How to organise ideas and assemble words so that the speech achieves something: bond with the audience, make sense out of the flow of events, and call to action?
With the Brexit deadline in just one month and climate change’s awareness growing and growing, great speeches are not only welcome; they are necessary. You’ll find a selection of the best speeches and quotes below.
For our French-speaking readers, je vous signale, dans le numéro de Sciences humaines du mois de mars 2019, un dossier spécial sur l’art de parler: une introduction générale à cette discipline riche de 25 siècles et un rappel de son importance et de son intérêt, à l’heure où elle revient dans les programmes scolaires.
Logos, pathos and ethos combined
Ladies and gentlemen, I have five grandchildren. Four of them are in primary school. The youngest is only one year old.
Perhaps that’s why the following story struck such a particular chord. I was reading a BBC article about the recent climate demonstrations here in Belgium. Groups of primary schoolchildren were marching with their grandparents. One child held up a hand-written sign. It said: “2080: what are polar bears?”
Speakers often ask for numbers and statistic in speeches to support their message, but is quantifiable data the best idea in a speech?
In a speech, ie not to be read with the eyes, on a screen or on paper, with the possibility to pause, analyze, and reflect, but heard by the ear, in a flow of words and sentences, with hardly any time or tool to p[...]
« More Europeans than we can sometimes imagine were flowers that would never bloom because of the horrors of war and terror. To keep war at bay, to build lasting peace, to bring the peoples of Europe ever closer together: that is our common duty, that is our common destiny. First Vice President Timmermans, Commemoration Ceremony for the Battle of Wa... »Frans Timmermans
Dear speech-fans and -friends,
With the Brexit deadline in just two months and no deal voted yet,
with our planet hotter than ever, science to make it clear and more and more people mobilising,
and with the crucial European elections in just four months,
there’s a sense of urgency in the speeches delivered this past month.
Edward R. Murrow’s words – introducing Churchill’s impact at another time of urgency in our history - come to mind:
“Now the hour had come for him to mobilize the English language, and send it into battle, a spearhead of hope for Britain and the world”.
You’ll find sharp spearheads below.
Read them, urgently!
Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope’.
But I don’t want your hope.
I don’t want you to be hopeful.
I want you to panic.
I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.
And then I want you to act.
I want you to act as if you were in a crisis.
I want you to act as if the house was on fire. Because it is.
Urgency and leadership
It is 16 January today. We are only 10 weeks away from the end of March, the moment when the UK has chosen to become a third country.
And today, 10 weeks away, the risk of a no deal has never been so high.
Our resolution is to avoid such a scenario, but we also have a responsibility. That is why, we are intensifying our efforts on our side to deal with this scenario.
Logos, pathos, and ethos
Those habits of reasoned debate which you teach are exactly what Europe needs today.
Democracy has always been about feelings, as well as reason. If we forget about feeling, our politics becomes bloodless, detached from the lives of the very people it should serve. But if we forget about reason, we lose our ability to find the solutions that make their lives better.
Happy New Year!
That 2019 will be happy is by no means a foregone conclusion. Stakes are high (for our non-European readers, 2019 will see European elections resulting in a new European Parliament and a new European Commission; and one of our Member States will decide how to leave the Union) and challenges are huge, as this past month selection shows once again: populism and the defense of our fundamental values, climate change (with the COP 24 speeches), terrorism and sexual violence (with the Nobel peace prize lectures). All call for speeches that identify clearly the issue, show progress and give hope, and empower in strong calls for action. This selection of speeches and quotes shines a spotlight on a few such speeches.
So, to start well this new year, enjoy the reading below and, more than ever :
Call for action
(English below) Vos Majestés, Distingués membres du Comité Nobel, Mesdames et Messieurs, Amis de la paix,
Le défi est clair. Il est à notre portée.
Pour les Sarah, pour les femmes, les hommes et les enfants du Congo, je vous lance un appel urgent de ne pas seulement nous remettre le Prix Nobel de la Paix mais de vous mettre debout et de dire ensemble et à haute voix : « La violence en RDC, c’est assez ! Trop c’est trop ! La paix maintenant ! »
Your Majesties, Distinguished Members of the Nobel Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of peace,
The challenge is clear. It is within our reach.
For all Sarahs, for all women, for all men and children of Congo, I call upon you not only to award this Nobel Peace Prize to my country’s people, but to stand up and together say loudly: “The violence in the DRC, it’s enough! Enough is enough! Peace, now!”
Thank you very much for this honour, but the fact remains that the only prize in the world that can restore our dignity is justice and the prosecution of criminals.
Today is a special day for me.
It is the day when good has triumphed over evil,
the day when humanity defeated terrorism,
the day that the children and women who have suffered persecution have triumphed over the perpetrators of these crimes.
If credibility is of the essence, get ready to address the challenge raised by this teenager
You’re never too small to make a difference.
In politics, bridges are more important than walls, though we know how much easier and faster it is to raise a wall, than to build a bridge.
Dear speech-fans and -friends,
Depth and gravity marked the speeches delivered this past month as Europe commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the end of the first world war, the eightieth anniversary of the Kristallnacht, or looked ahead to global challenges, with the Katowice COP 24 just starting,
These speeches typically call for good lines, as you can see below in our monthly selection of what good rhetoric is.
I want to say this with all the force I have in me today,
because the coming night we will be thinking about the 80th anniversary of the Kristallnacht in Germany.
And this is for me the ultimate symbol that if you just put enough effort into it, as Hitler and Goebbels did, in a couple of years' time, even in a sophisticated society, you can manipulate people's anxieties and fear and instrumentalize it to such a degree that you can dehumanise part of your population, especially if you can say that they are different. This is what happened in Germany between 1933 and 1938.
The power of the ‘Why’ question
Eighty years since the pogrom night – why, ladies and gentlemen, am I talking to you about this today?
... and the speech comes full circle
This is why we commemorate today (…). That is the message and the essence of our acts of commemoration today.
The power of the ‘Why’ question … and who raises this question
Il y a 10 ans, en 2008, mourrait à l’âge de 110 ans le dernier combattant français connu de la Grande Guerre, M. Lazare Ponticelli. Chaque 11 novembre, M. Ponticelli, immigré italien, honorait la promesse faite à ses camarades tombés trop jeunes au combat. Il se rendait au monument aux morts pour penser à eux.
A la toute fin de sa vie, il avait finalement accepté de témoigner dans les écoles. Et son témoignage commençait ainsi - et je cite: « D’abord, je n’ai jamais su pourquoi on se battait… ».
Ten years ago, in 2008, Mr. Lazare Ponticelli, the last known French veteran of the Great War, died at the age of 110. Every year on 11 November, Mr. Ponticelli, an Italian immigrant, honoured the promise he had made to his comrades who had died too young on the battlefield. He used to visit his local war memorial to remember them. Right at the end of his life, he had finally agreed to talk to schoolchildren about his experience. He always began with these words: “First of all, I never knew why we were fighting …”
Dear speech-fans and -friends,
Just back from the Professional Speechwriters Association ‘s 2018 Word Conference: the opening keynote speech was a call for going high when they go low (Philip Collins wrote this book I recommended last year) and the closing keynote session focused on ‘Enough said : What’s gone wrong with the language of politics’, with New York Times CEO, Mark Thompson interviewed on his book.
I had already recommended the first one in the bibliography. I’ve read the second one and recommend it to anyone who wonders what has happened – when and how – and what to do. With these two highlights of the conference and everything in between, as well as the conversations during the breaks, it’s definitely a call to do our best, especially in times of important elections on the other side of the Atlantic this week, and on our side next spring.
Next to an updated bibliography, you'll find the monthly selection of what good rhetoric is below.
A rhetorical treasure from the Professional Speechwriters Association’s 2018 World Conference
Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product (…) counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.