Here are the little-known speechwriting secrets that helped George W. Bush win the US election. Because they are universal principles, you can apply these to your own career and personal situation.
He’s been accused of “mangling the language, destroying its meaning by avoiding the use of verbs, twisting nouns into verbs, and endlessly repeating phrases until they become zombified” (Source:’Bush and Blair accused of mangling English’ by Kate Kelland, Reuters.com.uk, Mon 15 November, 2004 12:50).
But despite this George W. Bush has become the first Republican president to win re-election since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
And he’s been able to motivate the US public to vote in record numbers.
In a time of stress and crisis, Bush was able to connect with the masses.
Bush – who according to language experts once famously used the word “misunderestimate,” romped home with a record majority receiving 3.5 million more votes than Kerry.
Why did Bush win by so much when analysts were predicting one of the closest elections in years?
Well, the shocking truth is that Bush and his advisers are masters of modern-day speechwriting.
What would you do if you had this skill to move and motivate others?
Well, here are the little-known speechwriting secrets of how George W. Bush won the US election. Because they are universal principles, you can apply these to your own career and personal situation:
1. Strong Self-Belief
Bush has always had a strong sense of purpose to “build a safer world” and to make a difference. He is unswerving in his belief and mission to achieve this.
One of the most memorable lines in his acceptance speech summarizes his own home-grown optimism and sense of destiny.
“There is an old saying, “Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.”
What is your passion and purpose in life?
2. Certainty in an Age of Uncertainty
In times of fear and uncertainty, sitting politicians have a greater chance of being re-elected.
Bush reinforced this message in all his speeches.
For example: “To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust.”
Trust was Bush’s central campaign message to overcome people’s anxiety about the future.
What is your central theme for your next speech?
3. Visual Imagery
Visual imagery is just as important as words in a speech, especially for people who take in information through visual rather than auditory channels.
Here are some clever ways Bush and his team maximized positive visual images in an election that was staged for television.
Pictures of his family, including that wonderful election night shot of George W. relaxing in the White House with three generations of the Bush family, including his daughter, father and mother. (PS – only mothers with sons could appreciate that proud look on Barbara Bush’s face as she looked over to George W)
He also used his tangible evidence of power such as alighting from the Presidential helicopter and plane to reinforce the trust and security message.
The American flag he wore on his lapel helped reinforce patriotism, as did his red tie when out on the election stump.
Interestingly, Bush wore a blue tie for his acceptance speech. This was subtle and sent the message “I’m in a different phase now, I’ve won the battle and its time to move on”.
What non-verbal signal does your appearance send to your audience?
4. The Bush Personal Brand
The Bush personal brand is very interesting. Of course it is built on stories and everyone knows the story of the hard drinking, hard working Texan wildcat oil investor who at 40 years of age gave up drinking, found God and committed himself to public office.
In his acceptance speech, Bush reinforced this personal story and his special relationship with the people of Texas where his political career started.
“On the open plains of Texas, I first learned the character of our
country: sturdy and honest, and as hopeful as the break of day.
I will always be grateful to the good people of my state. And whatever the road that lies ahead, that road will take me home.”
Notice the visual imagery he uses to paint a picture of Texas and the warm feelings of home in middle-America.
How can you use this technique for your next speech?
5. Relentless Discipline
Bush ran a tight, disciplined campaign and his speeches never wavered or wandered from their key message.
Even in the glory of his win, he was focused:
“Our military has brought justice to the enemy and honor to America.
Our nation has defended itself and served the freedom of all mankind.”
6. Family Values
Bush campaigned on family values – a common theme in both the US and Australian elections.
In his acceptance speech this is how he articulated these values:
“There are many people to thank and my family comes first.
Laura is the love of my life.
I’m glad you love her too.
I want to thank our daughters who joined their dad for his last campaign.
I appreciate the hard work of my sister and brothers.
I especially want to thank my parents for their loving support.”
7. Shared Set of Values
Bush was attuned to the values of the heartland of America, “that heartland is spiritually and geographically the Mid West, a place of small town, conservative family values,” according to Tom Carver, the BBC’s correspondent in Washington.
Carver adds “Bill Clinton was a fair reflection of the laissez-faire mood of the confident, prosperous 90s. And President Bush is a mirror to the darker, more nervous post-9/11 America.”
8. Staying on Message
In the US, news is about emotion and is more orientated towards entertainment than just the facts.
Bush knew this and while he may not have the charisma of Clinton and his aversion to media conferences is well-known, his media performance during the election was one of his best.
Again, Carver from the BBC provides a great example of the legendary Bush media-savvy skills:
“There was a telling moment in his press conference … when he was asked about the “big business” image that he and his party have. He completely ignored the question and talked instead about small businesses and how they are the engine of growth in the economy. He doesn’t even allow the phrase “big business” to pass his lips.”
9. Ability to Read, Reflect and Relate to Issues of Concern
Analysts predicted the US election would be a referendum on the war against Iraq.
How wrong they were. The big issues for voters were about patriotism, and in particular, who do the American people trust on:
i) Moral grounds, ii) The economy, iii) Terrorism, and lastly iv) The War on Iraq.
Bush won the moral argument in a landslide and again played this card in his acceptance speech:
“America has spoken, and I’m humbled by the trust and the confidence of my fellow citizens.
With that trust comes a duty to serve all Americans. And I will do my best to fulfill that duty every day as your president.”
How can you relate to the issues and concerns of your audience?
10. A Great Call to Action
I believe the purpose of every speech should be to make a difference and move people to action.
For Bush it was for people to trust him and win their vote.
The “who do you trust theme” worked well for Bush and won him the election.
In his closer to his acceptance speech, Bush articulates this trust issue well with a clear and strong call to action:
“The campaign has ended, and the United States of America goes forward with confidence and faith.
I see a great day coming for our country and I am eager for the work ahead.”
What is the ‘call to action’ for your next speech?
C 2004 8M Media & Communications Thomas Murrell. All rights reserved worldwide.
Thomas Murrell MBA CSP is an international business speaker, consultant and award-winning broadcaster. He is the author of ‘Understanding Influence for Leaders at All Levels’ to be published by McGraw-Hill in February 2005, and is the publisher of Media Motivators an electronic magazine read by 7,000 professionals in 15 different countries. You can subscribe by visiting www.8mmedia.com. Thomas can be contacted directly at
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