Well-chosen words, apt phrases, catchy comparisons, vivid associations. The speeches of President Volodymyr Zelensky do not leave listeners indifferent. Foreign audiences need to be spoken to in a way that allows them to understand what Ukrainians are going through – that Ukrainians need the help of the whole world in the war against Russia.
Zelensky’s speeches are met with applause in Europe, the United States, and around the world. Without exaggeration, many of the President’s speeches have already become historic.
Jeremy Rosner, an international political consultant was the chief foreign policy speechwriter for US President Bill Clinton. He believes that Zelensky’s speeches in foreign countries have demonstrated extraordinary speechwriting skill and political subtlety. In them, Zelensky touches on painful topics for Ukrainians and conveys the courage of the people. They also project the image of a wartime leader.
“As a one-time professional speechwriter, I am struck by the sophistication and craftsmanship in these major addresses,” Rosner told Kyiv Post.
Who’s who in the team
Kyiv Post spoke exclusively with members of Zelensky’s speechwriting team. While there is no shortage of words in their brainstorming sessions, due to the sensitivity of the context those who spoke preferred to be quoted anonymously.
“It’s funny for me to read about the president’s group of speechwriters,” one of Zelensky’s team told Kyiv Post. He makes it clear that speeches are actually prepared by a small number of people.
“This is not collective creativity,” another member added.
According to Kyiv Post sources, the group of speechwriters includes Dmytro Lytvyn, who prepares political speeches and daily texts, and Yuriy Kostyuk, who worked with the President in his show business days. Kostyuk prepares speeches for special events, such as film festivals or speeches to students. These two people are responsible for the speeches’ meaningful design. They refused to publicly comment on their cooperation with the President.
Dmytro Lytvyn. Photo: Facebook
Their work is well received by the President’s entourage. “The main task of a speechwriter is to completely turn off your ego and become a reflection of another person. They can do it,” an official in the President’s Office told Kyiv Post.
In general, there are not many people at such meetings. The President, Lytvyn, from time to time Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff, or Andriy Sybiha, his deputy for international affairs. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar might also be involved in speechwriting for additional information.
Yuriy Kostyuk. Photo:
If we are talking about speeches for foreign audiences, sometimes the President’s Office can communicate with embassies in order to understand the agenda in a specific country, which should be emphasized. The President’s team also monitors foreign media and opinion leaders.
The main speechwriter is Zelensky himself
And yet, as one of the above-mentioned Zelensky speechwriters notes, these are all technical points. Their task is to polish the text and add some historical facts. The main author and ideologist is Zelensky himself.
“The chief speechwriter for the President is the President. He actually comes with 80 percent of the speech ready. He always knows what he wants to say, and he immediately formulates it in sentences and phrases. He speaks ready-made thoughts, the speechwriter needs to listen, take notes and possibly add what the president did not say,” the source told Kyiv Post.
People around Zelensky add that he has a good sense of the audience and what specifically needs to be said to them. The President asks many questions and reads a lot. He comes from an educated family: his father a professor and computer scientist, his mother an engineer. His experience in the entertainment industry also plays a major role in that he knows how to please others through communication.
As a result, preparing for his performances does not take much time. Before major keynote speeches, however, such as before the British Parliament or the US Congress, more time is needed.
Rosner, Clinton’s speechwriter, is an admirer of Zelensky’s gifts. He pointed out the President’s deft use historical comparisons. For example, the President honored Franklin Roosevelt in the United States and Winston Churchill in Great Britain. “Before the US Congress, he likened the fight for Bakhmut to the pivotal Battle of Saratoga during the American Revolutionary War and the struggle of American infantrymen in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II,” Rosner noted.
Like all good modern political speakers, Zelensky demonstrates that he understands the importance of stagecraft, visuals, and props, Rosner added, talking about the importance of the flag from Bakhmut with the signatures of Ukrainian soldiers on it, which Zelensky gifted to the US Congress.
“As in most of the President’s appearances both inside and outside Ukraine, he wisely chose to wear his olive drab military sweater rather than a suit and tie,” Rosner said.
“Wars always reveal something about national leadership. That extends beyond military strategy and very much includes public diplomacy. As such, Zelensky’s rhetorical skills have proved to be a powerful weapon for Ukraine’s defense,” Rosner added confidently.
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