Last call for entries: Speechwriting competition – can the right words fend off protestors?

Writing speeches with Paddy Ashdown sometimes happened at difficult times, like when we’d spent weeks preparing his announcement that he would run for the leadership in 1988 – only for it to dawn on us that we’d have to produce another one for the next day, then another, followed by almost a speech a day for the next three weeks.

Nor was it much fun when the party was at 4% in the opinion polls or, and this was probably the most difficult one of all, working on his first speech as High Representative to the parliament of Bosnia Herzegovina.

But such trials and tribulations pale into insignificance compared with the challenge faced by those who’ve been working on speeches aimed at appeasing protesters in North Africa and the Middle East over the last few weeks. Mubarak had two cracks at it and failed. And we still have to wait for history to tell us whether the crown prince of Bahrain or Gadaffi’s son have done any better.

The trouble (or rather, given the context, the blessed relief) is that all these speeches by dictators and/or their relations have been so awful, both in scripting and delivery, that it’s difficult to know where to begin.

I’ll admit that I’ve long been fascinated by the fact that you can tell whether someone’s an effective speaker or not, even when you don’t speak a word of their language. I’ve also blogged about the fact that autocrats, whether hereditary or self appointed, don’t have to bother about learning how to inspire and persuade mass audiences of people whose votes decide who wins or hangs on to power – and so can, thankfully, be caught out when a serious challenge to their rules occurs.

But these last ditch speeches to troubled nations by the likes of Mubarak and Gadaffi Junior raise another intriguing question, namely whether a good speechwriter could do (or could have done) anything to save them. I very much doubt it, but it has given me an idea for what could be quite an entertaining and instructive creative challenge. That’s why I’ve just announced the Defend a Doomed Dictator speechwriting competition.

The challenge:
Either Write a short speech for the past or present dictator of your choice (or one of his relations) that would clear their streets of protesters and put a stop to their unreasonable behaviour once and for all.
Or Rewrite (and shorten) one of the speeches already given so that it would have cleared their streets of protesters and put a stop to their unreasonable behaviour once and for all

Prize: The winning entry will be posted on my blog, and its author rewarded with a free copy of my book Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know about Making Speeches and Presentations (signed by the author).

For details of how to enter see this blog post.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • @Chris A good speechwriter should be able to argue his way out of a paper bag; whether that paper bag be anything as objectionable as racism, mass murder, war, hate, peadophilia (I can think of many examples of the latter in recent political history, namely the accusations made against PM Berlusconi and Assange) – in fact the more objectionable, the harder the task for a speechwriter to win over the audience. Therefore the better he can proven to be at his job.

    I would *love* to take part, however I fear I don’t quite have the level of in-depth knowledge of any dictator and his regime in the world to fill-out the content!

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