In her excellent book, On Speaking Well, Peggy Noonan states,
“No speech is big without big policy to talk about. Trying to write a great speech without having great policy to work with, to assert and argue for, would be like trying to write a great play about nothing.”
In my book, Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint, I assert,
“A speech develops one idea. But it’s got to be a good idea–a policy, a direction, an insight, a prescription. Something that provides clarity and meaning, something that’s both intellectually and emotionally engaging. It’s got to be what I call a Big Idea.”
The speech by Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, explaining why the city was removing statues commemorating its Confederate past is a recent example of a big speech developing a big policy (in Noonan’s words) or a great speech developing a big idea (in my words).
Less recent but even more powerful examples of speeches (from American history) that advanced and advocated big ideas include Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, Johnson’s Voting Rights Act Address, and Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech.
I still agree with everything I wrote about a speech needing a “Big Idea.”
But I now add the word juicy.
Juicy–in surfer jargon–describes a wave that has power and speed and a clean face. It can lift and propel you forward.
(The opposite of juicy is mushy, a description of a wave that passes you by, no matter how large it is, without moving you along.)
A great speech promotes an idea that is both big (broad and deep in its implications) and juicy (capable of moving people to action).
That’s because the goal of a speech is always the same: action, action, action.
Photo used with permission by John Lemieux at Flickr.