What do Political Speech Writers have against Paragraphs?

March 16, 2011 by
Filed under: Social Brain 

While looking for a quotation by David Cameron, I came across the transcript of his recent speech at the RSA.

Whatever you think of the content of Cameron’s speech, the written form of the speech is pretty striking. Most points are expressed in single or double lines, with three line points being the exception, and one or two deviant ideas spilling over into four lines.

It seems the key not to dwell on one point for too long. I am not sure what to think about this yet, but the next time you listen for a political speech, look out for this structure of sentences without paragraphs, ideas without qualifications, facts without sources.

Who writes his speeches?

Is this particular to Cameron, or are all political speeches written this way?

If so, why?

Does it make them easier to deliver?

Does it make them sound better to the audience?

Should we be worried that speech writers filter political ideas in this way?

Is it part of our the relentless dumbing down of political culture?

Is there an rhetoric expert out there who can enlighten us?

Thank you.


Comments

  • Jonathanrowson

    A comment from Stefania Fusero (via email):

    Perhaps a little help from an Italian friend could be useful: our prime Minister Berlusconi is said to be very skillful in communication, and he has actually managed to lull the whole country into a demented sleep. He began to do that with his televisions, he’s still doing that with his media empire and his political and economic power.
    Do you know what his basic assumption was? That the average mental age of the spectators first, then of the electors for extension, is 11: perhaps your Cameron has learnt to address his fellow-citizens as such from our national phenomenon.
    Best wishes,
    Stefania Fusero

  • Jonathanrowson

    A comment from Stefania Fusero (via email):

    Perhaps a little help from an Italian friend could be useful: our prime Minister Berlusconi is said to be very skillful in communication, and he has actually managed to lull the whole country into a demented sleep. He began to do that with his televisions, he’s still doing that with his media empire and his political and economic power.
    Do you know what his basic assumption was? That the average mental age of the spectators first, then of the electors for extension, is 11: perhaps your Cameron has learnt to address his fellow-citizens as such from our national phenomenon.
    Best wishes,
    Stefania Fusero

  • http://twitter.com/taximezzo Abi Seabrook

    I’ve had to give a couple of short speeches recently, I’m no expert, mind, but I write them this way too. I find it easier to communicate with the audience if i’m not spending the whole time peering at the paper, and single lines are easier to read. They also allow scope to improvise/elaborate and make the speech flow in a natural way. If the speaker knows the subject well, the written speech is simply an aid to memory and provides a structure. Hope that’s helpful

    • Jonathanrowson

      Hi Abi,
      Thanks for explaining. Readability was my best guess too, and I can see how making a short statement, pausing briefly for eye contact and making another can work in terms of flow and connecting with the audience.
      But I just wonder if the need to break down speeches into short nuggets of meaning does any collateral damage to the ideas they are trying to express?
      Perhaps not, but it reminded me of McLuhan’s famous line: “The medium is the message”…

  • http://twitter.com/taximezzo Abi Seabrook

    I’ve had to give a couple of short speeches recently, I’m no expert, mind, but I write them this way too. I find it easier to communicate with the audience if i’m not spending the whole time peering at the paper, and single lines are easier to read. They also allow scope to improvise/elaborate and make the speech flow in a natural way. If the speaker knows the subject well, the written speech is simply an aid to memory and provides a structure. Hope that’s helpful

    • Jonathanrowson

      Hi Abi,
      Thanks for explaining. Readability was my best guess too, and I can see how making a short statement, pausing briefly for eye contact and making another can work in terms of flow and connecting with the audience.
      But I just wonder if the need to break down speeches into short nuggets of meaning does any collateral damage to the ideas they are trying to express?
      Perhaps not, but it reminded me of McLuhan’s famous line: “The medium is the message”…

  • http://www.the-speechwriter.com Asher

    Hi there. I’m a speechwriter, and I agree with Abi.

    If the speaker is spending most of the time looking up at the audience, it’s easier to find the place in the text again if you don’t have to also find the start of the sentence hidden inside the paragraph. Another aspect is that long windy sentences tend not to work so well in speeches.

    Personally, I don’t think writing the words on the page that way necessitates breaking down the message into short nuggets of meaning. You can still have a speech which constructs a complex argument but breaks it down into its constituent parts, (and with lots of spaces on the page).

  • http://www.the-speechwriter.com Asher

    Hi there. I’m a speechwriter, and I agree with Abi.

    If the speaker is spending most of the time looking up at the audience, it’s easier to find the place in the text again if you don’t have to also find the start of the sentence hidden inside the paragraph. Another aspect is that long windy sentences tend not to work so well in speeches.

    Personally, I don’t think writing the words on the page that way necessitates breaking down the message into short nuggets of meaning. You can still have a speech which constructs a complex argument but breaks it down into its constituent parts, (and with lots of spaces on the page).