Whoever holds the mantle of President of the United States takes on a great responsibility. As the “Leader of the Free World”, the US President influences global events like few others.
But they must never forget their duties at home.
It is the desire to ensure all Americans carried out their duties that inspired the speech this article examines.
Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most influential Presidents in American history. Some say he was a true romantic and Renaissance man. Others believed him to be almost adolescent in the way he carried himself.
What no-one could deny is that he had a very powerful personality. Roosevelt stood behind his beliefs like few others. The importance of political engagement was one of his most deeply-held beliefs. In his “Duties of American Citizenship Speech”, he expressed those beliefs in remarkable ways.
We’re going to look at the techniques he used in a moment. First, let’s examine the man himself.
Who Was Theodore Roosevelt?
Between 1901 and 1909, Theodore Roosevelt served as the 26th President of the United States.
His actions during that period show us the kind of man that he was. While never afraid to fight for what he believed in, Roosevelt desired peace above all else. He played a crucial part in ending the Russo-Japanese War, which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.
And his progressive policies at home cemented him as one of the most beloved Presidents.
His Square Deal epitomised this progressiveness. In it, Roosevelt argued for:
- Control of major corporations
- Protection of the United States’ natural resources
- Protection for all American consumers
In this sense, he was a man far ahead of his times. Roosevelt fought for the rights of workers and consumers alike to protect them from corporate greed.
His belief system was his driving force in everything that he did. Roosevelt is often held up as a figure of masculinity because of his desire to inspire all men to be more. His constant warnings of complacency were a reflection of this belief.
But it may be his belief in civic duty that stood above all else. Roosevelt strongly believed that only a good person could be a good citizen. With this belief, he made the argument that all good people should engage in their civic duties. These are duties that never end and participation in politics is an important part of them.
It is this belief that served as the subject of the speech that this article analyses.
Interestingly, Roosevelt delivered this speech long before he took his nation’s most important office. This shows that his belief in civic duty was not something that he adopted to seem like a better President.
It was something he truly believed in. It’s that authenticity that made him such an important influencer.
The Techniques that Roosevelt Used to Inspire Americans
So, what made “Duties of American Citizenship Speech” such an effective speech?
Roosevelt employed several speaking techniques masterfully to engage his audience. Here, we examine five of them.
Technique #1 – He Got to the Point
As a speaker, your words are your power. Unfortunately, it’s easy to let your talent with words get away from you. If your speech goes off on tangents or takes too long to get to a point, you lose the audience’s attention.
Roosevelt understood this, which is why he got straight to the point:
“No man can be a good citizen who is not a good husband and a good father, who is not honest in his dealings with other men and women, faithful to his friends and fearless in the presence of his foes, who has not got a sound heart, a sound mind, and a sound body; exactly as no amount of attention to civil duties will save a nation if the domestic life is undermined…”
That is the first passage of the speech.
Roosevelt established his key thread early. He talks about what makes a good man and creates a link between that and civic duty. This is the thread that runs throughout the speech.
It’s crucial that you grab your audience’s attention as quickly as possible. Avoid meandering around a subject. Create your key thread early and use it to underpin the rest of the speech.
Technique #2 – He Uses Strong Language
There is no room for compromise in Roosevelt’s speech. He’s quick to call out all who don’t engage in politics when he says “they are unfit to live in a free community.”
The strength of the language used here shows that Roosevelt truly believes in what he’s saying. This lends his words a level of authority that he would not achieve if he’d been more reserved in his delivery.
You don’t have to be confrontational in the way that you speak. But if your words lack conviction, your audience will question your authenticity. They’ll also question if you’re really an authority on the subject.
The use of such powerful language establishes Roosevelt as a man who knows what he’s talking about. This means that he’s a man who’s worth listening to.
Technique #3 – His Passion is Evident
A less skilled speaker may have struggled to strike a balance with Roosevelt’s speech.
The messages he delivers are often harsh in nature. Some could even call them accusatory, such as when he says:
“…the young man of means who shirks his duty to the State in time of peace as being only one degree worse than the man who thus shirks it in time of war.”
During the speech, he also outlines several of the excuses that people often make when they choose not to engage in politics. He repeatedly comes back to this idea of shirking duties and marks it out as a reprehensible thing.
The issue with such statements is that they can come off as condescending. People don’t like getting told that they’re wrong and they’ll disengage from a lecture.
The key is that Roosevelt does all of this with passion. This is where his true belief in his words comes into play again. Without that belief, his audience would not see him as authentic and would quickly disengage from him.
The lesson here is that you cannot deliver a lesson through your speaking if you don’t have passion behind your words. That passion comes from your own belief in the story that you’re sharing.
The audience can tell if an influencer tries to speak about subjects that mean little to them. But if they can feel your belief dripping from every word, they’ll engage even if they don’t agree.
Technique #4 – He Provided Actionable Steps
It wasn’t just Roosevelt’s passion that prevented his speech from becoming a lecture. He understood that it was not enough to tell people the error of their ways.
He needed to show them what they could do to become good citizens.
Take the passage where he outlines the American citizen’s duties as an example:
“The first duty of an American citizen, then, is that he shall work in politics; his second duty is that he shall do that work in a practical manner, and his third is that it shall be done in accord with the highest principles of honour and justice.”
Roosevelt provides actionable steps that he explains in other portions of the speech.
Telling a story may engage your audience. However, if you leave them with no way to take action on your words, your influence fades quickly.
Technique #5 – He Unites His Audience Behind His Purpose
Roosevelt had no time for questions of creed or colour when it came to civic duty. He demonstrated these in the closing moments of his speech when he said:
“…questions of race origin, like questions of creed, must not be considered: we wish to do good work, and we are all Americans, pure and simple.”
He’s telling his audience that he’s speaking to every American, regardless of their race or background. In doing so, he’s establishing that these issues don’t matter when it comes to civic duty.
All must unite behind the principle of doing what’s required of a citizen of the United States.
While you may not have to confront such prejudices in your own speaking, there’s still a valuable lesson to learn here. Every member of your audience has a different story. Some may even doubt that they can achieve what you believe they can achieve. Making it clear that you want to unite everyone you speak to behind your key thread will inspire others into action.
Become a Powerful Speaker
There are aspects of Roosevelt’s speech that may seem archaic to the modern speaker. It’s quite long and uses complex language at many points.
However, this is a commentary on what people expected of speakers at the time rather than a commentary on Roosevelt’s skill.
These are just some of the techniques that you can use to improve your own efforts to influence others. Speakers Institute can show you many more.
Start by doing the following: