Speech of the Month, April 2020 - Queen Elizabeth II
When it comes to a calm and considered motivational speech, the queen reigns supreme
Let me be clear – if someone asked me for my top 10 speakers of the last 50 years, the queen would not make my list. She probably wouldn’t make my top 10 female speakers of the last 50 years. Her delivery style is too ‘read’ and wooden for me to get excited about. Plus, because she doesn’t appear to be enjoying the experience (she could be watching Corrie with her corgis!) I don’t feel wanted as an audience.
But when the queen addresses the nation and it’s not Christmas Day then it would be wrong not to give that speech some attention and analysis. Well you wouldn’t ignore a goshawk if it landed in your bird feeder, would you? And happily the speech possesses characteristics that we can all learn from. So what are they?
Know how you want your audience to feel after it's heard you speak
Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And this is certainly true of a speech. After you’ve defined what the objective of your presentation is, you then need to be really clear on how you want your audience to feel at the end of it so it will feel motivated to do or believe the thing you’re asking it to.
Therefore, when the queen says, “I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country…” her goal is to make us feel proud about our nation’s nobler characteristics and encourage us to bring them to the fore during the coronavirus crisis. Some would say she’s inspiring pride in us, and that was probably what she set out to do.
However, I’d argue that what she actually did was flatter us into believing that we have the same strong, stoic, selfless (can I find any more appropriate S adjectives?) grit that those who fought in WW2 had. A big bravery question has never been asked of the boomer generation downwards before but, as I get through the lockdown hours with home schooling, shopping, cleaning, wine-resisting till 6, cleaning, home schooling, is it 6 yet?!, I can’t honestly say that my ‘war’ with Covid-19 feels comparable to that of a young pilot flying a Hurricane or a soldier crossing the channel in a dinghy on D-day. And I’m sure the queen would think the same! But the fact that I’ve been told I possess the same admirable attributes that they did makes me feel compelled to conjure them from the depths of my size 5s should times get tougher.
Whether her goal was to flatter or pride us into action, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she made us feel something. It’s the memory of that feeling we’ll take away from the address and, hopefully, act on.
Give hope by reflecting back to another similarly challenging time
Speaking about her rare broadcast, the queen says, “It reminds me of the very first broadcast I made, in 1940, helped by my sister. We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety. Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do.” By reflecting back to 1940, she is forcing the audience to consider WW2, a war that affected all Britons and demanded significant personal sacrifice that ultimately resulted in a victorious pay off. So by sharing her memory, we feel optimistic about the fruit that our current sacrifices will bear, and are encouraged to continue.
If you have bad news to deliver during a speech; a major buyer has dropped you, then think back to a time when the company faced another financial challenge that, with hard work, it came through and refer to it in your talk. Actually, that memory doesn't have to be work-related, a personal story can often do the job more effectively.
Last autumn I went to see the wonderful Richard Hawley. As the closing bars of ‘Open up Your Door’ played out I turned to my pal and said, “Imagine being able to play the guitar like that.” To which she replied, “Imagine being able to sing like that.” I nodded and added, “And imagine being able to write songs like that.” Then she said, “And imagine having that stage presence.” He'd performed the song with very little movement, he simply stood still and sang to the mesmerised crowd.
And right then a whole host of ‘presence-problem’ speakers raced through my head, from the unaware shoe-shufflers and the stiletto wobblers to the non-stop stage strutters and the ‘I’m animating so much I look like a terrible mime artist’ variety of presenters. All of them doing so much with their bodies when they’d have so much more presence if they just stood still.
The queen has also mastered the power of stillness. She doesn’t fidget, she’s not overly expressive. She’s contained and composed. Now, I’m not advocating that a speaker should deliver queen-like stillness for a whole presentation; that would look constipated and also be pretty difficult to maintain. But what I am saying is when you come to the important bit(s) of your speech, then make like the queen. Be still. Don’t let your body distract from your key message.
If you'd like some help making an audience feel, sharing a story or keeping your body under control, then get in touch.
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