2 key takeaways from Pope Francis’ speech to Congress

The pontiff employed a tandem of important techniques to engage his audience and convey a resonant message.

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Pope Francis’ first-ever papal address to Congress provides an artful example of two key elements of speech content: audience adaptation and speech structure.

Let’s look at these two vital components:

1. Audience adaption

Many leaders have stock speeches to which they add a few local references in the introduction as well as an anecdote or two that will resonate with listeners and support main ideas in the speech body.

In contrast to that superficial type of audience adaptation, the pope’s address clearly was crafted with Congress and the American people in mind. It was not a stump speech.

Careful consideration of the audience started with a reference to the national anthem in his the opening line, when the pope expressed gratitude “for your invitation to address this joint session of Congress in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.'” He continued to connect with American audience members in the introduction of his speech by noting, “I, too, am a son of this great continent.”

The pope also adapted his speech to his immediate surroundings, motioning to the relief portrait of Moses in the U.S. House chamber and saying of the lawmakers before him, “Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses.”

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