Now more than ever, speakers find their audiences’ attention limited. Gone are the days of long, flowery orations. In fact, did you know that right before President Lincoln delivered his famous address at Gettysburg, a man named Edward Everett gave a speech there which lasted over two hours?
Today, Edward’s speech has been almost completely forgotten, but Lincoln’s brief remarks live on. In fact, many of the world’s most famous speeches share one thing in common: they are remarkably short. Lou Gehrig’s Farewell to Baseball Address became legendary in the hearts of sports fans with 273 words. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address inspired the Nation with 271. Nez Perce Chief Joseph’s Surrender Speech articulated the future of his people with only 156 words.
Each of these excellent speeches can be delivered in 3 minutes or less, about the length of a typical pop song. To quote the legendary singer-songwriter Billy Joel: “If you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit.” So, how can we, as speakers and speechwriters, deliver content that is both impactful and brief? Here are some quotes to think about for writing brief, memorable speeches:
- “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” – Attributed to Albert Einstein.
- “Brevity is the soul of wit.” – William Shakespeare.
- “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” – Blaise Pascal.
- “Be sincere, Be brief, Be seated.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- “Writing is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent elimination.” – Louise Brooks.
Writing with brevity takes devotion, practice, and ironically, time. The result, however, is a more memorable, impactful, and higher-quality speech. The speech of the future is brief.