Young Leaders Network: The Art of Presidential Speechwriting
The Art of Speechwriting: A Conversation with Presidential Speechwriters
Campaign speeches and presidential communications have distinct goals. While stump speeches are in front of a more friendly crowd, allowing the candidate to promote his or her policy goals, presidential speeches have a wider, more diverse audience that may limit what goals the president can promote. Former presidential speechwriters on how they tackled this issue and what strategies they used to write memorable and historic speeches for former Presidents.
The John Brademas Center at New York University, as part of the 2018 Young Leaders Network series, hosted a dialogue with John P. McConnell, former speechwriter to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and June Shih, former speechwriter to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The pair discussed their own experiences of writing historic presidential and campaign speeches. The event was moderated by Vaughn Hillyard, Political Reporter at NBC News.
This free event was open to all Congressional interns and members of the public.
John P. McConnell
John P. McConnell served more than ten years on the White House staff, in two administrations. As a senior speechwriter for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, he was part of the three-person team responsible for all of the 43rd President’s major addresses.
In the Bush-Cheney White House, John held the unique position of both Deputy Assistant to the President and Assistant to the Vice President. In his career he has also worked as a principal speechwriter for Vice President Dan Quayle, 1996 presidential nominee Bob Dole, and 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
John is a former resident fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, in the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is a trustee of Wayland Academy and serves as chairman of the selection committee for the annual Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency.
A lifelong political enthusiast, John was a page in the United States Senate under the sponsorship of Senator William Proxmire. He grew up in Bayfield, Wisconsin and is a graduate of Wayland Academy, Carleton College, and Yale Law School.
June Shih is a writer and lawyer with nearly 25 years’ experience in speechwriting, communication and public policy. She began her career as a cops and courts reporter for a Florida newspaper, but left to assist then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton with her syndicated newspaper column and speeches. In 1997, she became a Special Assistant to the President and Presidential Speechwriter, writing speeches for President Bill Clinton on a range of issues from civil rights and race relations to education and health care policy. After serving as chief speechwriter for Mrs. Clinton’s first U.S. Senate campaign in 2000, June attended law school and then practiced law in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. From 2011-2014, she served in the Obama Administration as a Senior Advisor in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, helping to shape initiatives on global women’s leadership and girls’ education. She also served as an expert on East Asian affairs and managed bilateral dialogues with Chinese, Korean, and Japanese counterparts. June is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and holds a B.A., magna cum laude, from Harvard University, and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.
This August, June will join the leadership team of NYU-Shanghai as Director of University Communications.
Vaughn Hillyard, NBC News
Vaughn Hillyard is an award winning journalist and Political Reporter for NBC News, notably covering the special election Senate race in Alabama between Roy Moore and Doug Jones and the entirety of the 2016 presidential campaign as an embedded reporter, from the Iowa coffee shop stops to election night at Trump HQ in New York. Vaughn first started at NBC News in July 2013 as a Tim Russert fellow.
Vaughn began his journalism career in Arizona at AZ Fact Check, Arizona Republic, Channel 12 News and AZCentral.
Vaughn attended Arizona State University, where he received a Bachelor’s and master’s degree in journalism.