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Communication lessons from the Challenger Space Shuttle speech (pt 1) – the uplifting power of words

If you need to craft an empowering message in difficult times – you can learn a lot from Ronald Reagan’s famous and powerful speech/address to the nation after the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster – 28 years ago.

challenger disaster

The speech is included as one of the most powerful speeches by the wonderful speech resource – American Rhetoric.

The words still live with me today because of Peggy Noonan’s  brilliant writing AND Ronald Reagan’s masterful delivery.

There’s a link at the end of this post to American Rhetoric that includes the video and the transctipt.

I encourage you to listen to the speech and read the transcript. As you do notice these communication techniques  that can help you when you need to deliver an empowering message in difficult circumstances.

word nerd CU

In my opinion, as a political and corporate speechwriter, this address is so powerful for so many reasons. I’ll start with this post and continue in later posts.

These are techniques you can use too.

1. The power of poetic devices – the assuring sounds of words.

Certain lines from this address really stand out to me – because of the sound of the words die to poetic devices such as the repetition of sounds.

The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.

The first part sets up the alliteration and the pattern.

The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted

The second part is a strong, sturdy message – that “sounds” solid and true.

it (the future)  belongs to the brave

Then there is the “beautiful and poetic” line at the end – borrowed from “High Flight” by American aviator and poet John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

The sound of the words makes the message memorable.

By borrowing from the poem, the address, in my opinion, leaves the audience uplifted – that the Challenger crew members have slipped the surly bonds of earth and have touched the face of God.

That’s the last “mental image” we have from the words in the address.

With poetic devices – you don’t want to over-do it. Too much alliteration draws attention to itself.

I think in this speech – the use of alliteration made the messages memorable – without being over the top.

What do you think?

What are the moments of the address that you remember the most? – if you saw the address back in 1986 or if you have seen it for the first time recently.

Please add you views to the comments below.

I’m an Australian not an American.  I see the merits of great speeches by both Democratic and Republican leaders (and their speechwriters.)

I’m writing here about the power of the poetic devices  and rhetorical devices – not the politics of the time.

This speech is one of my “favourite” speeches because of the power of the words.

I’m a real speechwriting “nerd” – and Peggy Noonan is one of my “heroes” – along with JFK’s Ted Sorensen.

I am so impressed how speech writers use the power of words to  make messages memorable and to help leaders reassure in times of trouble.

Imagine the pressure of having to write the Challenger Address?

Peggy Noonan with Reagan

(Peggy Noonan with Ronald Reagan)

Here’s the link to the address:

Challenger Address – American Rhetoric


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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 1) – the uplifting power of words

  1. efangelist
    January 22, 2015

    Reblogged this on efangelist.

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This entry was posted on January 29, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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