January 28: Right Words, Right Time Day

On this day in 1986, President Ronald Reagan gave a short speech that he did not want to give, yet it was a speech that needed to be given.  A shocked nation, and world, had just witnessed the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, an explosion that killed everyone aboard including Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher who was attempting to become the first teacher is space.

On that fateful and tragic day, Reagan was planning to given another speech entirely, the annual State of the Union Address. When the Challenger exploded at 11:39 EST, Reagan immediately cancelled the State of the Union Address, the first time in modern history this had been done.  Reagan’s staff then went immediately to work on the difficult task of crafting the right words to describe the day’s tragic events.  

The principal writer of the speech was Peggy Noonan.  She knew that writing this speech would be a difficult task, not only because of the terrible circumstances that required it to be written, but also because of the many different segments of the audience that would watch it.  Because of Christa McAuliffe’s participation in the launch, children across the country had witnessed the explosion.  The speech had to balance sorrow with perseverance; it had to honor the dead but also make it clear that life would continue; it had to admit the failure of the mission, but also make it clear that exploration of space would continue.  If all this was not enough, it also had to consider the disaster in light of geopolitics; after all, the Cold War was still being waged at the time.  The U.S. had never lost astronauts in flight before, and the Soviets would be watching to see how the American president addressed this tragedy.

The final text of the speech that Peggy Noonan wrote deftly hit on each necessary element and adeptly addressed each of the segments of the varied audience.  The text also included a historical analogy by noting that January 28th was the anniversary of the death of Sir Francis Drake, who died at sea in 1596.  Like those who died aboard the Challenger, Drake died dedicated to the task of exploring new frontiers.

As Noonan crafted the speech, she remembered a sonnet that she had memorized in 7th grade.  It was a poem called High Flight and was written by a 19 year-old, World War II aviator named John Magee.  It is a poem that celebrates the majestic experience of flight, and what made it especially poignant is the fact that its young author was killed in a mid-air collision just months after he composed the poem.  It’s Magee’s words that eloquently end the speech:  “[The Challenger crew] slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.

Ronald Reagan’s national eulogy, given less than six hours after the explosion of the Challenger, is an excellent backdrop by which to examine two important principles from classical rhetoric:  exigency and kairos.   

Exigency is the Latin term for “an urgent need or demand.” In other words, the exigency of a speech or composition involves the catalyst that caused it to be written.  Understanding exigency helps us explore the backstory and the occasion of a speech as well as the writer’s motivation for writing. To fully understand Reagan’s speech, for example, we must understand the historical context in which it was given and the preceding events that “demanded” it be given.

Kairos is the Greek term for “timing” or “timeliness.”  The Greeks had two concepts for time:  chronos and kairos.  Chronos was used for “linear, measurable time”; it’s the root we find in the English word chronology.  Kairos, in contrast, relates to the “opportune time” for something to be done, or the doing of something at the “exact, most advantageous time.” Understanding kairos helps us to better explore the timing of a speech.  As we can see by Reagan’s address to the nation, for example, the speech’s kairos is what makes it so memorable. Reagan was able to say the right thing, with the right tone, at the right time.

Each speech, article, or other piece of writing you read has its own rhetorical situation, which includes exigency and kairos. As demonstrated by Reagan’s speech, by analyzing who the speaker is, why he is speaking, when he is speaking, and to whom he is speaking, we gain a much more complete understanding of not just what is said, but also how it is said.

Today’s Challenge:  Audience Analysis

What were the different segments of the audience for Reagan’s Challenger Address, and how did he specifically address each one in his short speech?  Read the entire text of Reagan’s speech. Then, write an analysis of how the different segments of his audience would have taken his words based on the exigency and the kairos of the speech.  Look at the following segments of the audience separately:

The General American Public

Elementary-Aged Children

The Family Members of the Astronauts

The Employees of NASA

The Soviet Union

Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger
Address to the Nation, January 28, 1986
by President Ronald W. Reagan

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering.

Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss.

Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we’ve never lost an astronaut in flight; we’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle; but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.

For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, “Give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.” They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.

We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.

I’ve always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don’t hide our space program. We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute.

We’ll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.

I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: “Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it.”

There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and an historian later said, “He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.” Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” (2)

Quotation of the Day:  By using kairos as a guiding principle for your own texts, you can bring interest and timeliness to your writing projects. So when you begin to write, think of the moment that your writing will enter into—the audience that will read it, the conversation that it joins, the history surrounding the topic, and the words you use to craft your argument. Awareness and use of this knowledge create beautiful writing that, like turning the key in your door at the end of a long day, seems perfectly timed, effortless, and just right.  -Kate Pantelides, Megan McIntyre, and Jessica McKee (3)

1-Moyer, Justin Wm. Exactly the Right Words, Exactly the Right Way: Reagan’s Amazing Challenger Disaster Speech.  Washington Post.  28 Jan 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/28/how-ronald-reagan-explained-the-challenger-disaster-to-the-world-its-all-part-of-taking-a-chance/.

2-NASA History Office.  Address to the Nation.  http://history.nasa.gov/reagan12886.html.

3-Pantelides, Kate, Megan McIntyre, and Jessica McKee.  Kairos.  Writing Commons. 16 Apr. 2012.  http://writingcommons.org/open-text/information-literacy/rhetorical-analysis/rhetorical-appeals/595-kairos.

January 20: Chiasmus Day


Jfk inauguration.jpg
January 20, 1961

On this day in 1961, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the United States’ 34th president.  From the text of his inaugural address, Kennedy uttered what has become probably the most famous sentence in political history:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Kennedy, who at 42 years of age was the youngest president ever elected, exuded youth, enthusiasm, and idealism as he proclaimed that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans . . . .”  The skillful use of rhythm, repetition, alliteration, antithesis and parallelism make Kennedy’s inaugural address a rhetorical masterpiece.  The speech’s most memorable line, however, features a distinctive rhetorical device called chiasmus.

Chiasmus, which is also known as antimetabole, is the “all for one, one for all” device.  It is a special brand of parallel structure that involves a rhetorical criss-cross or flip-flop. What makes chiasmus distinctive is that the words are not just repeated, rather they are repeated in reverse order, as in, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

In order to see the power of Kennedy’s chiasmus, contrast what Kennedy might have said with what he actually said:

Without chiasmus:  “Do not be self-centered, thinking only of yourself; instead; think of what you can do to contribute to your country.”

With chiasmus:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Notice how with chiasmus the reversal of the words “you” and “country” causes the reader to reevaluate the relationship between the two ideas.  More than just a rhetorical flourish, this is one of the central themes of Kennedy’s message.

Also notice that not only does chiasmus make the sentence more memorable, but also the sentence’s simple, clear words pack a punch.  Of the sentence’s 17 words, all but two are single syllable words.  The only word of more than a single syllable is the key word “country,” which is repeated twice for emphasis.  Like Lincoln and Churchill before him, Kennedy knew the power of clear, concise language.

Today’s Challenge:  What Chiasmus Can Do for You

As seen in Kennedy’s use of chiasmus, it is an especially useful device for reversing an audience’s attitude or attempting to correct or flip an audience’s thinking.  What are some general beliefs or attitudes held by many people that you think should be changed?  How might you employ chiasmus to state the change in belief or attitude that you want to see?

Create a sentence using chiasmus that states a change in a belief or attitude that you would like to see.  For example:   

“You don’t own your cellphone; your cellphone owns you.”

Then write a short speech using that sentence as your title.  In your speech explain specifically the change you would like to see and why you think this change would be an improvement.

If you can’t think of an original sentence, create a spin-off chiasmus using Kennedy’s sentence or some of the other examples below:

Quitters never win and winners never quit.

If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.

Do things right, and do the right things.

One should work to live, not live to work.

Example spin-off:  Don’t ask what your English teacher can do for you, ask what you can do for your English teacher.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Try to learn something about everything and everything about something. -Thomas Henry Huxley

January 9: Pamphlet Day


On this day in 1776, one of the most influential pamphlets every written was published, a pamphlet that convinced the American colonists to fight for their independence from Britain.  The pamphlet was Common Sense, and although it was originally published anonymously, today we know its author was Thomas Paine (1737-1809).

Born in England, Paine spent his early years struggling to make ends meet in a number of jobs:  corset maker, sailor, English teacher, and tax collector.  Paine’s fortunes changed, however, when he met Benjamin Franklin in London in 1774.  With a letter of recommendation from Franklin, Paine travelled to Philadelphia where he began work as editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine.

Even though the colonists fired in anger at the British at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, full-fledged rebellion was not inevitable.  Many favored reconciliation with mother England.  Paine, however, called for full-on rebellion.   Paine’s pamphlet published on January 9, 1776 presented his argument for independence, not in the legal or philosophical language of previous treatises, but in the plain, forceful language of the common man:

For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is (1).

Paine ends his argument by asking his readers to stand up to tyranny and to fight for freedom:

O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. — Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind (1).

Common Sense was a publishing sensation, going through 25 printings in just its first year of publication.  It sold at least 75,000 copies, making it America’s first bestseller (2).

Today’s Challenge:  No Paine, No Pamphlet

What are some examples of revolutionary ideas from the past or present, ideas that either have changed the world or possibly may change the world in the future?  In the era in which Thomas Paine was writing — the 18th century — challenging the divine right of kings was a revolutionary idea.  Research other revolutionary ideas from the past or present, and create a pamphlet making your argument for or against one of these ideas.  Like Paine, make your argument in clear, forceful language. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  No pamphlet, no book, ever kindled such a sudden conflagration, a purifying flame, in which the prejudices and fears of millions were consumed.  To read it now, after the lapse of more than a hundred years, hastens the blood. It is but the meagre truth to say that Thomas Paine did more for the cause of separation, to sow the seeds of independence, than any other man of his time. –Robert Ingersoll on Paine’s Common Sense in 1892

1-Paine, Thomas.  Common Sense.  U.S. History.org.  http://www.ushistory.org/paine/commonsense/sense4.htm.

2- Prothero, Stephen.  The American Bible:  How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2012.

December 14: Eulogy Day


On this day in 1799, George Washington died at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia.  Funeral memorials were held in major U.S. cities, and throughout the world people were saddened by Washington’s death.  In France, for example, Napoleon Bonaparte orderedten days of mourning for America’s great leader and Founding Father.

Following Washington’s death, the Sixth Congress commissioned Henry Lee, the father of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee, to write a eulogy.  Having served under Washington as a major general in the Continental Army, Lee was a logical choice (1).

Written in the elaborate and elevated prose characteristic of the 18th century, Lee demonstrates mastery of parallelism as he praises his comrade in arms:

First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and enduring scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. To his equals he was condescending, to his inferiors kind, and to the dear object of his affections exemplarilytender; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue alwaysfelt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence tohis public virtues. His last scene comported with the whole tenor of hislife—although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him; and withundisturbed serenity he closed his well spent life. Such was the man Americahas lost—such was the man for whom our nation mourns (2).

Today’s Challenge:  A Word of Praise Before You Go

The word eulogy is from Greek meaning “praise.”  Although we normally associate eulogies with funerals, eulogies can also praise a person who is still alive.  Who is someonewho is alive today that you think deserves sincere praise?  Write a eulogy for a living person.  Identify specifically the positive traits of this person with specific examples of what makes the person so special. Whether or not the person is someone you have met, make it clear to the audience why this person means so much to you. (Common Core Writing 2 -Expository)

1-Hughes, Hillary. First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen. Washington Library. Center for DigitalHistory. http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/first-in-war-first-in-peace-and-first-in-the-hearts-of-his-countrymen/.

2-Lee, Robert E. Funeral Oration on the Death of General Washington. Dec. 28, 1799. Public Domain. George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/first-in-war-first-in-peace-and-first-in-the-hearts-of-his-countrymen/.

December 13: Concession Day

On this day in 2000, one of the closest and most contentious presidential elections in U. S. history ended when Vice President Al Gore gave a speech conceding the presidency to George W. Bush. The day before, the United States Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore ended voting recounts in the state of Florida and effectively awarded the election to Bush. Although Gore won the plurality of the popular vote, he lost the election when Florida’s 25 electoral votes were awarded to Bush.

Thus, on December 13, 2000, more than a month after Americans had cast their votes, Gore gave his concession speech:

Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession (1).

As Gore demonstrated in his speech, sometimes a politician has to admit defeat.  That does not mean, however, that the person is a failure.  After leaving public service, Gore gained prominence as an author and an environmental activist, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work in combating climate change.

In argumentation, instead of being an admission of defeat, a concession is an admission that a portion of an opposing argument is true.  Inexperienced writers often see concession as a weakness, but experienced writers know it is a powerful method for establishing common ground.

When a concession is carefully and clearly framed, it shows the audience that you have conscientiously considered both sides of the argument.  By clearly addressing the opposing views and showing that you understand them fully, you can better neutralize them by combining them with arguments that support your thesis.

Imagine for example that a police officer pulls over two drivers for speeding.  The first driver argues as follows:

“Officer, I wasn’t speeding and should not get a ticket.”

In contrast, the second driver states the following:

“Officer, I probably was going too fast, but if you look at my driving record, you’ll see that I’m a safe driver.” 

Which of the two drivers do think has the better chance of getting off with a warning?  If this were a bet, you probably would put your money on the second driver.  He understands that making a concession is not admitting defeat; instead, a concession is a valuable move, requiring that you give a little ground to gain a lot.

Today’s Challenge:  Comparison, Contrast, and Concession

Given two items in a category to debate, how might you include a concession in your argument?  Write a comparison and contrast paragraph in which you argue for the merits of one thing over the other.  Include a concession in your argument, acknowledging at least one of the merits of the opposition side. Select one of the topics below, or come up with your own:

Seasons:  Summer or Winter?

Pets:  Cat or Dog?

Sports to watch:  Football or Baseball?

Sports to play:  Team or Individual?

Continents to Visit:  Europe or Australia?

Sci-Fi:  Star Wars or Star Trek?

Movie Genres:  Action or Comedy?

Political Parties:  Republican or Democrat?

Political Philosophies:  Capitalism or Socialism?

Books:  Fiction or Nonfiction?

Bands:  Beatles or Rolling Stones

Presidents:  Lincoln or F.D.R?

NBA Franchises:  Celtics or Lakers?

Fast Food Franchises:  McDonalds or KFC?

As you write, make sure that you make a strong claim for your side of the argument while at the same time conceding a strength of the opposition’s side.  Use the templates below to help you frame your concession:

People who argue X are correct when they say that _______________; however, a more important point is _________________________________.

Admittedly it is true that _____________________________________, but it does not necessarily follow that _______________________________________.

Although it is true that _____________________, I believe __________________ because__________________________________________.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Gore, Al. Vice President Gore Concession Speech 13 Dec. 2000. Authentic History.com. http://www.authentichistory.com/1993-2000/3-2000election/3-dispute/20001213_VP_Gore_Concession.html.

November 13:  TED Talks Day

On this day in 2012, TED.com presentations reached one billion views.  TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) was created by Richard Saul Wurman, who hosted the first TED conference in Monterey, California in 1984.  Attendees paid $475 to watch a variety of 18-minute presentations.  In 2009, TED began to depart from its once a year model by granting licenses to third parties for community-level TEDx events.  The TED.com website was launched in 2006, and today there are TED events in more than 130 countries.

While the number of TED talks has increased over the years, the basic template of each talk remains the same as the first talks in 1984.  Each presentation is crafted to be emotional, novel, and memorable.

In his book Talk Like TED, communication coach Carmine Gallo acknowledges that the success of any TED presentation relies on a communication theory that goes back to an era long before TED talks.

It was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who invented rhetoric – the art of persuasion.  All modern communication theory owes a debt to the three rhetorical appeals that Aristotle called logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos means grounding your ideas with reasoning and evidence.  Pathos acknowledges the fact that humans have a heart as well as a head; therefore, it is not enough to merely make your audience think; you should also make them feel.  Finally, ethos is about the relationship between the audience and the speaker.  In order to keep an audience’s interested and persuade it effectively, a speaker must be both credible and trustworthy.

Gallo suggests that speakers analyze their presentations by assigning each sentence of the speech to one of the three appeals. The best presentations, Gallo says, will contain a high percentage of pathos.  Persuasion is defined as “influencing someone to act by appealing to reason”; however, reason alone will not win the day. We’ve been telling stories much longer than we have been arranging formal arguments or writing our ideas down on paper. Great speakers know the power of story and imagery to inject emotion and meaning into a speech (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Make a Persuasion Pie

What are the key qualities that make an effective oral presentation?  Watch a TED talk of your choice, and as you watch, take notes on where the speaker uses logos, ethos, and pathos.  After you’ve watched the speech, create a pie chart in which you assign each of the three appeals a percentage.  Write an analysis of the presentation in which you explain the percentages and the impact of each appeal.  For the full effect, watch a second TED Talk and compare your second pie to the first to decide which talk was more effective. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Gallow, Carmine.  Talk Like TED:  The 9 Public-speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds.  New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 2014:  47-48.

November 12:  Greatest Single Thing Day

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On this day in 1926, Branch Rickey gave a speech entitled “The Greatest Single Thing a Man Can Have” to the Executives Club of Chicago. Rickey is best known as the man who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Rickey was fired as the manager of the St Louis Cardinals in 1925; however, the owner of the team, recognizing Rickey’s talent for player development, offered Rickey a position as an executive for the team.  In this new position, Rickey began to invest in several minor league baseball clubs, using them to develop future talent for the Cardinals.  By doing this Rickey invented what is now a staple of Major League Baseball, the minor-league farm system.

In his speech to the Executives Club, Rickey began with an anecdote from his time as the Cardinals’ manager.  It involved an amazing feat of athleticism, not by one of his players, but by an opposing player for the Detroit Tigers, Ty Cobb.  In the play, Cobb stole two straight bases to score the winning run in extra innings.  In describing the play, Rickey expressed his amazement at Cobb’s audacity; Cobb did not rely on luck to win the game; instead, “he made his own breaks.”

The tenaciousness displayed by Cobb on the base paths — his unwillingness “to alibi his own failures” and his singular desire to be the best — is what Cobb argues is the single greatest thing a ball player or any person can have (1).

Rickey’s speech is made memorable by its inductive organization.  Beginning with a specific incident by a specific person in a specific place, Rickey first shows his point to his audience before he tells it.  As he continues, he broadens the focus from Cobb, to baseball players in general, and finally to people in general.  Rickey’s audience expected him to talk about baseball, but Rickey knew he was talking to a group of business executives.  The genius of his speech is that he was able to combine the details about Cobb with a universally applicable principle of success.

Today’s Challenge:  What’s Your SGT?

What would you argue is the single greatest thing a person can have?  Brainstorm a list of ideas, and try for a variety of ideas that range from general qualities to concrete objects.  Once you have your best idea, write a speech that is organized inductively — that is, one that begins with an example or anecdote to show rather than tell.  After your specific example or anecdote, broaden your point to make it universally applicable to a general audience. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1997: 521-523.

October 28:  Salute to Contemporaries Day

On this day in 1930, British playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) spoke at a dinner honoring Albert Einstein (1879-1955).  Shaw presented a short speech saluting the scientist for his work, calling Einstein “the greatest of our contemporaries.”

Shaw began his speech by identifying eight great men of history whom he called “makers of universes.” These men were Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Kepler, Copernicus, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein — all great men of science, who unlike the “makers of empires” did not have hands “stained with the blood of their fellow men.”  Shaw continued by comparing Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and Einstein, explaining how Einstein challenged Newton’s rectilinear view of the universe, replacing this view with his curvilinear universe.  The Englishman Newton presented a model for the universe that stood for 300 years.  In 1916, at the age of 26, Einstein gave the world a new model, his theory of general relativity (1).

Today’s Challenge:  A Tribute and a Tip of the Hat

When we speak of “contemporaries” we are talking about people who lived at the same time.  For example, George Bernard Shaw and Einstein were contemporaries; Einstein and Newton were not.  What person living today would you argue is the most influential?  Who would you label as the greatest of our contemporaries?  Brainstorm some names of great people who are still living.  Identify the one you would honor, and like Shaw, write your short tribute, making your case for the person as the most influential person alive.  For some help in your research, read one of Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People” editions.  This annual issue features the most influential living people with tributes written by their contemporaries. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 1997: 206-8.

October 14:  A Speech Can Save a Life Day

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On this day in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was shot by an unemployed saloon keeper in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Roosevelt was nearing the end of his campaign for president. Having left politics after his second term as U.S. president in 1909, he returned for a run at an unprecedented third term when his hand-picked successor William Taft did not live up to his expectations.  For this campaign, Roosevelt formed a new political party, The Bull Moose Party (officially called the National Progressive Party).

On the evening of October 14th, Roosevelt was leaving his hotel in Milwaukee to make a campaign speech.  Just as he was entering the car that would take him to the auditorium, an unemployed saloonkeeper named John Schrank, standing a few feet away, fired a shot from his Colt .38 revolver into Roosevelt’s chest.  Schrank was immediately tackled and arrested, and Roosevelt’s handlers prepared to whisk him away to the hospital.  Roosevelt, however, refused, demanding to be taken immediately to the auditorium to fulfill his campaign appearance.

Only when he arrived backstage at the auditorium did Roosevelt allow himself to be examined by doctors.  Their exam revealed that a bullet had indeed pierced Roosevelt’s chest.  Although he was bleeding, the shot was not fatal — fortunately for Roosevelt, the bullet’s path had been slowed by the folded 50-page speech he carried in his breast pocket. Stepping up to the podium, Roosevelt revealed his bloody shirt and the bullet-pierced manuscript of his speech to the audience.  He began by saying:  “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”

Only after speaking for more than an hour did Roosevelt step away from the podium.  On Election Day, November 5th, Roosevelt lost the election to the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson.  John Schrank spent the rest of his life in an insane asylum.  In a somewhat Shakespearean twist, Schrank claimed that the ghost of President William McKinley had appeared to him and ordered the hit; it was McKinley’s assassination that had made Roosevelt president in 1901.

Today, visitors to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History can view a bullet-pierced page of Roosevelt’s speech.  The bullet, however, remained lodged in Roosevelt’s rib for the rest of his lift.  He died in his sleep in 1919 and is buried at Oyster Bay, New York (1).

Unlike many people, Theodore Roosevelt did not fear public speaking.  According to the Washington Post, public speaking is the biggest phobia of Americans, followed by fear of heights, drowning, strangers, zombies, and clowns (in that order) (2).

One antidote to overcoming the fear of public speaking is to face your fears head-on, as explained in the following analogy by Dale Carnegie in his book The Art of Public Speaking:

Did you ever notice in looking from a train window that some horses feed near the track and never even pause to look up at the thundering cars, while just ahead at the next railroad crossing a farmer’s wife will be nervously trying to quiet her scared horse as the train goes by?

How would you cure a horse that is afraid of cars—graze him in a back-woods lot where he would never see steam-engines or automobiles, or drive or pasture him where he would frequently see the machines?

Apply horse-sense to ridding yourself of self-consciousness and fear: face an audience as frequently as you can, and you will soon stop shying. You can never attain freedom from stage-fright by reading a treatise. A book may give you excellent suggestions on how best to conduct yourself in the water, but sooner or later you must get wet, perhaps even strangle and be “half scared to death.” There are a great many “wetless” bathing suits worn at the seashore, but no one ever learns to swim in them. To plunge is the only way. (3)

Today’s Challenge:  I came, I saw, I spoke

How can people best acquire the courage to confront and conquer their fears of public speaking? What are your top three go-to topics for a brief speech? You’re not always given the chance to pick your own topic; however, choosing and preparing speeches on topics you care about is an excellent way to gain the kind of confidence you need to speak under any circumstances (even with a bullet lodged in your chest). For example, when Julius Caesar was a young man, he was kidnapped by pirates; to kill time during his captivity, he composed short speeches and poems and read them aloud to his captors  (See July 13:  I Came, I Saw, I Conquered Day). Brainstorm a list of your go-to speech topics — topics that you know something about and are passionate about.  Then compose a short speech sharing your passion with an audience. (Common Core Speaking and Listening)

1-O’Toole, Patricia. The Speech That Saved Teddy Roosevelt’s Life. Smithsonian Mag.com Nov. 2012. //www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-speech-that-saved-teddy-roosevelts-life-83479091/?no-ist.

2-Croston, Glenn. The Thing We Fear More Than Death. Psychology Today.com 29 Nov. 2012. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-real-story-risk/201211/the-thing-we-fear-more-death.

3-Carnegie, Dale. The Art of Public Speaking. Springfield, Mass.: The Home Correspondence School, 2015. Public Domain.

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/16317/16317-h/16317-h.htm#CHAPTER_I.

October 4 – Elevator Speech Day

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On this day in 1911, the first public elevator began service at the Earl’s Court Metro Station in London.  In England an elevator is called a “lift,” but whatever it’s called, an elevator ride is a short trip that puts you in a confined space, often with total strangers (1).

People who work in the business world make frequent trips on elevators.  Maybe that’s why the elevator has become such a powerful communication metaphor in business the past few years.  The “elevator pitch” is a short speech put together by salespeople, entrepreneurs, or other business people to capsulize their ideas and to communicate them clearly to potential clients and investors.  The idea is to know your project, idea, or product so well that you can “sell” it to anyone on a short elevator ride.

When constructing an elevator pitch, remember the mnemonic device PITCH:

P = Point:  Make sure you have a clear main point, a clear claim.

I = Imagery:  Use language that goes beyond just telling your point; instead, use imagery that shows – the kind of language that will captivate your listener’s imagination.

T = Time:  Timing is central for an elevator pitch.  Practice it until you get it down to an exact time that is no more than two minutes.

C = Concrete: Watch out for language that is too abstract.  It’s okay to talk about your ideas, but try to make them as specific as possible by including concrete nouns that will ground your ideas in tangible, real things.

H = Human Interest:  Remember that your audience is made up of real people, and real people are always interested in other real people.  Bring your ideas alive by showing how they relate to and impact real people.

Today’s Challenge:  Up-to-the-Minute Pitch

How would you complete the following title with an idea that would make a compelling speech:  “Why You Should . . . “ ? Brainstorm some ideas; then, select your best one, and write an elevator pitch that follows the principles of PITCH.  Be prepared to share your pitch, attempting to get as close as you can to the two-minute time limit. Work with a partner to practice, time, and perfect your pitch.

Examples of elevator pitch topics:

Why you should floss.

Why you should go to college.

Why you should not be afraid of failure.

Why you should become an organ donor.

Why you should take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Why you should make your speeches short and to the point.

Why you should take notes by hand instead of with a laptop.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- The History Calendar. October 4. http://www.thehistorycalendar.com/oct/october-4th.html.