Speech-writing tips for dictators on the run

Recently we posted a blog packed with tips for people who have to write speeches for others to deliver. If you found that helpful, you might like this sideways look at the business of speech-writing.

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi (above) is on the run. He’s still broadcasting defiant messages, but they are uncharacteristically bland. That prompted Philip Boyes to wonder if Gaddafi’s speech-writers had deserted him. Boyes, who writes speeches for a senior European Union politician, decided to offer some tips – in case the ‘Brother Leader’ had to write his own speeches.

1. Don’t mention rats, cats or dogs. Calling your enemies ‘greasy rats and cats’ might infuse a certain rhetorical flow into your speech – but at the end of the day it sounds a bit too Dr. Seuss, when you should be thinking Dr. Goebbels.

2. Try to avoid blaming Israel for all human suffering – commonly known as Arab Leader Tourette’s Syndrome (ALTS). Or the West in general, for that matter. Yes, it’s an obvious crowd-pleaser and often guarantees applause. But blaming Zionists and their domestic lackeys for your country’s woes is too easy and it’s getting repetitive.

3. Drive home key words. Repetition of key words and phrases – formally known as anaphora – can help pummel the audience into remembering the core arguments of a speech. But be careful: sometimes it just draws attention to your past failings. In his last-gasp address in February, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak used the word ‘dialogue’ almost ten times – unfortunately reminding his citizens that his main dialogue over the decades had been with his Swiss bankers.

4. Keep it short and crisp. Short speeches often work better than long, rambling ones. Stay on message. Quit the rambling. You might remember that your personal translator had a nervous breakdown towards the end of your long UN speech in 2009. Your famous speech in late February wasn’t much better, it went on for one hour and fifteen minutes. Quality, Colonel, not quantity! You may never get another chance.

Colonel, now’s the time to craft that final message to the world. Why wait until you face the International Criminal Court in The Hague? But stop threatening to martyr yourself. Someone might take you up on the offer.

And if all else fails you can always borrow a line or two from one of Obama’s speeches. That’s what most speechwriters do.

This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post.


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