Anecdotes and wit are literary styles essential in the domain of contemporary speechwriting. Speechwriters rely on the use of humor and storytelling to effectively persuade, disarm, and thus positively impact their audiences. Humor and storytelling give speeches a conversational tone hence breaking the tense formality that characterizes public speechmaking. Since the development of rhetoric and oration in Greece, hundreds of years ago, prolific speechwriters and orators have always relied on anecdotes and humorous wit to make their speeches memorable. Storytelling and humor are literary styles integral in the crafting of powerful and memorable speeches and have been utilized extensively by prolific public orators, such as Barack Obama and Malcolm X.
The literary styles of humor and wit enable public orators to quickly and effectively create a rapport with their audience. Speechwriters employ humor with the main aim of disarming the audience, thus, developing an interactive connection between them and the orator (Lehrman, Robert, and Eric 127). Moreover, humor disarms both the audience and the speaker, thus, diffusing the tension that characterizes public speaking. The Civil Rights Movement leader, Malcolm X, known for his militant and fiery speeches, used humor and jokes often in his speeches to make them memorable and effective. In his 1963 speech, Message to the Grassroots, Malcolm X used more than 60 jokes and sarcasm to disarm and deeply connect with his audience. In Message to the Grassroots, Malcolm X prompts laughter from his audience when he says, “Whoever heard of a revolution where they lock arms … singing ‘We Shall Overcome?’ (Taylor 164). The humor and sarcasm enable Malcolm X to disarm his audience and thus effectively discredit the efficacy of nonviolence in the fight against racial segregation in America.
The art of storytelling or use of anecdotes is integral to speechwriting as it not only captures the attention of the audience but also triggers their emotions. Storytelling enables orators to capture the attention of their audience and, therefore, effectively deliver their message. Moreover, the art of storytelling in speechwriting evokes the emotions of their audience, and this not only makes a speech more memorable but also powerful (Kjeldsen et al. 3). Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States of America, is one of the best public speakers of the 21st century due to his mastery of the art of storytelling (Christie and O’Brien 208). In his 2008 victory speech, This is Your Victory, Obama uses the art of storytelling to draw attention from himself and turn the average American voter into the true hero of the story. In the speech, Obama uses the life story of Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106 years old woman from Atlanta, who had experienced progress and regression of a century of American history to remind Americans of the importance of America’s greatness (Christie and O’Brien 220). By talking about people’s real lives, Obama not only captured the complete attention of his audience but also provoked their deep emotions that resulted in several individuals bursting out in tears of joy.
The literary styles of anecdote and wit are essential in contemporary speechwriting as they make public speeches memorable, powerful, and impactful. Humor, coupled with the art of storytelling, enables public speakers to disarm their audience and therefore creates an interactive and lively rapport between orators and their listeners. Malcolm X and Barrack Obama, considered as among the best public speakers in the 20th and 21st century, respectively, relied extensively on humor and storytelling in their speeches to make them impactful and memorable.
Christie, Natasha V., and Shannon B. O’Brien. “Transcending the Veil: Barack Obama’s Rhetoric and Strategic Racial Representation.” National Review of Black Politics 1.2 (2020): 208-228., https://doi.org/10.1525/nrbp.2020.1.2.208
Kjeldsen, Jens E., et al. “Introduction: The Case for Speechwriting.” Speechwriting in Theory and Practice. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2019. 1-5.
Lehrman, Robert A., and Eric Schnure. The political speechwriter’s companion: A guide for writers and speakers. CQ Press, 2019.
Taylor, Jack. “Laugh! The Revolution Is Here: Humor and Anger in the Speeches of Malcolm X.” Journal for the Study of Radicalism 13.2 (2019): 159-186., https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.14321/jstudradi.13.2.0159