Former Obama speechwriter speaks at Illini Union

He graduated as valedictorian from the College of the Holy Cross. He has served as Director of Speechwriting for President Barack Obama from 2009 to last March and has been the voice of some of his most famous political speeches. He was selected by GQ magazine as one of the “50 Most Powerful in the World” and by Time as one of its “100 Most Influential People.” Jon Favreau, the subject of these accolades, visited Champaign-Urbana last night.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m., the Illini Union Board featured Favreau as part of their lecture series at the Illini Union I-Rooms. Students packed the I-Rooms to hear firsthand his guidelines to effective speechwriting.

Nick Vale, vice president of policy of the IUB, was chiefly responsible for planning and organizing this event. He explained the motivation behind why IUB invited a lecturer with such a unique track record as Favreau.

“We try and get a well-rounded slate of lectures each semester by covering a range of interest,” Vale said. “This lecture was a little more political than others might be, but our goal is ultimately to engage the campus intellectually.”

While the lecture was largely focused on politics, Favreau’s advice could be applied to many professional aspirations. His speech centered around the importance of simplicity in speechwriting in more than just political campaigns.

“Most people use 10-cent words when a nickel or penny would do,” Favreau said. “Keep it simple and keep it short.”

In addition to sharing tips for speechwriting, he also shared his personal experiences with working with President Obama on his congressional and presidential campaigns for the past eight years.

Favreau reflected on the time he first met the president when Obama was an Illinois senator. Obama said to him: “I still don’t think I need a speech writer, but they keep telling me I do, and you seem nice enough.”

Whether it was his reaction to a joke or his emotions after a national crisis such as Hurricane Katrina, Favreau’s stories about Obama gave the audience a unique perspective into the mind of the president, as the president himself as called Favreau his “mind reader.”

Connor Brown, attendee of the lecture and junior in LAS, put it this way: “I enjoyed most the behind-the-scenes stories he told about the president. You could tell when he was speaking unscripted and was telling real-life stories he had experienced.”

As of one of the greatest hallmarks, Favreau displayed his command of speechwriting through his own presentation Wednesday night. He stressed for students to always remember to structure speeches with a beginning, middle and end. As simple as it sounds, he assured the crowd that many of the savviest politicians in Washington forget that, at their core, speeches are stories.

Jane Kanter, self-proclaimed “politics nerd” and freshman in LAS, explained her appreciation of Favreau’s impressive silver-tongue.

“I found the lecture very enjoyable,” she said. “It was clear that he has a real voice for storytelling, and that was conveyed in his speech.”

Hands were still raised as the 30-minute Q&A that followed Favreau’s lecture was called to an end.

Jed can be reached at [email protected]