Great speeches change the world

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Is speechwriting the same as copywriting? The former is intended to be spoken – performed even – while the latter is usually just for digesting inwardly, and yet they must share common goals such as evoking interest, stimulating thought and hopefully triggering reaction.

Great speeches do this. Indeed great speeches can change the world, showing that words do have power. The Guardian in the UK is issuing a weekly supplement, beautifully produced, covering great speeches, each with a foreword by a major figure. So for example last week we had Khrushchev’s speech disclaiming Stalin in 1956 with a foreword by Gorbachev; and Nelson Mandela’s address from the dock in 1964, foreworded by P.W.Botha. Yesterday it was Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”.

You can find the series here, together with transcripts and audio, and the Guardian will come with a CD of the speeches in early May.

So if copywriting and speechwriting are similar, is lecture-writing related? Judging by the current Reith lecture series on Radio 4 I would say so. There’s something in the language used by the lecturer Jeffrey Sachs that is clear, profound, reflective and gently forceful, which lies also in his direct and powerful delivery.

He also covers the power of speech to change history. In the current (third) lecture of the series there are frequent references to Kennedy’s ‘Ask not what your country can do for you’ speech, as well as commentary towards the end from Theodore Sorensen who played a large part in the writing of the speech.

You can hear all the lectures in the current series on the Radio 4 website as well as download podcasts and read transcripts at

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