[On] Point to Ponder: The Mastery of The Gettysburg Address

I am lucky to have extended family in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. That means that during our visits, we don’t have to explore the jewels of this Civil War town in one fell swoop. We get to discover it piece by piece, one visit at a time. Each year, the week before we travel, I watch Martin Sheen and Jeff Daniels in the film Gettysburg, to refresh my memory about the pivotal events that took place here more than 150 years ago. It makes my visit mean more.

There is absolutely a sacred and hallowed ground here in Gettysburg. As you know, it was by far the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Looking across the landscape is like being in a time machine of sorts. As your eyes scan across the fields, you can almost see and hear the tens of thousands of soldiers who marched to their deaths on Day 3 of the battle, known as Pickett’s Charge. Almost. Because the truth is, I cannot even begin to imagine the sights and sounds.

With over 51,000 dead or wounded, more men fought and died on these fields than an in any other place in United States before or since. It served as the turning point of the Civil War, and ironically took place on July 1, 2 and 3 of 1863.

Soldiers retreated on the 4th of July.

Gettysburg is also the location where one of the most famous speeches in United States history was delivered; they were just “a few short remarks” that followed the keynote speaker (who spoke at great length). Indeed, when Abraham Lincoln arrived by train and delivered his short speech at the cemetery dedication on November 19 of that year, he could never know the impact of the 272 words he would speak that day.

Many mistakenly believe that Lincoln hurriedly scratched these words on a napkin in a hotel room just hours before delivering them at Cemetery Hill. This could not be further from the truth. Rather, Lincoln had been deep in thought about the impact of the war for months on end. Long before this address, he had tirelessly searched for the right words to convey his thoughts and provide help for a deeply divided, hurting nation.

The Gettysburg Address is one of the hallmarks of presidential rhetoric. We all know this to be true, but what makes it so? It is because Lincoln combined – in a truly masterful way – the four components of the rhetorical situation – speaker, audience, message, and occasion.

To craft a memorable, effective message requires more than time to scratch ideas onto a napkin or a post-it note. We may be tempted to think that in these days of lightning speed technology and short attention spans that high quality messaging is a thing of the past. We may think people won’t notice our hard work…our exceptional story, speech, or keynote.

This simply isn’t true. In the same way that Lincoln had been drafting The Gettysburg address for months, great speakers mull over their words, phrases, ideas and stories for a long time before perfecting its shape and style.


The same is true for us today; masterful investor pitches, keynotes, and TED talks require more advanced thinking. Such speaking events cannot be thrown together the way you can throw together a quick tossed salad. The “recipe for success” when it comes to truly great oratory is more like my grandmother’s Polish nut roll recipe; it takes planning, shopping (for words and ideas), the dough (rough draft) has to “sit” for part of the time and “rise” (editing, rehearsing), and only after careful preparation and watchfulness can it be enjoyed by the crowd.

Today let us pause to remember Lincoln’s powerful words, but let us remember even more the reason he spoke them. May God bless all who serve this great country.

Cindy Skalicky is an expert public speaking coach, brand consultant and the owner of On Point Communications, LLC. She coaches speakers on storytelling techniques, speech writing, delivery, and overall content development. Master the Message. Learn more at www.onpoint-communications.com or contact Cindy at: info@onpoint-communications.com

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