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Communication lessons from the Challenger Space Shuttle speech (pt 2)- plan your purpose

If you need to write a speech for yourself or for someone else – you can learn a lot from the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster speech delivered by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.

challenger disaster

When I train writers in speechwriting – this is one of the speeches I often refer to.

I refer to it for so many reasons :

  • the powerful use of poetic devices
  • the uplifting conclusion, and
  • the sense of purpose.

word nerd CU

I write as an Australian speechwriter  and writing trainer – writing this  “from afar”  – yet this detachment can give you an unbiased analysis.

This post is about how you can  plan your speech so your speech achieves it’s purpose.

The great resource for Speeches –  American Rhetoric –  lists The Challenger speech as one of the greatest in history.

There’s a link at the end this – post so you can watch the video of the address and read the transcript.

Plan your purpose:

When the Challenger disaster happened, the US was in shock. This was the first time there had been deaths in flight.

President Reagan needed to address the nation – an comfort and reassure the people.

The purpose of the speech was (partly) to “mourn and remember” – as Reagan says early in the speech.

The speech goes on to mourn and remember.

In my opinion – there was another purpose – to reassure the nation and the shell-shocked NASA “workers” – that, despite the tragedy,  space exploration would continue.

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How to extract the purpose of the speech

When I help people write speeches (or write speeches for them), I ask:

What’s the purpose of the speech?

How do you want the audience to “feel”?

What is the main message you want to get across.

It’s as if the writer Peggy Noonan asked herself similar questions. (She was such an experienced writer –  so she probably planned the speech instinctively.)

In my mind’s eye – I imagine her writing down the main message/s.

This is not the end of the space program.

Have faith.

Be brave.

You can study the speech in full via the link at the end of this post.

You can see the messages of  faith, continuation and “more” to come.

“We’ll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews…Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.”


(I grew up inspired by NASA – and the space program – and I’m not even American. I remember the Challenger disaster so vividly – and being moved by Reagan’s Challenger address)

If you are interested in other posts about this remarkable speech here are links:

Challenger speech – the power of uplifting words

And here’s the link to the American Rhetoric resource.

American Rhetoric – Challenger Speech

I encourage you, when you write a speech – take time to think about the purpose of the speech and what you want the speech to achieve.

I also encourage you to jot down short messages distilling the essence of your messages. These can then be worked into the speech.

Nothing ends here – our hopes and our journeys continue.


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I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious  business communication tips.



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These days, lots of people and organisations need help with how to COPE with too much work, too much information, too many meetings, delivering difficult news etc.   I like to help people COPE.




One comment on “Communication lessons from the Challenger Space Shuttle speech (pt 2)- plan your purpose

  1. efangelist
    January 29, 2017

    Reblogged this on efangelist.

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