150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Just ten sentences and 273 words, it stands as perhaps the greatest example of the power of simplicity, of quality over quantity and of how brevity will always triumph over verbosity.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln took just 2 minutes to deliver his address. He spoke after Edward Everett, one of the great speakers of the day, had finished his two-hour “oration”. Everett’s words are little-remembered. Lincoln’s will never be forgotten.
It seems more than a little crass to associate such an important event as The Gettysburg Address with business, but if Nancy Duarte can do it with Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, I don’t see why I can’t stress the point again. The best way to get people to remember your words is to use as few of them as you can and to maximise the impact of each and every one.
(There was an excellent piece by Jim Naughtie on the Today Programme this morning about Gettysburg. You can catch it here.)