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 basepaths — 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 meld together 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.
Quotation of the Day:The greatest single thing in the qualification of a great player, a great team, or a great man is a desire to reach the objective that admits of no interference anywhere. That is the greatest thing I know about baseball or anything else. -Branch Rickey
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.
Shaw summed up his admiration for Einstein as follows:
The heavenly bodies go in curves because that is the natural way for them to go, and so the whole Newtonian universe crumpled up and was succeeded by the Einstein universe. Here in England, he is a wonderful man (1).
Today’s Challenge: Salute 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)
Quotation of the Day: He and I, in a sense, grew up together. We were within a year of the same age, and we were kind of naively optimistic and built big companies. And every fantasy we had about creating products and learning new things — we achieved all of it. And most of it as rivals. But we always retained a certain respect and communication, including even when he was sick. –Bill Gates about his contemporary Steve Jobs
On this date 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 the podium, Roosevelt revealed his bloody shirt and the bullet-pierced manuscript of his speech to the audience. He began his speech 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 in Oyster Bay, New York.
Unlike many people, Theodore Roosevelt did not fear public speaking. According to the Washington Post, public speaking is the the biggest phobia of Americans, followed by fear of heights, drowning, strangers, zombies, and clowns (in that order) (2).
One antidote to fear of public is a good sense of humor and a realistic understanding that it is an irrational fear, as illustrated by Jerry Seinfeld in the following joke:
I read a thing that actually says that speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. I found that amazing – number two was death! That means to the average person if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.
An even better antidote is to face it head on, as explain 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.
Today’s Challenge: I Came, I Saw, I Spoke
How can people best sum up 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. 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 4 – Present Information)
Quotation of the Day: Be sincere, be brief, be seated. –Franklin D. Roosevelt, cousin to Theodore Roosevelt and 32nd President of the Unites States.
On this day in 1911, the first public elevator began service at 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 with total strangers.
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.
In an elevator pitch, time is of the essence, so they must be crafted carefully. Each of the Seven Cs below is followed by advice on how to avoid a clunky ride:
1 Concise: The speech should be no more than 60 seconds, so each word must count.
2 Clear: There’s no time to repeat yourself, so make sure that your ideas are clear enough to be understood by your audience.
3 Compelling: Include a hook, some dramatic tension, and vivid imagery to show your audience that your ideas are important and that something significant is at stake.
4 Credible: Include credible evidence that shows that you have done your homework and that you know what you’re talking about.
5 Concrete: Give your audience specific, tangible details and evidence that shows, not just tells, your point.
6 Conversational: Write out your complete elevator speech, but include plain, forceful language that makes is sound spontaneous and natural.
7 Complete: Any speech, even a short one, needs a beginning, a middle, and and end. Organize it with these three parts, writing strategically to open strong, to maintain interest in the middle, and to close confidently(1).
Today’s Challenge:Going Up with an 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 The Seven Cs. Be prepared to share your pitch, attempting to get as close as you can to the one minute time limit. Work with a partner to practice, time, and perfect your pitch. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
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)
Quotation of the Day: The purpose of an elevator pitch isn’t to close the sale. The goal isn’t even to give a short, accurate, Wikipedia-standard description of you or your project. And the idea of using vacuous, vague words to craft a bland mission statement is dumb. No, the purpose of an elevator pitch is to describe a situation or solution so compelling that the person you’re with wants to hear more even after the elevator ride is over. -Seth Godwin
On this date in 1991, Professor Jacob Neusner, a historian of religion, delivered the convocation address to students at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. Unlike a commencement speech, which is presented at a graduation ceremony at the end of a school term, a convocation is a speech to incoming students at the beginning of a school term.
The purpose of a convocation, therefore, is to call a student body together and to spark the students’ quest for knowledge as they stand poised at the beginning of a new school year. Neusner clearly is qualified to speak about acquiring knowledge, having played a part in the publication of over 1,000 books, either as an author, editor, or translator. In his convocation, Neusner evoked examples of history’s great teachers, teachers who helped their students to discover truth for themselves:
Socrates was the greatest philosopher of all time, and all he did was walk around the streets and ask people irritating questions. Jesus was certainly the most influential teacher in history, and his longest “lecture” — for instance, the Sermon on the Mount — cannot have filled up an hour of classroom time or a page in a notebook.
Professor Neusner ended his speech by calling students to look not only to their teachers for learning, but also to look within themselves:
Your imagination is our richest national resource; an open and active mind, our most precious intangible treasure. That’s what we try to do at our universities and colleges in this country: teach people to teach themselves, which is what life is all about — during the coming year, and during all the years of your lives and mine.
Today’s Challenge: School’s Cool! You’d Be a Fool to Miss a Single Day at School What is the purpose of education? What would you say to welcome, motivate, and inspire students to make the most of their learning in the coming year? Write the text of your convocation speech giving your audience the best advice you can about how not to take their education for granted. (Common Core Writing 1 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day:Professors are there to guide, to help, to goad, to irritate, to stimulate. Students are there to explore, to inquire, to ask questions, to experiment, to negotiate knowledge. –Jacob Neusner
1- Safire, William. Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.
On this date in the year 1297, the Scottish defeated the English in The Battle of Stirling Bridge. Heavily outnumbered by English infantry and cavalry, the Scottish army led by William Wallace and Andrew de Moray nevertheless won the battle (1).
In the film Braveheart, William Wallace, portrayed by Mel Gibson, gives a rousing speech to the Scottish troops. With the odds clearly against them, the Scottish troops are at first reluctant to fight. After listening to Wallace’s succinct, clear, and forceful speech, however, they storm into battle:
Fight and you may die. Run and you will live at least a while. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom!
Although the film is based on actual historical events surrounding the battle, the speech itself is fictional.
Today’s Challenge: Get Them Moving with a Moving Monologue How do you motivate people to do something they may not want to do? Write your own rousing fictional monologue based on a character who is in a situation where he or she needs to motivate an audience to act. Begin by brainstorming some speakers and some situations, such as a son trying to persuade his father to raise his allowance, a door to door salesperson trying to persuade a homeowner to buy a security system, or a teacher trying to persuade her students to do their homework. Then, write your speech from the point of view of the speaker you have chose, combining logic and passion to move the audience to action. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quote of the Day: You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live. Now. -Joan Baez
On this date in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech at the Minnesota State Fair where he used a line that was to become famously associated with him: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Roosevelt was Vice President at the time, but he would soon become the youngest president ever just eight days later when President William McKinley died from an assassin’s bullet.
In his speech, Roosevelt did not claim that his metaphor was original, but he did extend the metaphor to illustrate how it applied to foreign policy:
A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick – you will go far.” If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble, and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power. In private life there are few beings more obnoxious than the man who is always loudly boasting, and if the boaster is not prepared to back up his words, his position becomes absolutely contemptible. So it is with the nation. (1)
As President, Roosevelt practiced what he preached, “speaking softly” by negotiating peacefully with other nations while wielding the “big stick” of a strong military. One clear example of this was “The Great White Fleet,” an armada of sixteen battleships that circumnavigated the globe to demonstrate the Unites States’ military might. More than just a masterful politician, Roosevelt was a historian, biographer, and author of more than 25 books (2).
Roosevelt is not the only president to practice his powers of rhetoric. Below are a few other vivid examples:
Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. -Abraham Lincoln
What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog. -Dwight D. Eisenhower
Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order. -John Adams
If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress. -Barack Obama
Today’s Challenge: Wisdom from the Whitehouse What would you argue is the smartest thing ever said by a United States president? Argue for one of the quotations on this page, or research another one on your own. Make your case by explaining your reasoning. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day: No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it. -John Adams
Today is the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his unforgettable I Have a Dream speech to the crowd of roughly 250,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.
Early in his speech King invokes Lincoln and the unfulfilled promise of the Emancipation Proclamation:
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free (2).
King went on to cite two other vital American documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Using the metaphor of a bad check, King argued that the United States would not be a truly free nation until it fulfilled these promissory notes for all of its citizens, ending segregation, “withering injustice,” and the persecution of black Americans.
An ordained Baptist minister and a doctor of theology, King knew how to craft a sermon and how to deliver a speech. His choice of nonviolent protest meant that his words and his rhetoric would determine the success or failure of his civil rights mission. King was up to the task. There is probably no more telling example of the power of words to persuade, motivate, and change the course of history than the speech King delivered on August 28, 1963.
Rhetoric is the use of language to persuade. Aristotle defined it as “the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion.” Martin Luther King, Jr. used many of these “means of persuasion” (also known as rhetorical devices) to persuade his audience. He used metaphor: beacon of hope and manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. He used alliteration:dark and desolate, sweltering summer, and Jews and Gentiles. He used antithesis: will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
But more than any other device, King used repetition and anaphora, the repetition of one or more words at the beginning of a phrase or clause.
Certain words echo throughout his speech. Unlike redundancy, this repetition is intentional. These words ring like abell, repeatedly reminding the listener of key themes. In the I Have a Dream speech the words justice and dream both ring out eleven times. But one word is repeated far more than any other; the word freedom tolls 20 times. In King’s dream there is no crack in the Liberty Bell; instead, it rings out loudly and clearly, a triumphant declaration that America has finally lived up to its potential.
Anaphora comes from the Greek meaning “I repeat.” It’s the kind of repetition at the beginning of a line or a sentence that you see in the Psalms or in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
(Matthew 3:3-6 King James Version)
King uses anaphora for six different phrases that echo throughout his speech:
One hundred years later . . .
We refuse to believe . . .
Now is the time . . .
With this faith . . .
I have a dream . . .
Let freedom ring . . .
King also chose one of these examples of anaphora as the title of his speech. The repeated clause I have a dream comes at the climactic moment in the speech which is probably why it is the most frequently quoted part:
I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together(1).
Today’s Challenge: What is something that you think is underrated? What makes this topic so underrated, and why should people hold the topic in higher esteem? Certainly the purpose of Martin Luther King’s speech was to help the nation to not overlook the importance of civil rights for black Americans. His speech succeeded in changing the course of the movement, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Brainstorm some topics that you think are underrated? Try for a variety of topics, some on serious topics like civil rights and others on not so serious topics. Select the one topic you feel is most underrated and construct an argument where you explain why the topic should be held in higher esteem. In addition to specific evidence and commentary, use anaphora to make your case. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Walking is underrated. It benefits the body, the mind, and the pocketbook. If everyone in the U.S. were to walk briskly for just thirty minutes per day, we would cut the incidences of chronic diseases dramatically. Walking reduces the risk of heart disease, the risk of diabetes, the risk of arthritis, and the risk of cancer. It’s also good for the mind since studies show that walking reduces the likelihood of clinical depression. Smart seniors know the psychological value of staying active, breathing fresh air, and saving their hard-earned dollars by paying less for gas. Instead of venerating our motor vehicle obsessed society, we should celebrate citizens who stroll along the sidewalks of suburbia. More walkers mean less traffic, less pollution, and less wasted gas money. With so many potential positives, no one should view walking as a pain anymore.
Quotation of the Day:Have no unreasonable fear of repetition. . . . The story is told of a feature writer who was doing a piece on the United Fruit Company. He spoke of bananas once; he spoke of bananas twice; he spoke of bananas yet a third time, and now he was desperate. “The world’s leading shippers of the elongated yellow fruit,” he wrote. A fourth banana would have been better. -James J. Kilpatrick