Eloquence in an Electronic Age: Understanding what makes good political speeches work

In my graduate speechwriting course, one of the books we had to read was Eloquence in an Electronic Age, a work by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, my favorite researcher in the field of political communication. I’ve talked about one of her books previously, and one can find a whole slew of works that she’s authored or co-authored.

Eloquence looks at the evolution of political speechmaking in the twentieth-century. While the twentieth-century’s two greatest Presidents - Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan – receive much of the attention of her research, we find her work looking at many moments in American political oratory, including Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Gary Hart, and Joseph Welch, whose live broadcast challenge of Joe McCarthy’s ruthlessness did considerable damage to McCarthy’s credibility.

In her book, she looks at various tactics used by American political speakers to convey their messages, including the use of “effeminate” styles, storytelling, symbolism, and self-revelation by speakers. She also notes the shrinking role of public speechmaking and its transformation through the medium of television. In this, she notes how Reagan’s use of symbolism was often ready-made for the visual medium and therefore well-received by television audiences.

There is much about this book worth your time, and these days, you can get copies off Amazon for a couple of bucks, so if you want to understand what makes one a great speaker, as well as improve your own speaking skills, it’s a smart investment that we recommend highly. But to date, she's never written anything that I didn't find insightful and eye-opening.

2 Response to "Eloquence in an Electronic Age: Understanding what makes good political speeches work"

  1. JMC 27/7/07 16:08
    The thought of public speaking horrifies me. I dread every second that I'm in front of an audience speaking. I never minded plays and skits, but public speaking has no equal in the list of "things I hate to do."

    As to your comment over on my blog. You are right, I was wrong, so consider yourself tagged.
  2. Clarendon County Moye 27/7/07 21:29
    While I believe the two presidents you mentioned as the greatest were good. I believe Nixon to be the best at speech he is also one of my favorites who has held the office.

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