Speech of the Month, December 2019 - Boris Johnson
If Workington Man can go for Boris's patter, who could your words really connect with?
December's 'Speech of the Month' won't come as a huge surprise: it's Boris Johnson's election victory speech. Not to pick it would feel wilfully disregarding and as it contains so many tips and techniques, it would also be remiss of me not to signal the learning points we can all take from it.
Use the tricolon
Johnson is king of the tricolon. And I’m not talking about his guts – well not his actual guts. I’m talking about his ability to group together three units of speech and deliver them in an impactful and interesting way. The most famous tricolon is Caesars’s ‘Veni, vidi, vici’ – 'I came, I saw, I conquered.' But as a child, I have a distinct memory of Corrie’s Bet Lynch telling a Rovers regular, ‘Get it. Got it. Good’ and that tricolon made a far greater impression on me; I thought it was verbal magic! From Churchill’s ‘Blood, sweat and tears’ to Blair’s ‘Education, education, education’, the tricolon is frequently trotted out consciously and unconsciously to give a statement some swagger.
In his election victory speech Johnson uses the tricolon with abandon. From 'breaking the deadlock, ending the gridlock and smashing the roadblock' to Brexit being the ‘irrefutable, irresistible, inarguable decision of the British people,’ he uses the rule of three to give form and imagery to his messages.
So have a bash at doing similar yourself. Come up with a sharp metaphor and then find another couple along a similar theme or simply come up with three adjectives beginning with the same letter that describe a situation. However, do ensure that each of those adjectives is doing a different job. For instance, ‘damaging, deleterious and dangerous’ doesn’t work as well as ‘daredevil, damaging and dangerous’ because damaging and deleterious mean pretty much the same thing.
Ask questions to build connection
Throughout the speech, Johnson tests his immediate audience on messages and promises that were delivered during the election campaign. This is safe for him to do as he’s speaking to the party faithful; they’re bound to get the answers right. But consider using this technique to weave in some light relief at the end of an informative talk or at the end of particular sections of an information-giving presentation. The trick is to make the questions answerable so don’t set the bar too high.
Early into his speech, Johnson addresses the traditional Labour voters who may have only lent him their vote. He tells them he’s humbled, and he won’t take their support for granted. Politically, it’s important that he does this because many of the historically red seats that the Tories won were won by a slim margin, but oratorically it’s crucial that Johnson speaks directly to his audience – which is now so much wider culturally – and addresses its concerns. Hence, he makes it clear that he understands that traditional Labour voters have broken the habit of a lifetime in voting for him and that, in doing so, they will feel uncomfortable and even nervous. But letting his audience know that he understands how it will probably feel, and acknowledging that he knows he has to earn their trust and respect demonstrates respect and pragmatism.
Try to do similar when you find yourself addressing an audience that won’t be 100% - or even 50%! - for you. Let it know why you understand it’s scepticism (if that’s the emotion you're getting from it) and reassure it. Never blame it.
Johnson may be a natural born liar, he may well be a shameless narcissist who’ll grab any opportunity to advance himself, even if that means convincingly presenting arguments he doesn’t believe in, but ask the man in the street if they’d rather listen to Johnson give a talk or the sincere and self-sacraficing Greta Thunberg, and I’m confident that, after making mealy-mouthed noises about feeling conflicted, he'll scuttle off to the Johnson speech queue. That’s largely because no matter what Boris is talking about, he does it with enthusiasm. You expect a Johnson speech to be lively and fun. Thunberg, on the other hand, does a good line in fear, and she has every right to move her audience with it – it’s very clear that the planet's in bad shape. But if she could take a leaf from Johnson’s book and be a tad more optimistic and animated, and weave in a bit of humour, then more people might want to tune into the message.
So try to be enthusiastic about your topic and if you can’t be - because your topic is grave and is bound to worry your audience - then consider if you’re giving it facts that it doesn’t need to know and will only exacerbate its worries unnecessarily. If so, cut them and look to end on a positive note. Nobody wants to hear a grim message from a grim speaker.
“Emma's service completely exceeded my expectations. After sending her some of my best stories, she wove them into a tremendous speech that I could then play around with. Plus, she added some jokes and touches that I'd have never seen but which made the whole speech sparkle. She gave me great tips on how to deliver it too. So many people complimented me on it but actually they didn't need to, I knew I'd done a great job, and that's something I wasn't sure I'd manage at all before I met Emma. She's an absolute credit to her profession!”