Last month I was bragging on social media about this gig in the Dominican Republic—as Kanye West sez, it's hard to be humble when you stuntin' on the Jumbotron—and some people have been pedantic enough to ask me what it was that I actually said in Santo Domingo.
The bad news is, you had to be there.
The good news is, I'll give this speech again.
And again, and again and again, I hope—in various versions, adapted for various cultures and audiences.
It's sort of a stump speech, on speeches. It was inspired by this rare invitation by the Vice President Margarita Cedeño de Fernandez of the Dominican Republic to speak about speeches to an audience far broader than my usual home crowd of speechwriters and other communicators: This was a couple hundred government officials, business people, educators and students.
Why in the YouTube universe had all these people fought choking Santo Domingo rush-hour traffic, inconvenienced themselves and their colleagues and their families to sit still for 45 minutes and listen to me talk about talking? The speech is an attempt to answer that question.
It's an explanation—and simultaneously an attempted demonstration—of why we still engage in this ancient ritual of giving speeches (and put up with the inconvenient ritual of listening to them!).
With the help of clips from speeches both famous and obscure, I show the evolving role of speeches over the last 50,000 years. I share my own evolving view of speeches since I was young, and hated them. I entertain the possibility that speeches really are just sort of a cultural habit that we'll one day dismiss as superstitious.
I read from speechwriter Lucinda Holdforth's wonderful new book on rhetoric, Leading Lines. In the introduction, she tries to explain why we still give speeches, even in this age of distraction:
“Perhaps it is because there is some rough magic in the communal experience of listening, and a grace that comes with giving an individual the opportunity to speak their considered thoughts aloud in the welcoming presence of others. We come together to breathe in tandem, to experience our own responses and feelings alongside each other—and sometimes, if we are lucky, and if the speaker speaks truly, in deep connection with each other. We come together like this because to speak freely and to listen attentively is to be human; to express a core human capacity and a central democratic freedom.”
And I conclude that speeches have a narrower but an even more essential role in society.
Speeches don't do much anymore, I say. They only do what needs to be done.
Oh, I can't tell you that in a blog post.
Because that's the thing about speeches:
You have to be there.