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On Speaking Well

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  438 ratings  ·  47 reviews
For anyone who fears the thought of writing and giving a speech--be it to business associates, or at a wedding--help is at hand. Acclaimed presidential speechwriter Peggy Noonan shares her secrets to becoming a confidence, persuasive speaker demystifying topics including:

Finding you own authentic voice

Developing a text that interest you

Acing the all-important first paragra
Paperback, 224 pages
Published February 17th 1999 by William Morrow Paperbacks
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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Apr 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
I can’t really say that I found Peggy Noonan’s “On Speaking Well” particularly useful — I grabbed a copy because she was a former speechwriter for Presidents Reagan and Bush (the first).

If you’re ever in the business of writing for someone else, you’re probably better off reading books like “Kennedy” by Theodore Sorensen (which I actually started yesterday).

Sometimes, you can learn more about what might work simply by reading about someone else’s experience rather than reading a reference book l
With a week off from work for the holidays, I have undertaken a reading binge. Remembering there was a list of books I had highlighted on my Amazon Wish List, I decided to knock them out.

Peggy Noonan is a well-respected speech writer of Reagan and Bush 41, among others. The little I have read/seen of her made a favorable impression. As an aspiring speaker (ha!), I had this book as something to read.

Like all books, it seems, on public speaking, this book attempts to do it all. And because of that
Aug 09, 2007 rated it liked it
i think she's an amazingly talented speech writer, i read her stuff for Reagan quite often, and i enjoyed the book's style...but she could have written with a less partisan bend. ...more
Salem Lorot
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thank you Peggy for this wonderful contribution. This book contains great pieces of advice that I find relevant to my daily work. I like it's presentation. ...more
Deepak Kumar
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book covers the essence of writing and giving a speech. The author has provided lots of examples, although revolving around politics, of an impactful speech. The best takeaways from this book, at least for me, is being yourself when giving a speech, and if possible, use humor whenever you can. Being yourself forces you to speak from your perspective, in a voice that is unique to you. And it doesn't hurt to add humor.

The book covers lot of advices, and even provides a structured way to write
Jun 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: speakers, preachers, writers.
Shelves: finished-in-2018
Excellent book! More than just a dry textbook on writing and delivering speeches. Noonan delivers an excellent blend of humor, information, and practicality. I am already looking forward to reading more of Peggy Noonan's work!

"Remember that the most moving thing in a speech is always the logic—the case you are making, the problem you are outlining, the remedy you believe in and support. Don’t try to move people by manipulating them with phony emotionalism or faux poetry. If you make your case we
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
There are plenty of practical tips for speechwriting here. I don't plan to give a speech any time soon, but I'm glad for the chance to learn. ...more
Nicolás Díaz
Normally I don't read books by more conservative types, so the style of this book was somewhat refreshing.

It is unfortunate that it has been retitled "On Speaking Well", in a clear call-back to Zinsser's brilliant guide "On Writing Well". This isn't the On Writing Well of speeches, but the author clearly had a passion for speech writting and has the experience and the anecdotes to make a book on the subject work.

It is a bit uneven. I particularly hated the ending part. It was supposed to be abou
Jeff Willis
Feb 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I have very mixed feelings about this book. At first, I wanted to give it five stars because the advice she gives about public speaking (which also actually translates remarkably well for creative writing in general) is exceptionally easy to follow and useful. So I was all in on this book for the first quarter of it or so. However, the later parts of the book made me want to give it three stars (or even less) because she does two things that I find infuriating... first, she lets her partisan bia ...more
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, Peg Noonan is associated with The Right and has worked her way through the administrations of Reagan and both Bushes. She traces her development as a speechwriter. There is a slight hint of partisan bias in her assessments of various speakers. Bill Clinton comes under mild (but justifiable) criticism for his speaking skills.
Nevertheless, if you can look past the Republican tint, this is a very useful, practical book. It identifies best practices for both speechwriters and speakers and emph
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: public-speaking
Great book on public speaking by a former speech writer for Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Lots of helpful advice, spiced with interesting stories. Here's a few helpful appetizers:

"The most moving thing in a speech is always the logic."

"Reading is the collecting of intellectual income; writing is the spending of it."

"No one ever left a speech saying, 'he was too witty,' or I hated the way she made me laugh out loud.'"

"Don't worry about being smooth and slick. They're Americans, the
Calum Best
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Noonan provides a basic mental model of speeches. Much of her advice is common sense - you’ll catch yourself thinking “Oh yeah, of course,” not “Wow! I could never have thought of that!” The good sense she gives, common though it is, is useful for my novice-level public speaking ability. A more experienced speaker may not find much of value here.

Aside from the advice, Noonan liberally sprinkles in interesting anecdotes and personal commentary on famous speeches. Some references are obviously dat
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing
Probably useful if you have never written a toast, tribute, eulogy, or actual speech. Much of it is common sense. Noonan couldn't decide whether she wanted to write an advice book, a memoir, or a partisan attack and it shows. Read it if you know nothing and be prepared to skip over large chunks if it becomes irritating. The beginning and the very end are better than the middle. You could probably boil the good parts down to a page or two (if you are willing to skip the examples). ...more
Kate O'Neill
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'll begin with a caveat: I'm a professional speaker, so I found this book both more interesting than someone might who doesn't speak for a living, and less relevant than, say, a politician might. But the parallels between, say, a campaign stump speech and a tech conference keynote are easy enough to draw, and the wisdom available for drawing upon is sound. The insight about getting clear on "what's the policy" is a timeless reminder to focus, and use the occasion of a speech to change minds. Wh ...more
Neil Hunt
Good, even if the examples are a bit dated

Good advice and guidance, although the focus is on giving political speeches than business, workplace, or school talks. Lots of great examples of inspiring examples from 80s and 90s.
Gean Ockels
Jun 30, 2017 rated it liked it
A must-read for speech writers. Good balance between tips & stories.
Joe Poduska
Aug 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent manual for anyone who may be asked to speak before a group. Covers tributes, toasts and eulogies as well. Noonan gives some excellent examples from politics and elsewhere.
Nick Lofthouse
Aug 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Noonan offers more than the title suggests-- she includes historical anecdotes to accompany her keen advice.
Joshua Johnson
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well written in the way that few books are: clear and concise.
Kris Hilburn Williams
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is mostly memoir, with tips for how to speak thrown in. I picked up the book after hearing Noonan speak earlier in the year.
John Majors
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great tips on how to write and deliver a speech. Emphasis seems to be on political speeches, but applies to all. Written by Reagan's former speechwriter. ...more
Sarah Beth Aubrey

Great speechwriters are savants. They play the role of intermediary-walking a tight rope between the mind and ego of the speaker who will deliver the words and the audience members who will hear them. Speechwriters are charged with transcribing another person's thoughts into a vocal presentation that will positively impact those listening. The speech writer helps the speaker deliver an effective message while always striving not to step on said speaker’s toes. It must be an exhausting!

I’ve follo
Kelsey Banerjee
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
Mrs. Noonan's style is surperb. However, I find myself unable to give a high review despite her excellent form and advice.

I decided to read this book to see if it had any tips to reduce anxiety for public speaking. The material wasn't anything new, although her writing is the most concise collection of advice I've read yet.

That wasn't the problem.

Mrs. Noonan is deeply Republican, which normally would not affect my view so long as the substance was strong. That alone was not the issue.

The problem
For anyone who fears the thought of writing and giving a speech--be it to business associates, or at a wedding--help is at hand. Acclaimed presidential speechwriter Peggy Noonan shares her secrets to becoming a confidence, persuasive speaker demystifying topics including:/ / • Finding you own authentic voice/ • / • Developing a text that interest you/ • / • Acing the all-important first paragraph/ • / • Using logic to move your audience/ • / • Creating, developing, and reinventing the "core spee ...more
David Rodeback
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I worked my way through college as a speech writer, among other things. Peggy Noonan is in the pantheon of speech writers, largely on the strength of her work on major speeches by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. I’ve enjoyed her books, her syndicated columns, and — a few years ago — hearing her in person at BYU. So I thought I might enjoy this thin tome, and I’m pleased to report I was right.

She writes about how to prepare and deliver a speech, and how to write speeches for other
May 25, 2016 rated it liked it
For anyone who has given or written a speech, you will surely find some nuggets to fine-tune either or both of those abilities. The book, however, lacked focus. It alternated between speechwriting and speech-giving. Albeit, the two often go hand-in-hand, but Noonan alternated between them in a not so organized manner, particularly at times when the two subject matters could have (and should have been) separated. If you are looking for a book about the mechanics of speechwriting and/or speech giv ...more
Sep 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
Writing of any type is both a science and an art. The art is what's developed over time as you learn your own style through observation and practice. So, I expected a bit more of the science to come through in this book than actually did. The advice boiled down to 1) don't be afraid 2) think logically about the case you're making, and make it 3) don't try to imitate others, rather find your own voice 4) don't write to try to elicit a certain response 5) use humor when you can and 6) practice you ...more
Joe Miller
Apr 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This will rank among the most influential books of my life. It's given me an entirely new (and improved) perspective on writing and political rhetoric.

Even if you're not a speech writer, or not planning to give a speech, it's worth reading if only to understand why Obama's a good speaker and Hillary is not.
Meg Cusack
Mar 31, 2010 added it
Recommends it for: people who want to learn how to speak well and not bore people at a presentation!
I learned: no speech should go longer than 20 minutes; stick to one subject;every speech has a job to do; people like short digressions; to achieve true adulthood is to understand the simplicity of things.
Some good tips in the book but I didn't finish it all. Would have liked the cliff note version!
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Peggy Noonan is an author of seven books on politics, religion and culture, a weekly columnist for The Wall Street Journal, and was a Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. She is considered a political conservative.

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“Hubert Humphrey’s wife is said to have advised him: “Darling, for a speech to be immortal it need not be interminable.” 2 likes
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