Every year, millions of Americans watch the president deliver the State of the Union in early January or late February. The speeches historically last for well over an hour, and have reached nearly 10,000 words.
Tuesday afternoon, the State of the University address was a smaller affair, hosting a packed Russell House Ballroom and about 10 thousand people on Facebook Live. Producing the two speeches, though, involves many of the same struggles – how to distill a year into an hour, how to address the concerns of a large group, how to inspire progress in the year to come. And while the U.S. president has an entire legion at his disposal to produce the sweeping address, university President Harris Pastides does most of the work himself.
“I started working on this in the spring,” Pastides said. “I had help, but largely I did it.”
Pastides said he spent between 50 and 70 hours preparing the speech, with the help of others to make sure it was accurate and on theme.
A speech is as much about the delivery as the words themselves, and giving a speech an hour long requires practice. Pastides has a lot of experience – this was his 10th State of the University – but a last-minute schedule change from Monday moved the speech, usually delivered in the morning, to the afternoon on Tuesday.
He spoke for about 45 minutes, delivering a speech 5,617 words long. He recognized over 50 people by name, from students to faculty to businessmen, and used over 40 numerical figures. He occasionally went off script, usually just a word or two, or maybe to repeat something important.
Pastides was undoubtedly the star, but the whole event entails a lot more than him.
“The total team of folks that is involved in the whole production is pretty extensive,” university spokesman Wes Hickman said. “I wouldn’t even be able to begin to guess a number.”
Representatives of the Carolina Band opened the event. Dozens of photographers, videographers and more lined the walls, representing several university divisions and various local news organizations. Russell House staff guided attendants into the room.
The entire 45 minutes of the speech, USC's social media strategist, CJ Lake, was glued to her laptop screen, sending out tweets and engaging with the event’s hashtag, #UofSCsotu.
“These events are always high stress for me,” Lake said. Lake runs the official university Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. During Hurricane Irma, she was working on the Twitter graphics with important takeaways from the speech. A partnership with University Technology Services allowed Pastides to stream on Facebook in HD.
The production ended with choral master’s student Augusto Gil leading the alma mater. Together, the entire ballroom, from those who just attended the event to those who’d been working on it for months, raised their cupped hands together and sang, “Forever to thee.”