comes time to do the heavy lifting.


A speech needs facts, but not just facts.

So it is with a speech. An audience might know they should listen, but they won’t listen long unless they feel like it -- or, rather, unless you make them feel like it.

And that's your job.

Make the speech a pleasure to listen to. For instance, engage the audience immediately with a story, narrative, or personal experience that makes them wonder what’s going to happen next, and what's in it for them. And then keep engaging them throughout -- more on that next week.

Your boss is right that serious topics deserve serious consideration. But that means giving serious consideration of what motivates the audience, not just dealing in serious fact.


Mike's Calendar
Topic Organization Date Location
Speechwriting Georgetown University Sep 11-13 Washington, DC
How to Write Everything Faster & Better National Association of Government Web Professionals Sep 19 Salt Lake City
Speechwriting European Speechwriters Network Sep 26 Paris, France
Creative Writing (6 weeks) Georgetown University Thursdays from Oct 3 Washington, DC
Speechwriting Georgetown University Oct 9-11 Washington, DC
Short Play TBA Players Theatre Short Play Festival Oct New York City
PSA World Conference Professional Speechwriters Association (PSA) Oct 21-23 Washington, DC
Speechwriting Georgetown University Nov 6-8 Washington, DC
The Molecule of More: Dopamine & Politics Washingtonseminaret (The Norwegian Washington Seminar) Nov 27 Oslo, Norway

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