Dear speech-fans and friends,

From Holocaust Remembrance Day to the World Economic Forum to the State of the Union in Washington, January calls for great speeches.
Here is your monthly selection of powerful lines and rhetorical tools.

Whether you craft or collect quotations, you may be interested to read more on the power of virtuous quotes in this piece of research published in the January-February 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

What will you do on March 15th, for World Speech Day ?

Let’s collect our ideas for the next issue.



Build the speaker’s ethos:

Remembrance 1945

As a German born in 1955, I did not live through the darkest times in the history of my country. But the mass murder committed by the Nazis in the name of my nation was the reason I became involved in politics, as I vowed: Never again.

I say this as a German, as a politician and as a father:

We must keep the memory alive.

We must tell our children about the crimes committed in Theresienstadt, in Auschwitz, Birkenau and elsewhere. We must do so for the sake of our children, we must tell them so that their children will tell the next generation.

Remembering hurts, but we must teach our children how this unique crime in human history, these barbaric acts of evil could happen in one of the most modernized societies of that time.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz, Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January 2016


Remembrance 1871

I was listening to the Jussen brothers - another great Dutch contribution to European culture - and when I heard it I did not know it, but afterwards I came to know that the music was written by Georges Bizet in 1871. I started reminiscing about that year, which is the year that France suffered a humiliating defeat against Prussia, which set off a series of events which led to two suicidal wars in Europe. After that, reconciliation between France and Germany seemed completely impossible. So between the music of Georges Bizet and Tourist leMC look at what has happened to this continent.

It is one of our challenges to remember where we come from, because I think very often we are prisoners of here and today with too little knowledge of where we came from and daunting challenges we faced.

First Vice President Timmermans, The Future of Europe, 14 January 2016


French-speaking readers, Lecteurs francophones,

Sur l’histoire, ce que peut l’histoire

Ce que peut l’histoire, ce qu’elle peut vraiment, ce qu’elle peut encore – entendez à la fois ce qui lui est possible et ce qu’elle est en puissance…

Tout pouvoir est pouvoir de mise en récit. Cela ne signifie pas seulement qu’il se donne à aimer et à comprendre par des fictions politiques, des fables, des intrigues. Cela veut dire plus profondément qu’il ne devient pleinement efficient qu’à partir du moment où il sait réorienter les récits de vie de ceux qu’il dirige. Mais dans le même temps, il expose de manière intelligible ce qui, en nous traversant de tant de contraintes, peut aussi nous libérer de leur détermination.

Patrick Boucheron, Leçon inaugurale, Collège de France, 17 Décembre 2015


What do the « best quotes » of the Word Economic Forum have in common?

Contrasts, surprises, and parallelims

Here is a selection:

We’ve heard a lot about the internet of things. I think we need an internet of Woman.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde

COP 21 was a success, but that was the easy part.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Economic growth doesn’t mean anything until it is inclusive growth.

John Green, author and vlogger

GDP is not a good measure of economic performance, it’s not a good measure of well being.

Joseph Stiglitz, Economist

The higher you build the wall, the more you empower the smugglers.

David Miliband, President, International rescue Committee

We need to start sharing not the burden, but the responsibility.

European Commission Vice-President Federica Mogherini


More contrasts:

Hearing all this discussion about sovereignty, I maintain that Poland is now more sovereign, more master of its own destiny than in the thousand years before it became Member of the European Union. By pooling its sovereignty with other European nations, for the first time in its history Poland has borders that are no longer disputed by its neighbours.
That is true sovereignty, Madame Prime Minister; that is a true achievement of all European nations – and Poland in the first place.

First Vice-President Timmermans, European Parliament Plenary Session – Situation in Poland, 19 January 2016


From abstract to concrete, very concrete

I believe a society is not measured only by its most successful researchers and entrepreneurs. A society is also measured by its ability to care for its weakest and most vulnerable. And that is why all throughout our efforts to grow the economy, transform our technologies, and smarten our systems - we must constantly stop, look back and see if anyone was left behind. (…)

If over 10% of European households cannot afford to heat their homes properly, we must do more. If pensioners have to sleep in the kitchen, because this is the only warm place in the house; if children cannot do their homework because their family was disconnected from electricity, or if people fall sick or die early because they cannot heat or cool their homes, then our efforts clearly have not been enough.

Vice-President Šefčovič, Launch Event Task Force on Energy Poverty, 26 January 2016


Build a climax:

If anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating

our military,

most of America’s business leaders,

the majority of the American people,

almost the entire scientific community,

and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.

President Obama, State of the Union Address, 12 January 2016


Gun control is not on the top of Europe’s agenda – we have other issues to deal with…

Yet, this speech offers many hints for European speechwriters on how to build an argument :


(Concessio & ethos)

Now, I want to be absolutely clear at the start -- and I’ve said this over and over again, this also becomes routine, there is a ritual about this whole thing that I have to do -- I believe in the Second Amendment. It’s there written on the paper. It guarantees a right to bear arms. No matter how many times people try to twist my words around -- I taught constitutional law, I know a little about this -- (applause) -- I get it. But I also believe that we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment. 

(Address to your audience)

I mean, think about it. 

(Inclusive 'we' & indisputable example)

We all believe in the First Amendment, the guarantee of free speech, but we accept that you can’t yell “fire” in a theater. We understand there are some constraints on our freedom in order to protect innocent people.

(More inclusive 'we' & indisputable example)

We cherish our right to privacy, but we accept that you have to go through metal detectors before being allowed to board a plane. It’s not because people like doing that, but we understand that that’s part of the price of living in a civilized society. 

Whom do you quote?

- Dr King;

- Two United States Senators -– Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, both gun owners, both strong defenders of our Second Amendment rights, both with “A” grades from the NRA –- that’s hard to get -- worked together in good faith, consulting with folks like our Vice President, who has been a champion on this for a long time, to write a common-sense compromise;

- Republican President George W. Bush;

- Senator John McCain;

- Ronald Reagan.

(Appeal to common sense with concrete example)

If there’s an app that can help us find a missing tablet -- which happens to me often the older I get -- (laughter) -- if we can do it for your iPad, there’s no reason we can’t do it with a stolen gun. 

(More appeal to common sense with concrete example)

If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can’t pull a trigger on a gun.  (Applause.)  Right? 

(Closing with concessio)

Yes, it will be hard, and it won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen during this Congress.  It won’t happen during my presidency. But a lot of things don’t happen overnight. 

(Reference to the common history)

A woman’s right to vote didn’t happen overnight. The liberation of African Americans didn’t happen overnight. LGBT rights -- that was decades’ worth of work. 

(Final call)

So just because it’s hard, that’s no excuse not to try. 


(And remember to … give your speech a title)

President Obama, Common-Sense Gun Safety Reform, 5 January 2016