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January 24, 2008


Sims Wyeth


As a speech guy, I have to agree with you. Churchill said, (I'm quoting loosely) "In order to make a good presentation, you need a strong opening and a dynamic ending and you need to put those two things as close together as possible."

Most presentations are shaped like hammocks. The start is promising (hope springs eternal), and the end is nice (because it means the damn thing is ending) but the middle tends to sag.

Most speeches are like the horns of a Texas steer--a point here, a point there, and a lot of bull in between.

Science has a name for the importance of the beginning and the ending: the principle of primacy and recency.

The principle of primacy speaks to the power of first impressions, which is well documented.

The principle of recency speaks to the power of last impressions, which is not trumpeted so often.

Think of the ending of The Sopranos, which forced us to imagine what happened.

Think of the ending of the Gettysburg Address ("...shall not perish from the earth.") which dramatically clashes with the whole purpose of the speech (honoring those who in fact DID perish.)

And there's that old saying from show biz--leave 'em laughing when you go.

By the way, you should read the last sentence of Obama's victory speech in South Carolina. It's a great peroration, a long winding sentence, built layer by layer, with commas and semicolons, pauses and repetitions, thundering generalities and arresting specifics, until at last it breaks forth into a defiant cry, despite all the cynicism and entropy in our country, to say, "Yes we can."

And by the way, I admire your hard work. Same with me. I work my butt off when I have to speak because I'm constantly telling other people how to do it, and I want to be good myself.

Takes work.

Sims Wyeth

Sims Wyeth & Co.

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