What We Can Learn from Abraham Lincoln’s Public Speaking History –
I asked a number of people recently how long they thought the Gettysburg Address actually was. Most said 10-15 minutes or they didn’t know. Amazingly to me, the Gettysburg address lasted just over two minutes and was only 300 words, the length of most blogs today.
President Abraham Lincoln delivered these most famous of all his remarks during the American Civil War, on
Thursday, November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He is as well known for this speech as he is for helping to abolish slavery.
The speaker before President Lincoln on that historic day gave a two-hour address and no one remembers his name. Mr. Lincoln’s place on the agenda was considered an afterthought and look what happened!
Lincoln scholars have revealed that his speaking abilities did not develop overnight and they did not seem to come to him easily. What did he do right?
He knew how to capture and keep attention.
Here is what was written about another time President Lincoln spoke:
“Mr. Lincoln spoke nearly two hours and we believe he would have held his audience had he spoken all night.”
–Dover (New Hampshire) Inquirer, March 8, 1860
In fairness, there were no movies, no TV, no Internet, no digital devices to otherwise distract audiences in the 19th Century. Speakers were a popular form of entertainment. Nonetheless, I don’t believe human nature has changed that much. We are easily bored and good speakers are those people who have mastered how to select and deliver their words in a way that makes us want to listen.
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