It has been 150 years since President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, a closing chapter of the Civil War. If you Google the address you will find the frank but healing words of the president.  What you may not see unless you search further will be the documents themselves of this surprisingly brief but profound speech.

The speech, delivered among hail and rain on a muddy Pennsylvania Avenue at the Capitol, is said to have taken about ten minutes to write and contains just 703 words.  Unlike Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, given four years earlier as the war was underway for which there are about a dozen drafts, there are no drafts of the second speech– only one written and one typeset version.

I had the great joy of seeing all four pages of the very carefully hand written speech and typeset version at the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, in Washington, D.C.   To celebrate the 150th anniversary, the speech was on display for four days, the first time all four pages were shown together since 1959.  Our tour guide lovingly explained this was to protect this precious national treasure.

Aside from the personal inspiration gained from reading the words I felt I gained two lessons as a professional.  First was the courage of a leader to make a speech, which he thought would not be what his listeners wanted to hear.  They wanted a theme of unilateral blame of the south but rather he spoke a frank message but one of reconciliation.  Leadership is about being able to say what might not be popular to those who hear it and to deliver it in a way that makes possible a better tomorrow.

Secondly I was stuck with President Lincoln’s careful preparation and keen understanding of the power of delivery.  The hand written version was so painstakingly written, almost like the format of a poem, so that the type setter would know exactly how the President wanted it graphically laid out. There were large spaces between thoughts to cue pauses and emphasis.  For example, the four words “and the war came” were spaced separately and deeply indented to cue President Lincoln for a moment of silence from what came before and after those words. He had the typesetter prepare it as he laid it out and in two vertical columns on a paper folded down the middle.  The photograph, the only one of President Lincoln giving a speech, shows him holding this folded paper.

It is known that poetry is meant to be read.  Great presentations, like poems, are delivered with timing and expression. As Cabel Greet, the linguist at Columbia, explains, “The real poem is in the performance.” and so too in many ways the real message is in the performance which cues the receptors of the listeners.

Recently I heard a best selling author make a speech about his long awaited book.  He is to my thinking a brilliant writer but the audience was bored, restless, and unimpressed.  His delivery was awful—so much so that any coach listening would want to call him and try to help.  At the end of this lecture series there are almost always long lines to buy the book.  Not so at all for this author.  Certainly strong content is essential, but pacing and tone are vital to making a message stick and inspire action or change.

On a personal note when my nephew Dylan recited his assigned poem to his 5th grade calls he momentarily forgot the last line.  That pause helped earn him an A+ which his teach described as an important dramatic pause.  The bottom line is delivery brings things to life and gets the message across.  Content aside one of the marks of top salespeople is their ability to tell their story using tone, pauses, breaks, and emphasis to make their story their listeners.

To honor the 150th anniversary I would like to end with President Lincoln’s immortal words of reconcillations:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.