Philip Collins has worked as a journalist, a political adviser
and an investment banker, and was Chief Speech Writer to former
Prime Minister Tony Blair - making him perfectly placed to analyse
the science behind making a persuasive pitch. Here are his tips for
making your speeches shine, based on his analysis of the videos
"All fine speeches are a mix of memorable
phrases and images, confident delivery, a strong core argument and
a sense of personality. All five of these speeches have all four of
these attributes and that is why they work. It is why there is a
visible connection in each case with the audience and why these
speeches are worth watching time and again.
A strong core argument
All the fine speeches are different and yet
they are all also the same. They differ in detail, in tone, in
individual voice, as they must. But the centrepiece of every fine
speech is a core argument. There has to be a message to impart or
an important question to answer. Without that, a speech will not
Steve Jobs, Seth Godin, Emma Watson, Ken
Robinson and JK Rowling all have a clear story to tell. A good test
for a speech is: if you tried to summarise it in a sentence, could
you do that? In each of the featured speeches you certainly could.
Jobs argues you should follow your intuitions and join the dots
later. Godin says the vital factor in success is not having the
idea but spreading it. Watson demands that feminism be salvaged
from the dislike of men. Robinson believes that creativity is now
as important as literacy. Rowling teaches us that imagination is
powerful and that you can find wisdom in failure. You may agree or
you may disagree with each or any of these propositions. The point
is that they are real arguments.
The reason I have stressed that so much is
that, ever since the origins of rhetoric in antiquity, the main
argument is where you have to start. When speeches fail to capture
the imagination of the audience it is almost always because it is
not crystal clear what the speaker is trying to say. Aristotle
called it the Topic and every speaker has to ask him or herself:
what am I trying to say? The fact that I was able to summarise all
the featured speeches so pithily showed not justthatthey worked.
They showedhowthey work.
There are, of course, differences too. There
should be. A speech is an individual communion with a group. It
needs to be a speech that could only have been delivered by that
person. A good script, read out loud, is better than a bad script
but it does not make a speech. That demands some individual magic.
It is worth looking in turn at how each of these speakers brings
themselves to the podium. It is, of all the skills, perhaps the
hardest. The fear people have of public speaking derives from the
fact that they are scared to expose themselves on stage. It feels
as if they are naked in a conference chamber.
Steve Jobs achieves the effect by being very
personal. He tells his own story, the tale of his adoption as a
baby and the fact that dropping out of college, which he did to
save his parents money, turned out to be a turning point. Jobs
dropped into classes at random and, years later, the design skills
he had picked up suddenly came in handy. He concludes by referring
to his own diagnosis with cancer which we, the listeners now know,
beat him not long after. He ends with a neat summary: "stay hungry,
Seth Godin has a different technique. He has
vivid illustrations of his points. Pictures carry ideas more
memorably than words, as a rule. You will remember Godin's points
about sliced bread and the image of the purple cow, and be able to
reconstruct what he meant, months after the speech.
Ken Robinson shows how to wrap a story into a
joke. Being funny is harder than it looks and Robinson obeys a
golden rule. His humour has a point. His stories are not just
funny, they are telling the story he wants to tell. The effect is
that the audience is hearing the main message without quite
realising it. As a consequence, because the tone is cleverly light,
he can slip into a historical section without it feeling like we
have suddenly sat down to a lesson. Topped off with some good lines
that summarise his position ("we do not grow into creativity, we
grow out of it").
A sense of personality
Emma Watson also takes a personal approach. Her
speech is punctuated with applause and received by an ovation
because she is brave enough to say that her feminism is about being
in charge of your own body. She also shows how to use a good
rhetorical trick. The phrase "if not me, who? If not now, when?" is
well known and often used. However, note the clever way she uses
this half-way throw and then repeats it at the end is very
J.K. Rowling also has a personal story to tell.
She lived through years of heart-breaking poverty and emotional
difficulty before she hit a rich seam with the Harry Potter series.
Her own biography is relevant to the lesson she wants to teach
which is that failure is more important for how you respond to it
than it is for what it teaches you in itself. Rowling shows that it
is better to show than to tell. She puts herself into the speech
and produces a speech that is not only personal but also highly