Dear speech-fans and -friends,

A new European Commission and a new President of the European Council are starting their mandate. To succeed, they will need to deliver great speeches. 

Whether a speaker or speechwriter, you will find inspiration in the best quotes, speeches, and rhetorical devices delivered this past month below and under 'Read more'.

You will learn ‘how to own the room’: the Bibliography section is updated with ‘How to own the room – women and the art of brilliant speaking’ by Viv Groskop and her podcast: How to own the room offers, on the same fun and lively tone, useful takeaways from interviews with a series of powerful female speakers.

You will also get a masterclass with Andrew Imbrie, speechwriter to former Secretary of State John Kerry. In this podcast, Andrew Imbrie shares most valuable lessons from his experience on how to build a relationship with the speaker, the ultimate objective of a speech, the most important question, how to address different audiences, etc., including specific guidance for European speechwriters and speakers. 

With this, you’re equipped to start your work!

So, best wishes, 

Great speeches,



It’s the unity, stupid (*)

In my office of the President of the European Council, I keep a self-made poster with the inscription "It's the unity, stupid". I made it to always remember what is most important. And I will leave it there, just in case.

Read the full speech with 17 occurrences of ‘unity’ here: Donald Tusk, Opening ceremony of the 2019/2020 academic year at the College of Europe, 13 November 2019

(*) For our readers not familiar with this reference to the 1992 Clinton’s campaign ‘The economy, Stupid’: 

‘Our campaign needed to be more effective (…). We needed much better coordination among all the forces, with a single strategic center. James Carville took it on (…). Carville put a sign on the wall as a constant reminded of what the campaign was about. It had just three lines: Change vs. More of the same – The economy stupid – Don’t forget health care.’

Bill Clinton, My life, Arrow books, 2005, p. 425. 


Whom do you quote?

There is one quote from the great Václav Havel – one of the heroes of 1989 – that stands out for me when I look ahead to the future. He said:

“Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”

I choose this quote, because over the next five years, our Union will embark together on a transformation which will touch every part of our society and of our economy. And we will do it, because it is the right thing to do. Not because it will be easy.

Read or watch the full speech here, with interpretation in 23 official languages: Ursula von der Leyen, Presentation of the College of Commissioners and their programme, 27 November 2019

And the speech comes full circle

Honourable Members,

In 30 years' time, others will stand here and look back at the actions of an earlier generation, just as I did at the beginning of my speech.

What will they say? (…)

To come back to Václav Havel, millions of Europeans are taking action because it is the right thing to do.

Read or watch the full speech here, with interpretation in 23 official languages: Ursula von der Leyen, Presentation of the College of Commissioners and their programme, 27 November 2019


Building a bridge toward the audience

Ladies and gentlemen

I’m deeply honoured to accept this Leadership Prize from the Harvard Club of Belgium.

It’s an award that means a lot to me. Because leadership has been part of my life ever since I can remember.

I grew up in a small town on the west coast of Denmark, where both of my parents were Protestant ministers – very much like your founder, John Harvard. And like Harvard, the idea which they had of their vocation was built on the duty of service to the community.


Leadership isn’t about power or prestige, success or self-importance. 


Even when we basically agree about where we should go, we tend to have different ideas of how to get there. And even when we can agree which route to take, we still need someone to bring us together and help us set out on that road.

And this, fundamentally, is what leadership is about – helping people come together to build the sort of world they want to live in.

And the speech comes full circle

The assumptions of millennia don’t change overnight. There’s still plenty of bombastic and ineffective leadership in the world. But step by step, leader by leader, generation by generation, we’re rediscovering the spirit of service that built Harvard University – and taught a little girl about life.

Read the full speech here: Margrethe Vestager, Leadership in a changing world, Harvard Club of Belgium, 12 November 2019


Words matter – Soundbites

Whenever necessary, I formulated fairly brutal warnings, like "Cyprus is not for sale", or "Do not throw Ireland under the bus"(…).

Words matter – Oxymoron

I remember when during a debate on relocation at a European Council summit, it was suggested that, in our conclusions, we include the term "the obligation of solidarity". I protested, saying this was an obvious oxymoron. And I know what I am saying, I still feel like an expert in solidarity.

Read the full speech here: Donald Tusk, Opening ceremony of the 2019/2020 academic year at the College of Europe, 13 November 2019


Words matter – meaning

(Translation into English below)

Einer der größten Erfolge nach dem Fall des Eisernen Vorhangs war es – wie Václav Havel es treffend beschrieben hat – dass „Osten“ und „Westen“ nicht länger moralische, sondern zu rein geographischen Bezeichnungen geworden sind.

One of the greatest successes following the fall of the iron curtain was that – as Vaclav Havel described very well – East and West are no longer moral terms but have become simply geographical ones. 

Read the full speech (in German only) here: Frans Timmermans im Namen von Präsident Jean-Claude Juncker,  30. Jahrestags des Falls der Berliner Mauer, 13. November 2019


Tear this wall down

The Wall did not simply fall by itself. An inspiring figure from the West also lent a helping hand. I can still see him before me: Ronald Reagan here in front of the Brandenburg Gate. And I can still hear him saying, "Tear down this wall!" We Germans owe so much to this America (…).

Let us tear these walls down

This great Wall, this inhumane construction which claimed so many victims, no longer stands. The Wall is gone, once and for all.

However, new walls have emerged throughout our country: walls of frustration, walls of anger and hate. Walls of silence and alienation. Walls which are invisible and yet divide. Walls which stand in the way of social cohesion.

And you know what? The Berlin Wall was the work of Ulbricht. It was built by a regime of tyranny. But the new walls in our country are our own work. And only we can tear them down. So let us not just stand by, let us not just complain about them – let us finally tear these walls down

Read the full speech here: Frank-Walter Steinmeier, 30th anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9 November 2019

Read or watch in German here.