What did President Abraham Lincoln ever do for communications?

What did President Abraham Lincoln ever do for communications? Well, quite a lot actually…

He was in the news again yesterday as Americans celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Gettysberg Address – one of the most famous speeches of all time.

Lincoln delivered this speech back in 1863, several months after the Battle of Gettysburg when Union troops beat the Confederacy, a turning point for the 1861-5 conflict. His speech was an attempt to bring together a divided nation.

More importantly, he has kept public speaking trainers and coaches in business for 150 years.

Here are just three lessons we can derive from this speech and apply to communications more widely:

Brevity: this speech only used ten sentences and took just two minutes to deliver. However, we are still talking about the speech today while the keynote speaker, who spoke for two hours at the same event, is long forgotten.

Clear structure:  Lincoln starts with the past – “Four score and seven years ago…”, moves to the present – “Now we are engaged in a great civil war…” and concludes with the future tense – “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…”

Rule of 3: memorable messages are often more effective when delivered in threes “…government of the people, by the people, for the people…”

And if you want more, here is the speech in full:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on 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 that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

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 consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, 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.

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