New Data: How Twitter Is Changing The Way We Speak

During the final presidential debate between President Obama and Governor Romney in October 2012, you may remember that Mr. Obama uttered this memorable quip about his administration’s military readiness: “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.”

That memorable line was likely pre-planned—and, according to Twitter, it became the most tweeted-about moment of the night.

I’ve written before about the need for media spokespersons to create “tweet-worthy” sound bites prior to their interviews and speeches. (Click here to read that post and to learn the four elements all “tweet-worthy” sound bites should have.)

President Obama seems to have taken that lesson to heart. Two reporters from Yahoo! News looked at the data this week, and had this surprising finding: “Of the 50 major [Obama] speeches Yahoo news analyzed, in every case at least half of the lines were under 120 characters.”

The following pieces of data illustrate the rising influence of Twitter during President Obama’s tenure in office:

  • 69 percent of the sentences in President Obama’s first inaugural address—delivered when Twitter was far less influential in January 2009—contained 140 characters or less.
  • Mr. Obama’s remarks to a Joint Session of Congress in February 2009 were also 69 percent “tweetable.”
  • His 2013 State of the Union speech was up a few percentage points to 72 percent tweetable.
  • “His commencement address to Morehouse College in mid-May [2013′],” the authors write, “was 82 percent.”

It’s always been a truism of speech writing that short sentences are better than long ones. But that truth is magnified in the age of social media, when your audiences may take one of your lines and share it with thousands—or millions—of other people.

So before your next media interview or speech, ask yourself these questions: What are my tweet-worthy phrases? Do too many of my sentences exceed 140 characters? And if so, can I make my point more memorably with some strategic trimming?

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