For length, err on the side of short. No one will criticize you for giving a short speech. Think homilies at the Jersey Shore in August.
Ask the person giving the speech two things: (1) what is THE central idea or overall theme and (2) what are 3 points he/she would want to see in news accounts the next day. This is hugely helpful to the speech writer. That way when all the cooks try to toss stuff out, keep going back to the theme and the 3 points.
THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT: Good speeches sound like the person giving them. They are not the property of the writer. It is essential that the speech writer listen over a period of weeks or months (preferably) to the person he/she is writing for, (or at least recordings), so the writer develops the “voice” of the speech maker. If not, the words will come out naturally, as if the speechmaker if having a conversation.
Great speechmakers are READERS. This is the key reason Trump sucks. Great speechmakers absorb prose and poetry and MUSIC over a lifetime. Having the arts and music in one’s life is important to great speechmaking, because it allows the speech maker to paint the picture, to create the image, to FEEL the words. When I went to work for Brian Hughes I asked him who his favorite writers and books were and read a few before working on the inaugural—it got really good reviews and he was really happy with it. Biden quotes the Irish poets not just because he’s Irish, but because he used to recite Irish poetry in the mirror to overcome his stutter.
Editing matters. This is why Obama’s speeches are so good. He spends time going back and forth with his speech writers making adjustments until he gets it just write.
Finally, and this is also really hard to pull off, a great speech must simultaneously fit moment and age well. Kitschy pop culture references that will be meaningless in two years are to be avoided, especially for an older speaker trying to sound “hip.” It never works.
Mary Caffrey is associate editorial director for the American Journal of Managed Care®, Managed Healthcare Executive® and Evidence-Based Oncology™. Below are links to two of her favorite speeches: