Speaking Tips: The Art Of Concision & How to Talk Like Lincoln

As we celebrate President’s Day, my thoughts turn to what are arguably the most famous presidential remarks in history. Let’s consider what we 21st Century communicators can learn from Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address.

On November 19, 1863, Lincoln was not a scheduled speaker the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg. After all, the country was in the middle of a Civil War. The organizers did not expect him to come, let alone speak. It was his request to say a few words when he did arrive. There was a crowd of 15,000-20,000 people.

What transpired was an iconic speech that reflected Lincoln’s redefined belief that the Civil War was not just a fight to save the Union, but a struggle for freedom and equality for all. It became a turning point.

To have been witnesses to this talk, well, I can’t quite imagine.

While there are many reasons you could argue that the talk is (or isn’t) still relevant today, there’s one attribute I find to be a lost art in today’s governmental leaders: The art of concision.

Lincoln only took two minutes to deliver the Gettysburg Address. In comparison, another speaker that day, Edward Everett (an accomplished orator), spoke for two hours.

At Articulation, we work with speakers on talks of varying lengths. But I am never surprised when a short talk takes longer to prepare. After all, as Blaise Paschal said,
If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.
Take a moment, and reflect on Lincoln’s careful selection of each word and how much really can be achieved in 120 seconds. Happy Presidents’ Day!


The Gettysburg Address

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.


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