How Not To Deliver a Historical Speech

At Ethos3, we enjoy analyzing incredible speeches throughout history to try and glean how presenters today can improve their own techniques. From Winston Churchill to Abraham Lincoln, we’ve had many teary-eyed afternoons in the office examining these world-changing moments.

…And then there’s LBJ’s first speech as President after John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

This is not to say that Lyndon B. Johnson has never delivered an excellent speech; in fact, his address to Congress after the assassination was well-written and much stronger. The brevity of this televised address might also be an issue, at about 40 seconds long. (However, consider that the Gettysburg Address doesn’t even reach 3 minutes!) So, why doesn’t this speech work? What makes it so unreassuring and a little bit awkward?

“This Is A Sad Time for All People”

We are advocates for simplicity in language, but this perhaps breaks down the message into too-small of chunks. Listening to this speech without context, it would be hard to understand the gravity of the assassination and doesn’t necessarily give a sense of confidence for the future. Regardless of LBJ’s performance in office, it’s not a strong pitch to hear the words: “I will do my best, that is all I can do.”

Pause Excess

Pauses can be strong ways to add value to your content by breaking up sections, emphasizing concepts or main points, and conveying emotion. However, a pause between each and every single word makes the address feel more like a telegram than natural speech.

First Impressions

This might have been one of the first times Americans heard LBJ speak, as he held the quiet office of Vice President. While it might be a good indication of his character (straight-forward, humble, and down-to-Earth), it makes the gravity of this particular speech atonal with his personality. This address needed a Winston Churchill; someone who could deliver bad news, but convey a strong sense of hope afterwards.

Overall, LBJ’s first address to the public comes across as “just okay,” suffering from the language, brevity, and pauses he uses throughout. Luckily for all, his delivery became stronger during his term. It just goes to show that not all great politicians were great public speakers.

Question: How can you avoid delivering an awkward speech?

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