Cody Keenan has written with President Barack Obama since 2007, working his way up to chief speechwriter. He’s been named the “Springsteen” of the Obama White House, even though he can’t play an instrument, and Obama calls him “Hemingway.” British GQ named Cody one of the “35 Coolest Men under 38 (and a Half),” ahead of Ryan Gosling, but behind Tom Hardy. Cody teaches a popular course on speechwriting at his alma mater (Northwestern).  His commencement addresses at NYU in 2015 and Northwestern in 2018 were highlighted as some of the year’s best. Cody’s first book, Grace was published in October 2022 and instantly became a New York Times bestseller.

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  • The use of productive paranoia. Cody said, “I was so afraid to fail that I would do anything to succeed.” – We can use fear as fuel…
  • Storytelling – As a speaker, it is our job to help the people in the audience see themselves in the place of the hero in the story. When you’re preparing for your next team meeting or town hall address, think about that and how you tell the stories that you do.
  • Singing at the Eulogy in Charleston – If you want an A+ performance, you have to choose to go for it. You can get a B by playing it safe, but you won’t perform with excellence unless you have the courage to go for it.
  • Two skills that President Obama possessed that most don’t:
    • He’s an active writer. He’s engaged in the process. He wrote the 2004 speech by himself.
    • He’s a performer. He knows how to conduct an audience.
  • How to give a great speech?
    • Be direct
    • Be colloquial
    • Be engaging
    • Be concise
  • Every speech should tell a story.
  • Internal communication teams at a big company usually act out of fear and make speeches more vanilla and less authentic than they need to be.
  • Writing for someone else is “a wonderful struggle.”
  • In less than 10 years, Cody went from mailroom intern in Congress to chief speechwriter in the White House.
  • My goal is to “write a speech that sings.”
  •  ‘In less than 10 years, I went from mailroom intern in Congress to chief speechwriter in the White House,’
  • President Obama said he relied “on Cody not just to share my vision, but to help tell America’s story.” “He’s a brilliant writer. He’s relentless.”
  • The first speech Cody wrote was for Senator Ted Kennedy. Right after President Obama’s 2004 Democratic convention speech that put him on the map. You write: “To see someone else speak words I’d written sent electricity right up my spine and out my hair.”
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