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Watching the Watchdog: Kathleen Wynne for the Speechwriting Win

Posted: 01/27/2013 5:35 pm

Tim Knight writes the regular media column, Watching the Wachdog, for HuffPost Canada.

Dear Kathleen Wynne,

No, you don't know me. I'm neither one of your supporters nor a constituent.

Instead, I coach people on how to write and deliver power speeches. The sort of speeches that touch human emotions and hold audiences in their seats.

I'm also a person who admires fine speeches, especially when they're beautifully written and delivered.

You did all that Saturday morning while running for that most undesirable of jobs -- Liberal premier of Ontario. And you did it with intelligence, integrity, courage, honesty, humour and style.

We don't often hear speeches that good in politics these days. That's because political speeches are usually written and rewritten by half a dozen timorous PR people before being edited and re-edited by half a dozen fearful politicians. All this before the eventual speaker ever gets to see the words.

So why am I writing to you?

First, because I want to thank you for raising the standard of political speech-making in this country.

Second, to warn you against the party troglodytes who will want to censor not only your words, but your style too. Don't let it happen.

Allow me to be specific. First, about the words.

I'm told you wrote your speech yourself. No professional speechwriter.

In which case, you understand something most professionals have long forgotten. That written English is great for books but makes for lousy speeches.

You understand, Ms. Wynne, that when you stand up there in front of all those skeptical folk and they're thinking "oh god, not another politician selling herself!", only really good spoken English can persuade them to pay attention, hang in, and stop wondering when the bar opens.

Your script was written in spoken English. Simple, taut and vivid everyday language filled with pictures and, mostly, just one thought to a sentence.

But you didn't stop there. You also understood how to lay out the script for the teleprompter.

An example (chosen from the most moving and powerful part of your speech):


So,
"Speaking of the next election...
Let's put something on the table:
Is Ontario ready for a gay premier?
You've all heard that question.
Let's say what that actually means:
Can a gay woman win?
(Applause)
So ... not surprisingly ... I have an answer to that question.
When I ran in 2003, I was told that the people of North Toronto and Thorncliffe Park weren't ready for a gay woman.
Well, apparently they were.
(Applause)

Now that's good writing. Not only simple everyday, one-thought-to-a-sentence spoken English, but a colour and a candour that disarms and seduces.

There's more.

You put the teleprompter firmly in its place. As your trusty aide, rather than your master. You actually thought the words you were saying and made the script disappear. You saw the scenes, felt the emotions. Your body, your energy, illustrated your words.

And by doing all that, you made most big-time TV news anchors and reporters look foolish.

And by god can you ad lib!

At the most crucial part of your speech, the call to arms, the climax to all your years in the blood sport of politics, you screwed up. Royally. Career over. Back to mediating.

But you recovered beautifully:


To paraphrase a very dear friend--
We are the Ontario Liberal Party:
The best province ...
(Stops, recovers)
Oh ... and that was the big line ...
Ok, I'm just going to do it again.
(Laughs)
We are the Ontario Liberal Party:
The best party in the best province in the best country in the world.
Thank you, merci, migwetch
.


Now that's class. Like the second sentence in your speech:


I'd like to acknowledge that we're holding this grand gathering on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit.


There's more to great speechifying than I've mentioned, of course. For one thing I'd have centered the words on the teleprompter to make the sentences more immediately recognizable.

But that's another story.

So, Hon. Kathleen Wynne, we know you're one helluva speechmaker.

And from that speech alone, a lot of us are persuaded that you're a gutsy, smart, intelligent woman. And quite probably a decent person.

Now all we need to know is this -- will you be any good as premier of Ontario?

Lots of luck,

Sincerely,

Tim


More on how to write and make speeches in Knight's book, Storytelling and the Anima Factor.

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