British speechwriter describes European speechmaking: “between awful and calamitous”

In his long career as a speechwriter in England, Charles Crawford has seen a lot of speeches from various corners of the world. After attending the Sept. 17 U.K. Speechwriters’ Guild Conference in Bournemouth, England, he wrote on his blog that speechwriting in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe is good, bad and ugly: in that order.

The event showed once again the gulf between US speech-makers (and speech-writers) and the rest.

Americans expect a show, preferably one with a positive “hopeful” message. Hence their good speakers are superb story-tellers, taking real-life examples and building on them to convey ideas of wider significance.

Here in the U.K. we snootily dismiss that sort of thing as falsely folksy or just plain sentimental. We are culturally ill-at-ease (or at least we think we are) with anything which has too much obvious commitment or passion. Speeches here typically are lower-key, more about conveying information and ideas cogently, with an emphasis on self-deprecation—not quite the same as American gracious courtesy.

Meanwhile over in mainland Europe the quality of speechmaking is anywhere between awful and calamitous. Hard exactly to explain why, but it must be part of an inherited cultural tradition that Europeans perforce must listen to their biggers and betters, who therefore have no real need to try hard to explain themselves.

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