Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Word cloud of President-Elect Joe Biden's Victory Speech, November 7, 2020
The United States of America and the rest of the world just watched a presidential victory speech which received accolades from both sides of the aisle—something of a small miracle in this political climate. Regardless of political affiliation, the best presidential victory speeches have several core elements in common. Not only that, but you can apply them to your internal and external communications when delivering good news, acknowledging people, or beginning a new project or pivot in your organization. Here’s how:
1. Unify. This is a time to bring people together and a time for graciousness. Victorious candidates acknowledge the other side’s efforts and virtues. You can discuss the nature of the obstacles and challenges you’ve overcome as a team, which have brought you closer together and made you stronger.
“Not very long ago I received a telephone call from President Bush. It was a generous and forthcoming telephone call of real congratulations and an offer to work with me in keeping our democracy running in an effective and important transition. I want all of you to join with me tonight in expressing our gratitude to President Bush for his lifetime of public service, for the effort he made from the time he was a young soldier in World War II to help bring about an end to the Cold War, to our victory in the Gulf War, to the grace with which he conceded the results of this election tonight in the finest American tradition. Let’s give Mr. Bush and his family a hand.” Bill Clinton, Nov 4, 1992 The Old State House, Little Rock, AK
2. Express gratitude for the support that propelled you to success. Every winning candidate knows a campaign is not a 1-person endeavor, and so should every executive. Specifically, name people who have moved your efforts forward and those who have put in extraordinary amounts of effort. Then thank everyone in general, citing specifics and using descriptive words.
“And now, all across America there are some people that I owe a great debt of thanks to. They’re meeting tonight in our national headquarters in Arlington, Virginia: the national committee people, the dedicated professionals who’ve made the campaign run. And in every state, in the counties, the cities and the precincts, to all of them who worked so tirelessly, literally hundreds of thousands of volunteers, and I’ve seen them at work throughout the country on this campaign, I just owe them an immeasurable debt of thanks.”
Ronald Reagan, Nov 4, 1980 Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles
3. Pledge bold action. A campaign victory—or any victory—is just the beginning. People want to know what’s next and they need to see that you are ready and able to carry the torch into uncharted and promising territory. Go bold and go big. This is not the time to get too far into the weeds. Instead, signal that more information will be forthcoming in due time. For now focus on the big picture—like your priorities, values, overarching goals, and what you believe will drive your success as a team.
“We will continue our economic progress. We’ll reform our outdated tax code. We’ll strengthen the Social Security for the next generation. We’ll make public schools all they can be. And we will uphold our deepest values of family and faith. We’ll help the emerging democracies of Iraq and Afghanistan…so they can grow in strength and defend their freedom. And then our servicemen and women will come home with the honor they have earned. With good allies at our side, we will fight this war on terror with every resource of our national power so our children can live in freedom and in peace.”
George W Bush, Nov 4, 2004 Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington D.C.
4. Envision a new future. This is the most celebratory and inspirational part of the speech. Remind people what all the effort has been for. What are the payoffs? How will this make a difference for people individually and for your community, market, or the world as a whole? Refer to historical precedent. Enjoy this part and make sure it inspires you too. This way you heighten everyone’s appreciation of the success at hand.
“This is our moment. This is our time—to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.”
Barack Obama, Nov 4, 2008 Grant Park, Chicago
5. Share something personally impactful. There are very few things more powerful than a leader sharing something genuinely meaningful to him or her. This will often be the “soundbite” or most remembered part of your speech. Remember the adage: People don’t always remember what you say, but they always remember how you made them feel. This is your opportunity to share part of your story (or a story) that inspires you. It could also be a long-held dream or commitment.
“In the last days of the campaign, I’ve been thinking about a hymn that means a lot to me and to my family, particularly my deceased son Beau. It captures the faith that sustains me and which I believe sustains America: And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His hand.”
Joseph R. Biden, November 7, 2020 Chase Center, Wilmington, DE
“And to the woman most responsible for my presence here today—my mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who is always in our hearts. When she came here from India at the age of 19, maybe she didn’t quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible. So, I’m thinking about her and about the generations of women—Black Women, Asian, White, Latina, and Native American throughout our nation’s history who have paved the way for this moment tonight.”
Kamala Harris, Nov 7, 2020 Chase Center, Wilmington, CE