A Speaker in Focus: Abraham Lincoln


Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) was one of the great speakers of the Nineteenth Century.  This self-educated man was an avid reader, a lawyer, and eventually president of the United States. While humble in his background he offers modern orators much to consider and emulate.

His speaking voice is said to have been unimpressive. One account noted, “Lincoln’s voice was, when he first began speaking, shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant; [and his appearance was no better as] his general look, his form, his pose, the color of his flesh, wrinkled and dry, his sensitiveness, and his momentary diffidence, everything seemed to be against him, but he soon recovered.”(William H. Herndon.) Lincoln more than compensated for this with his appeal to the interests and aspirations of his auditors. He was quick to insert anecdotes, “homesy” witticisms, and tales with a twist. It was style over presentation.

Lincoln was in his formal addresses often concise and to the point, but when winning an audience over, or trying to make a key point – took his audience on a verbal journey. He was also a master of using tools such as alliteration, turn of phrase, and rhythm to draw his hearers in.

So what can we take from this gangly country boy who would come to lead a nation? 1. Speak to your audience, 2. Punctuate your addresses with stories to illustrate your points, 3. Be brief (with the boring bits), 4. Use words that give colour.

As a side in developing these – read.  Reading widely opens a wealth of material to your repertoire.


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