Guess how many hours go into Obama’s speech?

19 Jan, 2009 | by

I wrote this 70 days before Inauguration Day

Will the downturn persuade British business people to learn from Barack Obama and the Germans?

German white collar workers who are not sent on at least 2 weeks training a year fear that they must be on the redundancy short list and will soon face the chop. (Their company is not investing in them – so they must be on their way out!). Their British counterparts (with some exceptions) consider that an offer of training implies a personal or professional deficiency and gingerly start checking the post for their P45. 

Is this the British fondness for the effortless amateur – the smooth-but-not-stirred James Bond? HR and PR departments are patronised with “I have 20 years experience giving speeches old boy – no need for training!” More like 1 years experience – repeated 20 times. 

Practice and preparation are the absolute life-blood of a good performance – even those in the Public Speaking Premier League like Winston Churchill and William Hague.

Churchill would say that he could deliver an hour’s speech immediately at any time. But a ten minute speech needed an hour’s preparation. And a five minute speech needed a week’s preparation.

William Hague’s brilliant performances at PMQ’s were preceded every week by 26.5 man hours – 4 or 5 of which were his.

In a recent BBC tribute to Geoffrey Perkins (the legendary Comedy Writer, Performer and Producer of a range of classics such as Father Ted, The Catherine Tate Show and The Fast Show show) an actor remembered how Geoffrey asked him to deliver a line “just one more time” – but this time a second quicker. The actor complained, but complied. And when he saw the final version, he admitted that Geoffrey had been right and the show was better because of it!

This perfectionist trait was the essential partner to Perkins’s humour and skill – and key to his success.

So what sort of look would you get if you asked the Chairmen of the top  FTSE companies the following question?  “Is your (draft) Annual Report/speech written yet for your next AGM? You know – the profits warning one? Any themes? General Ideas? And how much time will you spend preparing for it?”

And how long will these State-of-Our-Business-Reports and how well will they be delivered?

Lincoln’s historic speech, now known as the Gettysburg Address, was all of 10 sentences and 272 words long and lasted only two or three minutes.

Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech changed the world with just 1669 words delivered in only 16 minutes 12 seconds.

President-Elect Obama’s team is not just preparing for government by working with the incumbents in every government department, but a team is already working on Obama’s Inaugural address – due to be delivered on January 20th. 

Obama and his team obviously believe in the 7 P’s (Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance). 

And they are going further. In the last week, Obama and his team have already been on the TV and radio stations across the country, managing expectations. 

So, how long will Obama’s Inauguration speech be? Who can tell at this stage – but you can bet money on the fact that at least 20 hours or more  of preparation will go into the preparation and writing of each minute of that speech – and that Obama will practice and prepare and be robustly critiqued on his delivery for days beforehand – winging it is not his style.

Nor should it be the style of the cream of British industry.

(There are 584 words in this article)

6 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. kathleen
    January 19th, 2009 at 9:36 pm #

    interesting article. great observations. Obama’s speech tomorrow is expected to be about twenty minutes in length, and no doubt the pundits and historians will immediately delve into the task of comparing it to the great inaugurals of lincoln (his second), roosevelt and kennedy; but, like so much else surrounding the president-elect, the expectations are probably unrealistically high. there is already potentially toxic criticisms about the management of this inauguration and its attendant festivities — its embarrassing cost during these difficult economic times, the equally unseemly parade of syncophantic celebrities (a community that never fails to alienate middle america), the invitation of Rick Warren and, similarly, the failure to broadcast the invocation of the openly gay Rev. Robinson — but all these will no doubt be forgiven if Obama delivers a speech worthy of its context. with so much at stake and so much of the rest of the world watching intently and waiting to read tea leaves in every syllable, twenty hours of preparation is probably an understated estimate.

  2. Rich Vinhais
    January 20th, 2009 at 12:38 pm #

    Just watched Obama’s speech. Very powerful. Did not disappoint.

  3. mehdi
    January 20th, 2009 at 2:54 pm #

    President Obama will be a great leader! The US is such a great country …

  4. Chaz
    January 20th, 2009 at 3:57 pm #

    We shall see what will happen. I HOPE he is up to the job but I don’t want to be audacious. More at http://www.ChangeBack.US

  5. Kathleen
    January 22nd, 2009 at 1:20 pm #

    i disagree that obama was trying to be “important.” i think he made a speech entirely of and for its time — a time of upheaval and challenges. he could have spoken to the future, to the school children who will study his speeches in another generation, but i think he spoke intentionally to his contemporary audience, to calm our nerves and assuage our fears. the historical weight of the event and its symbolism saturated every moment of the inaugural proceedings, but obama chose restraint in his rhetoric and demeanor, displaying the calm elegance and dignity we expect from him and leaving the sentiment and overt emotionalism to others. it wasn’t filled with soundbites, but i thought the speech was appropriate. sure, it would have been nice to hear something rousing and inspirational, but these are, after all, sobering times.

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