Writing and delivering a short speech is many times more difficult than writing and delivering a long speech. A short speech has to be well focused, compact and pithy and also has to include all the elements of a long speech, with the inflexible time constraint. It cannot afford grandiloquent or an embellished flowery expression, yet it has to be equally engaging and result oriented. Famous five-minute speeches, delivered by many great men and women in different times, have a few things in common. Most of them have an amazing opening, a crystal clear objective, are emotionally engaging, delightful in listening and impressive visually. They are invariably worded from the audience’s point of view, but always imply the speaker’s intended message.
1. The Gettysburg Speech
The Gettysburg Speech is one of the most famous short speeches, delivered in less than five minutes by the U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, on November 19, 1863. It was delivered at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Abraham Lincoln opened his speech with the famous phrase of proverbial bearing, ‘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 …’ He concluded his speech with the most impressive words of historic importance ‘… 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.’
2. Churchill’s Address to the House of Commons
On May 13, 1940, the outgoing British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was extended a hearty farewell, but the new Prime Minister Winston Churchill received only a modest welcome on his entry to the House of Commons. He made a brief but historic statement ‘… we are in the preliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history … I hope I may be pardoned if I do not address the House at any length today … I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined the government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat … You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air … You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory; victory at all costs …’
3. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech.
On August 28, 1963, the day of the march on Washington for jobs and freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a short but historic speech to the largest ever audience in Washington, comprised of over 250,000 people. President John F. Kennedy remarked, “He’s damned good. Damned good.” In the speech King said, ‘… I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed … I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood …’
4. Ain’t I a Woman?
Sojourner Truth was born to James and Elizabeth Baum free in 1797, in Swartekill, Ulster County, New York. She was a born slave and after getting freedom in 1827, she became an anti-slavery activist. On May 29, 1851, she delivered, at a women’s convention in Akron, Ohio, one of the most touching short speeches in the American history. She spoke, ‘Look at me! … I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much … And ain’t I a woman? I have borne 13 children, and seen ’em mos’ all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”
5. RFK – Eulogy by Senator Edward
On June 8, 1968 Senator Edward M. Kennedy delivered a five-minute speech at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, in remembrance of his brother. He said, ‘On behalf of Mrs. Kennedy, her children, the parents and sisters of Robert Kennedy, I want to express what we feel to those who mourn with us today in this Cathedral and around the world. We loved him as a brother, and as a father, and as a son. From his parents … Love is not an easy feeling to put into words. Nor is loyalty, or trust, or joy. But he was all of these. He loved life completely and he lived it intensely.’
6. General Dwight D. Eisenhower D Day Order
In the Army D-Day refers to the day of actual attack and June 6, 1944 is the most famous D-Day in the military history. It was the day of Normandy landing by the Western allied forces to liberate mainland Europe from the Nazi occupation in the Second World War. Just prior to the commencement of the operation Neptune, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, issued the D-Day order, that was ‘Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade … I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory! Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.’
7. Douglas Macarthur Speech
On the occasion of receiving the Sylvanus Thayer Award, General Douglas Macarthur delivered the acceptance speech on May 12, 1962 at West Point. He spoke, ‘… As I was leaving the hotel this morning, a doorman asked me, ‘Where are you bound for, General?’ and when I replied, ‘West Point,’ he remarked, ‘Beautiful place, have you ever been there before?’ … In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield … Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, and Country. Today marks my final roll call with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps … bid you farewell.
8. George Patton – Invasion of Normandy Speech
His words differ from all the accomplished great English writers though, yet the energy packed full of sincerity, the words of General George Patton used in his Normandy speeches deserve to be quoted uncensored ‘… Be seated. Men, all this stuff you hear about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of bullshit … No sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say ‘Son, your granddaddy rode with the great Third Army and a son-of-a-goddamned-bitch named George Patton! All right, you sons of bitches. You know how I feel. I’ll be proud to lead you wonderful guys in battle anytime, anywhere. That’s all.’
9. St. Francis of Assisi – Sermon to the Birds, 1220
St. Francis of Assisi – Sermon to the Birds is one of the most notable short speeches in history. Addressing his audiences, he said, ‘My little sisters, the birds, you are bound much to God, your Creator, and always in every place you ought to praise Him, for that He has given you liberty to fly about everywhere … and because you do not know how to spin or sow, God clothes you, you and your children; therefore your Creator loves you much, seeing that He has bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and learn always to give praises to God.’
10. King George V speech
In 1932 King George delivered the first live radio broadcast Christmas message. The speech was written by Rudyard Kipling. The King said, ‘Through one of the marvels of modern Science, I am enabled, this Christmas Day, to speak to all my peoples throughout the Empire … I speak now from my home and from my heart to you all. To men and women so cut off by the snows, the desert or the sea that only voices out of the air can reach them; to those cut off from fuller life by blindness, sickness, or infirmity; and to those who are celebrating this day with their children and grand-children. To all – to each I wish a Happy Christmas. God Bless You!’
Writing of the long and short speeches is not proportionately arduous and time consuming, the latter being time consuming out of proportion. Mark Twain’s words conclusively reflect upon the difficulty in writing a short speech. He said, ‘If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.’