Accueil > Political speechwriting


Type d'enseignement : Seminar

Semester : Autumn 2017-2018

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English

Voir les plans de cours et bibliographies


Fluent in English. Interest for political debating. Good historical culture.

Course Description

“Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion. This is not a function of any other art. Every other art can instruct or persuade about its own particular subject-matter… But rhetoric we look upon as the power of observing the means of persuasion on almost any subject presented to us; and that is why we say that, in its technical character, it is not concerned with any special or definite class of subjects” (Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book I chapter 2). This short passage of Aristotle's Rhetoric shows us that a speech, any speech is before all aimed at producing an effect on the other(s). One tries to get the other(s) act in a certain way. This is called the performative dimension of the speech. Whatever the subject or the aim, whatever the medium, rhetoric is the art of minimizing the distance between me and the other one; to make it as small as possible, by creating bonds between “us”. Conversely it is also the art of maximizing this distance with the opponent(s) or rival(s), by creating boundaries between “us” and “them”. Creating a “we-group” by these two means is exactly what one does in love affairs, in a business agreement, or in a political debate. It is this field of the political debate which this course focuses on, taking multiple examples of political speeches ranging from the Greek democracy to the latest speeches (with a special interest for the American presidential campaign and the “hot” international issues). The secret of this art have long been studied and, despite the change in names and fashions, are known since the times of ancient Greece and Rome. The simultaneous birth of politics and rhetoric is by no means a coincidence. Objective of the course: The aim of this course is to provide the students with an appropriate “toolbox” in order to understand and use the various effects of political rhetoric on us, ranging from the structure of the speech to the stylistic devices and the strategy of argumentation.


DE VOOGD, Christophe (Enseignant-chercheur, Sciences Po)

Pedagogical format

Lecturing 30%; case studies: 30%; oral presentations by the students 40%.

Course validation

Oral presentation 1/4 ; Speech commentary1/4 ; Final exam (writing of a speech) 1/2 ; Bonus for participation 1 to 2 points of the final grade.


Average load : The students will have to read speeches and a short list of articles and books. They will have to participate in class intensely in interaction with the teacher. The full impact of the course requires a constant and vivid interest for international issues and news.

Required reading

Please refer to the syllabus

Plans de cours et bibliographies

Working agenda

  • Immediate perception of the political speech (2 sessions)
  • The five “golden rules” of the political speech (2 sessions)
  • Midterm:  speech commentary (1 session)
  • Arguing and refuting (3 sessions)
  • Expression and formulation (3 sessions)
  • “Do-it-yourself!”: Writing a political speech (Final exam)


Basic ancient theoretical texts (on the web)

  • Plato, Gorgias,
  • Aristotle, Rhetoric
  • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria
  • Cicero. De Oratore

Some great political speakers (on the web)

  • Pericles in Thucydides: The Peloponnesian War
  • Cicero : Catilina
  • Bossuet : Oraisons funèbres
  • Charles de Gaulle : Discours et messages, Plon 1970
  • Winston Churchill: (in particular the War and immediate post-war speeches) and Never Give In ! The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches, 2004
  • François Mitterrand:
  • Barack Obama: (in particular speeches in Philadelphia, Berlin, Cairo, the “victory speech” of Chicago 2008 and the various speeches at the White House correspondents dinners)
  • NB : A play based on the power of political speech : Julius Cesar by Shakespeare

Secundary Literature

  • Gallo, Carmine, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs New York, 2010
  • Gallo Carmine, Talk Like Ted: the 9 Public Speaking Secrets, New York 2014
  • Colette, Peter, The Book of Tells, London, 2003
  • Cook, Jeff Stock, The Elements of speechwriting and public speaking, New York, 1991
  • Zarefsky, David, Public Speaking: Strategies for Success, Needham Heights 1996
  • Bijou-Duval, Delhay Cyril, Tous orateurs, Paris, Eyrolles, 2011
  • Michel Meyer : La rhétorique, Presses Universitaires de France, coll. Que sais-je? n° 2133 , Paris, 2004
  • Chaïm Perelman : The Realm of Rhetoric, Univeristy of Notre Dame, 1982,
  • Hannah Pitkin: The Concept of Representation, Berkeley, 1972
  • Michel Foucault : L’Ordre du discours, Paris, 1971

Biographical information

Christophe de Voogd (PhD, Faculty member, History Department), a former political adviser and speechwriter himself, teaches political speechwriting at Sciences Po Paris (master “affaires publiques”, PSIA, and in Brussels (European Council of Ministers). He comments regularly on political rhetoric in the French media.