Are presidents (and CEOs) just too damned busy to do decent speechmaking?

I couldn’t believe that no one had yet said it, exactly. Speech consultant Kristen Arnold responded to a blog post here about the declining effectiveness of President Obama’s speeches.

“Politics aside,” she began:

I have been fascinated with Obama’s rhetorical skills—and have watched them decline as he gets more busy. I believe he used to spend hours crafting his speeches before he was President—and was able to hone his messages in multiple venues.

Can’t believe he has the time to devote to his speeches, nor is he giving the same speech more than once or twice.

Is it his “fault”? No, I just think if you want to be a great presenter, you have to do the work. When you speak more, you speak better. Understandably, he has multiple priorities—and I think his oratory has taken a back seat.

As speechwriters—and especially those of us who are also speechgivers—we absolutely know what she’s saying is true.

As I mentioned in my coverage yesterday of the U.K. Speechwriters’ Guild conference, I don’t get in front of an audience without rehearsing my speech at least eight times.

During that rehearsal period—it’s rarely eight days straight—the speech changes. A lot. As I repeatedly stumble over clunky phrases and finally smooth them out. As I think of pungent new lines that accentuate my point. As I tire of half-heartedly uttering half-truths, and either make them true or eliminate them altogether.

I’m not a professional speaker—don’t have nor want that kind of polished sheen—but and I have time for all that writing and the rehearsal because my occasional speaking assignments are absolutely central to my job as editor and promoter-in-chief of Vital Speeches.

Now, you might say speechwriting and speech giving should be central to the job of a national leader or the leader of a Fortune 500 company. But the fact is—the fact we must all acknowledge—they are busier than we are, and have many more and disparate demands on their time and intellect.

And though speechwriters frequently grouse about the lack of time and energy our speakers put into their talks … wouldn’t it freak you out a little bit if you found out that President Obama—or General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, for that matter—was on his eighth rehearsal of a speech he had taken three or four days to write.

At best, you’d be thinking: This must be a hell of a big speech.

And yet these guys give a dozen speeches a month.

Politics aside: Shouldn’t we simply expect a busy leader to suffer a speechmaking swoon once he or she takes office?

Scribes, talk to me. —DM

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