5 Things Speakers can we learn from the Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address in 1863. Photo from the Smithsonian.

1. Less is more – the Gettysburg Address was only 272 words and only took 2 minutes.

Too often speakers lose the impact of the message by going too long.  A phrase or idea that would stay with the hearer gets buried by the amount of what is spoken.

I am struck by the brevity of this now famous speech.

2. Start with a Reminder of the Vision – 

President Lincoln began with the nation’s founding premise, “all men are created equal” and clearly stated this is why the nation was founded.

3. Address the ‘Elephant in the Room’ – 

President Lincoln correctly addressed the ‘elephant in the room’ by saying “we are now engaged in a civil war.”  Preachers sometimes try to ignore the big issues hoping no one will notice.

4. Talk Honestly About the Struggle and the Cost – 

President Lincoln talked about those who died here.

5. Tell Listeners Why the Cost is Worth Paying – benefits & consequences

President Lincoln gives vision for the future and the benefits reaped by paying this cost. He then also boldly outlines the consequences of not doing what is right.

They did not die in vain but “shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  Wow stirring stuff. Worth dying for.

If we won’t pay the cost of this war…This war is “testing whether that nation,…shall long endure.” If we don’t win this war, it’s over. There will be no country.

Bonus Point: End on a High Note

President Lincoln ends the same way he began by vision-casting for what kind of country he wanted.

Start: We’re conceived in Liberty with the vision all men are created equal.
Finish: The soldier didn’t die in vain but “the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

He ended with the big line…by the people, for the people.  That’s what they remembered and they left the speech cheering.

Go here for a complete transcript of the Gettysburg Address.

Transcript of the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln

Executive Mansion, Washington, DC, 1863.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow, this ground– The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, to stand here, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, Draft of the Gettysburg Address: Nicolay Copy. Transcribed and annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois