By Tim Hayes [www.timhayesconsulting.com]
It gets me every time.
At the end of “Field of Dreams,” when Kevin Costner’s character, with a hitch in his throat, says to his back-from-the-dead-on-the-magical-baseball-field father, “Hey…Dad? You want to have a catch?” My eyes well up. Every time. And I’ve seen that movie probably 50 times or more.
For many people, favorite movies launch the tear ducts into action. Another one for me is at the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” when Jimmy Stewart’s brother says, “Good idea, Ernie – a toast! To my big brother George…the richest man in town!” For a lot of ladies, it’s the final scene from “An Affair to Remember,” when Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr meet at the top of the Empire State Building. You probably have an example or two, as well.
People cry for lots of reasons – joy, relief, loss, inspiration. Great screenwriters know how to steer an audience to tears through character development, a great story arc that carries emotions along to a climactic moment. There’s a real art to this, and the classic movies become classics because of that artistic excellence.
Yet the need and the urge to shed tears can happen anywhere, given the proper context.
I’ve been in conference rooms where people’s emotions began to rise to the teary surface. One evening, a fellow classmate in a business development seminar spoke of the loss of her best friend, and that the reason she started her business was to make sure other people didn’t go through that same experience without having the opportunity to tell their friends how much they meant to them. She got choked up recounting this personal journey, and her heartfelt sincerity rippled out to the rest of the class.
We’ve all seen athletes lose their composure while announcing their retirements. Even presidents can tear up – George H.W. Bush did so while speaking about his family during his term in the White House.
As speechwriters, we are called on – in rare occasions, admittedly – to provide material for clients designed to bring an audience to a heightened state of emotion. A memorial service honoring a group of employees who lost their lives in an airplane crash many years ago was one such assignment for me. The collection of company officials, employees, and victims’ families, of course, were emotionally taxed to begin with, but my script needed to convey the proper mix of respect, honor, truth, hope, and compassion nonetheless.
There’s an art to writing speeches meant to stir deep feelings in an audience, just as in the movies. The challenge, always, is to engage people’s minds and hearts – to get them thinking and empathizing, then to elevate those thoughts into emotional reactions without being manipulative or insensitive. It’s not easy. It’s not for the timid or the inexperienced. That’s why it’s an art.
One of the best examples of a speechwriter achieving this lofty goal was Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse” of the New York Yankees, at his farewell address. Gehrig was diagnosed with the muscular degenerative disease that today bears his name. He spoke off the cuff that July 4, 1939, in Yankee Stadium, but his words were magnificent. Here’s just a sampling.
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans…When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know. So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”
Wow. It gets me every time.
Copyright 2010 Transverse Park Productions LLC