Speech of the Month, December 2023 - King Charles III
King Charles' Cop28 Speech - the perfect blend of urgency and optimism
After King Charles confirmed that he would give the opening speech at Cop28, Sheik Muhammad must have thought, ‘nice one.’ Getting a member of the British Royal Family to kick off your bash is a stand-out marketing result, but one who’s also mad about the environment, well, that’s a total win. And then for that person to deliver a zinger that’s lauded in the media, well, Sheik M must have felt he’d hit the jackpot. Although, given his wealth, a jackpot hit might not do that much for him.
The king’s speech struck the right balance between urgency and ‘can-do’ optimism. If you didn’t get to see it, check it out now…
Here’s what I believe we can all take away from it:
The gracious opening
Not only does King Charles thank Sheik Muhammad for hosting the event, he also refers to his father and praises him for his interest and concern regarding the natural world. This is a nice touch; it helps the king deftly segue from the opening thankyous to the conference topic while, simultaneously, flattering his host.
If you have an opening speech to give, also consider how you can move from the thankyou section to the topic in a seemingly organic way, with no content jerks.
The naked speech
Of course, Charles was fully clothed; there was no literal ‘emperor’s new clothes’ happening here, rather what I mean by 'the naked speech' is that the only prop he used was his actual script. He must have turned down the offer of autocue and nor did he feel the need to cobble any visuals together. And there was something refreshing about that. I mean, when he talks about cyclones bashing Dominica, do I really need a photo to understand the awfulness of it? Wildfires in Canada. Again, do I need a pic of that to pop up to visualise it? I don’t. I’ve seen the news and I have my imagination. And, as a listener, that serves me just fine.
I always say to my clients, ‘Think like an actor, what props do you absolutely need to get you through your speech; get rid of anything superfluous.’ Less really is more. Always ask yourself, ‘Are my visuals really helping or are they surplus embellishment?’ And another thing - you don’t want to risk your visuals upstaging you!
The question countdown
It was clear that there were some decisions that King Charles was keen for negotiators to make but, being a Royal and therefore non-political, he couldn’t state them directly so, brilliantly, he embedded his recommendations in five questions. In a numbered list - what I like to call a countdown - he told the movers and shakers present about the problems that urgently need solving.
The countdown needn’t be question-driven. Instead, there might be three points, tips or issues you want to raise. But the questions method is a good one to employ when you’re making an address in which you can’t be seen to be being persuasive.
The poignant outro
The king could've ended on a rousing note, telling negotiators that the eyes of the world is on them and that the decisions they make will reverberate down the annals of history, but instead he struck a more gentle yet profound chord. “And we need to remember, too, that the indigenous worldview teaches us that we are all connected, not only as human beings, but with all living things and all that sustains life. As part of this grand and sacred system, harmony with nature must be maintained.” This reminder that humans are all connected is powerful because it’s coming out of the mouth of a king; the fact that he bows to nature and exalts her, is striking.
And then he rounds off with two lovely lines, “The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.” This is an example of chiasmus. Chiasmus is when we repeat words in reverse order. A more famous example of it is JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.”
Chiasmus can be an effective, unshowy way to close a speech, so consider if you could use it next time you’re making an address.
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