best presidential inauguration speeches

America’s Most Famous Question

  1. November 22nd, 2011  | 

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Published in Leadership

America’s Best Presidential Inauguration Speeches

Forty-eight years ago today, our third grade teacher sent us home early.

President Kennedy had been fatally wounded in Dallas, Texas.

From the time John Kennedy took office to that fateful day in November 1963, JFK was in office just two years, 10 months and three days.

1,036 days earlier, in an inauguration speech delivered on a bitterly cold January day, President Kennedy painted a bright new future. Not just for Americans, but for every citizen of the world.

“The world is very different now,” the 43 year-old president began.

When he had finished, Kennedy had pledged the “loyalty of faithful friends,” requested that America’s adversaries “begin anew the quest for peace,” and promised that “the energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it – and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”

With Speeches, Less Can Mean More

This speech – widely considered to be among the best presidential inauguration speeches in American history – used just 1,364 words and took 13 minutes and 59 seconds, making it the fourth-shortest inaugural address ever given. (George Washington’s second inaugural address with 135 words – four sentences – was shortest; Lincoln’s second inaugural address was second shortest with 689 words.)

A reminder that less can be more.

In a speech filled with big ideas and fueled by crisp writing, there are many notable quotes.

The most famous, of course, is President Kennedy’s concluding words.

The mark of an exceptional leader is to challenge, question and inspire. Kennedy did all of this by posing America’s most famous question that really wasn’t a question.

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

How would you respond?

About the Author: Greg Bustin advises some of the world’s most admired companies and leaders, and he’s dedicated a career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of hundreds of companies in a range of industries. He’s facilitated more than 250 strategic planning sessions, he’s delivered more than 600 keynotes and workshops on every continent except Antarctica, and he coaches leaders who are inspired to take their career to the next level. His fourth leadership book— Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture (McGraw-Hill) —is a Soundview Executive Best Business Book.

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