One Hundred and fifty-three years ago tomorrow, on a field in Pennsylvania, the greatest speech in American History was delivered. As you read the words below, you can feel the power, the emotion and the wisdom that changed the course of American history:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
November 19, 1863
It is a lofty goal to use this speech as a benchmark for our own presentations, but we should. If followed correctly, it is a blueprint for effective communication.
There’s No Preamble
President Lincoln didn’t mention how happy he was to be there, how beautiful the burial ground was or how nice the people were. He went right to the point. Too many times, speakers preamble a powerful story and thereby suck the power out of it. That doesn’t happen here.
In the above text, there are only 278 words. Not one out of place and not one word wasted. In just ten sentences, President Lincoln clarified our values, called our nation to action and honored the sacrifice of our fighting men. If he could accomplish all of this in two and half minutes, we make better use of our fifteen.
It Appealed To Logic and Emotion
Too many presentations appeal to just one or the other, but in this masterpiece of rhetoric, President Lincoln appealed to both. He sighted history, built common ground and tugged at the heart strings all at once. These together, made it the most powerful speech delivered by a President.
It Closed Strong
and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Words that beautiful and powerful must not be diluted with “thank you for having me” or “you’ve been a wonderful audience” Those words are etched into the American memory because the close was powerful and strong.
One hundred years after this speech was delivered, another eloquent American President, John F. Kennedy, told us that the only reason to give a speech is the change the world. If we model every presentation we give after this one, we can live up to that inspiring task.