2011 Cicero Speechwriting Awards winners singular power of oral communication

Last month Peggy Noonan, the most famous living speechwriter, declared that the Internet has “rescued and restored” speeches as a relevant political force. Today, the more than two dozen winners of Vital Speeches‘ fourth annual Cicero Speechwriting Awards are being announced and released in the free downloadable e-book These Vital Speeches.

They prove Noonan’s point about the power of oral rhetoric.

This year’s Grand Award winner is a prime example of how sometimes only a speech will do. It’s a speech by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The speech took place at Harvard, where Lavizzo-Mourey went to medical school and “where the rest of my life really began.” She returned 40 years later to look today’s students and faculty in the eye and tell them that they ought to live lives of what she calls “positive deviance.”

“Don’t be locked in by the walls of your office or the silo of your job,” she says in the speech. “There are few things as meaningful as helping, healing and pushing our society to change itself for the good of all of us.”

“Reading many of these speeches, one realizes that there are some business situations and some social moments when only a speech will do,” says David Murray, program chairman for the Cicero Speechwriting Awards. “The speeches delivered to audiences—and submitted to the Cicero Speechwriting Awards every year—by Fortune 500 CEOs, nonprofit leaders, diplomats and ordinary citizens confirm the enduring power of oral communication.”

Legendary JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen died late in 2010 during the 2011 Cicero Speechwriting Awards entry season, but he left a proper coda: “The right speech on the right topic delivered by the right speaker in the right way at the right moment … can ignite a fire, change men’s minds, open their eyes, alter their votes, bring hope to their lives, and, in all these ways, change the world. I know. I saw it happen.”

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