Washington speechwriter gives Weiss Lecture at Southeast

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Washington, D.C., speechwriter Michael Long, of the White House Writers Group and Georgetown University, delivered the 13th annual Emil C. Weiss Lecture on Tuesday at Southeast Missouri State University. Long, a Southeast Missouri native, imparted wisdom garnered by writing speeches for the likes of George W. Bush and Jerry Seinfeld to a crowded Rose Theatre.

Long served as chief speechwriter for Sen. Fred Thompson, where he learned the importance of leaving an audience with one or two key points.

"People should walk away with only one thought: 'That man would make a great president'," Long said of writing Thompson's speeches.

Long admitted to hating political speeches and refusing to listen them. He compared the goal of the speechwriter to delivering a painful injection.

"The idea is to get through it as quickly as possible," Long said.

He stressed the importance of creating structure and advising the audience of how far along they were in the speech.

Long said he teaches his graduate students at Georgetown the importance of injecting as much emotion as possible into a speech, because emotion will always trump fact.

Long wrote Thompson's half of the daily radio debate Face Off against Sen. Ted Kennedy and directed preparation for Thompson's mock presidential debates against Sen. Bob Dole.

He said working as the Tennessee senator's sole speechwriter, which he did from 1996 to 1998, was "very exciting."

Long holds a degree in physics and math from Murray State University and worked as a stand-up comic while attending graduate school at Vanderbilt University.

He eventually came back to writing as a career, something he'd always enjoyed doing as a child but didn't think he could make enough money at, he said.

He began writing to speechwriters whose work he admired and asking them for advice.

"It turns out that speechwriters don't get a lot of fan mail — which means if you write to them, they will write you back," he said.

The lecture is named for Emil C. Weiss, a professor in Speech and English at St. Paul's College in Concordia, Mo. Weiss graduated from the Cape Girardeau Normal School, now Southeast, and received a graduate degree from the University of Missouri.

bicosmo@semissourian.com

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