Speech of the Month, January 2020 - Ricky Gervais

Tonally, Ricky Gervais' Golden Globes speech was Marmite, but structurally it was pretty safe

Speech of the Month, January 2020 - Ricky Gervais

Two speeches fuelled a lot of opinion column inches this month, and both came from the same event – the 2020 Golden Globes. Michelle Williams was applauded for her pro-choice abortion address while the host, Ricky Gervais, received a Marmite response for his opening speech.

But looking at those two speeches, there’s more that we - everyday Joes who have to pitch in sterile offices or inspire in draughty warehouses – can learn from Gervais’ opener, and that’s why I’m making it January’s Speech of the Month. 

Know which audience you’re addressing

Ok, so some of Tinseltown’s great and good didn’t love Gervais’ irreverent (to say the least) content but did that matter? Because who was Gervais primarily addressing, the luvvies in the room or the millions of non-luvvies outside it? And, given that this was the last Golden Globes he was going to host, I’d say he was playing to the man in the street. The same man who, at best, finds actors banging on about politics tiresome and, at worse, gut-churning and enraging. He was letting that huge swathe of people know that he shares their view, that he is like them. And by doing so, he's hoping it will encourage them to like him - and watch his upcoming After Life series. 

So in future, consider if you have another audience other that the one that is in the room with you. Next, ask yourself which one you value the most, and make sure your message is honed for them. 

This is something Gerald Ratner famously didn’t do and to devastating effect. In telling an audience of business leaders how he could sell his jewellery so cheaply, he (thinking he was being refreshingly honest) said, “I can sell it cheap because it’s total crap.” The audience in the room fell about laughing. What did it care? All wealthy men who could well afford to buy their wives’ Christmas bracelets from Tiffany’s. But once journalists got hold of the story and reported it, those people who had been shopping at Ratner’s stopped shopping there. Why would they keep buying total crap? And Gerry lost his business. He hadn’t considered that audience when he delivered his killer line. 

Bring on the jokes

Nothing creates a feel-good atmosphere as much as a good joke. And nothing makes a point as sharply as a joke either. So if you are giving your team a pep talk then try to weave in some humour. Look at the mechanics of two that Gervais used and consider if you could use the same mechanics when you’re corralling the troops….

"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was nearly three hours long. Leonardo DiCaprio attended the premiere, and by the end his date was too old for him." This joke works by exaggerating a perceived (but, as yet, unsaid) truth. So let’s say we’re giving some information to a team, and one of the team is Denise who’s often late on account of not exactly being a morning lark. To generate a giggle we might say, ‘To be ready for the visit, I’ll need you all here for 7. So set those alarms for 6. And yes Denise, there are two 6’o’clocks in a day.’ Obviously, say it with a light tone so Denise knows you’re pulling her leg as opposed to telling her off. 

"Knives Out has three nominations tonight. See what can happen when you don't dress people up as Cats?" This joke works because it praises an entity for not doing something that a rival entity did to terrible effect. And this 'thing' is presented as a snappy, visual bit of detail. Using similar mechanics, a hotel manager could tell her team, ‘Profits were up 15% this month. See what happens when you don’t have to reimburse customers after they’ve been hopping round a cold shower for ten minutes because our boiler was overdue a service.’     

Set the ground rules 

In closing his speech, Gervais says, "So if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent, and your God and f*** off, OK?” Now of course, he’ll have known that each nominee will have already carefully prepared and rehearsed their speech and if they win they’ll give it regardless of his words, but as I’ve already said, he’s not really speaking to the audience in the room. He’s speaking to us and saying, ‘Don’t these acceptance speeches drive you mad?’ 

But what he is doing here, albeit in a faux way, is setting some ground rules. And if you ever find that you are leading an event that will at some point be handed over to others and be outside of your control – facilitation events are ripe for this – then tell your audience how you want it to behave in your opener. Really consider what is going to get up your nose and let them know that they’re not to do it. Often, when I deliver training workshops, there will be tea and coffee in the room. But I make it clear to participants that they can only get refreshments during stipulated breaks because it sends me crackers when people get up willy-nilly to top up their teacups and snaffle yet another Custard Cream. Aaarrgghh!   

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