Moments that make speeches memorable

Image Source:  White House website

Image Source: White House website

President Obama's State of the Union speech last night will be remembered for many things — and often different things by different people.

But for speechwriters and those delivering speeches, there are three noteworthy tactics in both the President's text and his delivery that you should emulate.

1. Insert a little humor.

There is no doubt that the launch of the health care law was difficult for the President — especially because the website was so difficult for Americans to use.

President Obama tackled the issue not by rehashing the mistakes and obstacles, but focusing on the reasons health care reform was passed in the first place.

And then he asked that "every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st." And he followed with this humorous line:

Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It'll give her some peace of mind, and plus, she'll appreciate hearing from you. 

You can't help but chuckle — and remember the line.

2. Disarm your opponents.

In partisan Washington, part of the theater of the State of the Union is who will stand and applaud and who will sit on their hands. One of the President's challenges is to deliver lines that will get both sides of the chamber on their feet.

He did that brilliantly last night by pointing out how collaboration and partnership are breaking gridlock. The key line (bold is mine for emphasis) was singling out Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, as someone who has achieved the American Dream:

The point is, there are millions of Americans outside Washington who are tired of stale political arguments and are moving this country forward. They believe, and I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That's what drew our forebears here. It's how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America's largest automaker — (applause) — how the son of a barkeeper is speaker of the House — (cheers, applause) — how the son of a single mom can be president of the greatest nation on Earth. (Cheers, applause.)

Everyone in the chamber stood for the remark about Rep. Boehner. And they then had to stand to acknowledge the President.

Opponent disarmed. At least for a moment.

Image source:  Huffington Post

Image source: Huffington Post

3. Tell a poignant story nobody will forget.

Last night it was the concluding story of resilience in the form of Army Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, who was injured in a massive roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan and has fought a valiant struggle to regain his life. 

"My recovery has not been easy," he says. "Nothing in life that's worth anything is easy."

Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit. (Cheers, applause.) Cory. (Extended cheers and applause.)

A speech's ending is probably the most difficult part. The speaker is tired, the audience is tired and, especially in a long address, many of the finer points can get lost. That's why ending on a story that everyone will remember is critical — and the line that Sgt. Remsburg "does not quit" is the galvanizing theme of the entire speech.

So props to President Obama and Cody Keenan, the White House's Director of Speechwriting, for a very well done State of the Union.

Now you can let the political pundits pick it apart.

Full transcript: Washington Post 
Full video: White House website