"The most moving thing in a speech is always the logic." -- Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter.
Inspirational speakers are so rare that they are known by their speeches such as “Tear Down this Wall,” “I Have a Dream,” “Gettysburg Address,” “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” etc. They are so great that they change history. It is the pinnacle of public speaking. They may use all kinds of performing techniques, but what moves their speeches is their clear, understandable and compelling logic. Without solid logic, people are not going to have reasons long after you deliver the speech to spread the message and take action. I think in the United States, three inspirational speeches stand out above all on how it changed history.
The main part of an inspirational speech is its logic. You can't save a speech that has logic that can’t withstand scrutiny. Many speakers often focus on telling stories or injecting humor in their speeches. They will only work if they help make the logic clearer. If you have a lot of stories and humor but weak logic then you are mostly entertaining and not making your audience smarter.
A speech is binary in that it either has good logic or bad logic. If a speech has bad logic, then the person is either an entertainer, a fool or evil. You may not be good at telling stories or use humor, but there is no excuse for having bad logic. Bad logic means you can't think well.
The whole point of giving a speech is to have one big idea that you want to convey logically. Once you have the logic right, then you can keep polishing your speech with stories and humor if you are good at it. Stories and humor are not necessary for speech, but good logic is a must. You have to work on making your logic so simple that anyone can understand it. If the logic makes your audience smarter, then they are more likely to make others smarter and spread your message.
Logic closes the deal
If your logic is simple, then people will remember it and will spread the message or take action. Bad logic may work in the short-term, but it can't stand the test of time. The simple the logic, the more persuasive the speech is. I will look at three historic speeches to show that what was really beautiful about these speeches was its simple logic. The logic led to action. Logic is cold, and speakers don't understand its importance and tend to minimize it or ignore it. Emotions are hot and emphasized since the reaction is immediate. Also, speakers want instant feedback and emotions to achieve that. But emotions can't carry the day for long and gets cold gradually, whereas the logic gets warmer over time. Logic's temperature does not fluctuate the way emotions' temperature does.
An excellent example of great simple logic is how the United States as a country has evolved. The United States has gone through three major versions since its start, and they all had a speech tied to its evolution. First I will look at Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" speech, then Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg speech and close with Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Patrick Henry's Speech Helped Create United States Version 1.0
Patrick Henry, a planter, an American politician and a Founding Father, gave his famous "Give me liberty or give me death" speech during the meeting of the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, in Richmond, VA. Henry was trying to persuade the delegates to declare war against the British to seek liberty.
Henry's logic was straightforward. He framed his logic regarding freedom and slavery.
British can't be trusted based on their past acts.
British are saying conciliatory things to buy more time so they can get their armies and navies to crush the opposition.
Henry's Call to Action
Time for talk is over; it's time to fight.
He ends the speech with a call "Give me liberty or give me death."
Look at the simplicity of Henry's logic. Do you want to control your destiny by fighting for a new nation or subject yourself and your children and grandchildren to live under tyranny? The delegates at the convention were stunned by his speech, but when they collected their thoughts, they passed Henry's resolution to go to war with the British.
Henry's logic won because his logic was simple and clarified the course of action with his oratory. Henry's speech helped create the United States to become a new nation that I call Version 1.0 (using tech speak).
Abraham Lincoln's Speech Helped Create United States Version 2.0
I like to refer to the Gettysburg Address as United States Version 2.0 as Lincoln redefined the nation by ending slavery. Peggy Noonan writes in her book "Simply Speaking: How to Communicate Your Ideas with Style, Substance, and Clarity" that "It contained the logic of the war." It was a speech that "defined things."
The Founding Fathers created America as an experiment that all "men are created equal."
The Civil War is testing whether this experiment can still apply today.
The people who sacrificed their lives proved that the experiment can even work today.
Lincoln's Call to Action
It is up to the living to ensure that the experiment continues and makes the nation stronger and better.
The speech was so powerful that Edward Everett, the orator for the event realized that his two hours of oration barely touched the main idea that Lincoln conveyed in 272 words. Noonan writes in her book that Everett wrote to Lincoln that "I shall be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes."
Lincoln's logic is so simple that he saw no need to add any more words. Lincoln redefined the nation in just 272 words. Even if you say those words slowly, it takes less than three minutes. If Lincoln can redefine the nation in 272 words, then what is our excuse for getting our message across with more than 272 words. Great speeches are great because their logic is simple, clear and purposeful and have stood the test of time.
Martin Luther King's (MLK) speech that helped create United States Version 3.0
MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech is very logical and helped bring about the passing of Civil Rights Law.
Abraham Lincoln helped free the slaves, but they are still not free like others.
African Americans are still not able to participate in the great American experiment that guaranteed them "unalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness."
Time has come for African American to be free as envisioned by the Declaration of Independence.
Until that happens, African Americans are going to continue their peaceful protests to end injustices and indignities they face every day.
He has a dream of America where everyone can be free to enjoy the fruits of liberty and are judged based on the content of their character.
King's Call to Action
America must redefine itself where this becomes a reality rather than still being a dream for many.
And it did happen first with the passing of the Civil Rights Bill, so the law provided adequate protections and gradually by changing the mindsets of people all across the land.
And today though Version 3.X has more dot releases to go before it is a stable and solid version, the experiment still goes on to create a better version of America.
These three speeches endure not because they connected with people under difficult circumstances, but they used simple logic that anyone could understand. Speeches are deemed good because it is built on good logic that leads to good solutions. Good oratory combined with good logic results in action without exerting force or threat.
There was another person who was able to captivate people with his excellent speaking skills, and his name was Adolf Hitler. Today, we can't remember a single speech that he gave because his logic was flawed. He blamed the Jews, the Communists, and others for Germany's problems. Because of his propaganda machine, he was able to fool people and world leaders. By the time people realized what they were dealing with, Hitler had caused tremendous destruction and caused millions of deaths. In the long term, bad logic leads to bad results.
Speeches have to endure not for its oratory but for its clear logic. If you want to persuade people, get the logic right first, make it simpler, and empower your audience. If you do that, then you will inspire people to take action and spread your message.
Jay Oza is a writer, speaker, executive coach. He makes people thrive on high stakes stage whether ii is job interviews, sales presentation or an important speech. He is the author of the book Winning Speech Moments: How to Achieve Your Objective with Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere. In addition he was recognized with an award from Hire Heroes USA for his volunteer work with military veterans and their spouses.
Please download the speech checklist and the speech workbook to help you with your next high stakes speech. You can get more information at www.winningspeechmoments.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help where you want to thrive on a high stakes stage.