Speech of the Month, June 2023 - Holly Willoughby

Could you screen out the noise and speak as directly to a target audience as Holly Willoughby did?

Speech of the Month, June 2023 - Holly Willoughby

Given that less than 7% of the UK population watches This Morning, wasn’t it strange how invested we all became in the Phil / Holly fallout? We were all keen to hear one another’s view on it. And, true to the times we live in, those views were polarising. 

One common view – and it’s one that I hold too – is that Holly Willoughby couldn’t possibly have not known that Phil was having an affair with the young chap on the show. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that if someone’s having it off with someone at work, then everybody at work knows it. The suspicion being that Willoughby’s decision to distance herself from Phil had more to do with self-protection – ‘Now that Phil’s brother’s been convicted of paedophilia, if the viewers think I was okay with him seeing a much younger guy, will they think that he’s one too and that I enabled his abuse?’ - than it had to do with personal betrayal.  

But, let’s view her statement accepting the claim that she knew nothing of the affair and when she heard rumours, she asked Phil if they were true and he said ‘No.’ I know most people found her statement risible. But the vast majority of people who watched it were not regular viewers. I thought she did a good job. Here’s why…

She put her target audience first

Most of us laughed at the “Are you okay?” opener, thinking, ‘I’m fine. Isn’t the question Are you okay?’ But Willoughby wasn’t speaking to us; she was speaking to the 900,000 people that regularly tune into This Morning. Think about who those people are. They’re the old, the infirm, the long-term sick and unemployed, mothers with young babies… Basically, they’re people who aren’t getting out much and therefore enjoy the warm distraction that Holly and Phil have brought them over the years. Creating a cosy, family atmosphere, in which the viewer can feel like the aunt or cousin on the other side of the room, is something that the show truimphs at. 

Speaking more directly to her target audience she says, “I imagine you’ve been feeling a lot like I have, shaken, troubled, let-down.” The assertion that she can imagine how her audience is feeling may seem presumptuous, but to regular This Morning viewers it boosts her ethos appeal. The fact that she expects her target audience will feel the same as she does, flatters them and plays to the notion of family.    

If we have to address large audiences, we should always ask ourselves if there’s a target audience within it. This is often the case at conferences. The speaker needs to make the speech enjoyable and interesting for everyone but within the audience is there a particular group you want to work with, sell to etc. 

She wore white

Is it a coincidence that Willoughby wore the colour white, the colour of purity and innocence? I don’t think so. She wants people to think she’s squeaky clean and, amazingly, colour can massively influence how we perceive others. 

I’ve heard of lawyers who tell clients to wear navy suits, blue being seen as a colour that projects sincerity. Grey is the colour of seriousness and power; Browns and beiges are the touchy-feely colours of approachability; Red has links to courage. So, if you’re keen to be perceived in a particular way, pick clothes that will give you that additional boost. 

There was emotion in her voice

Who knows why she was emotional. I’m not convinced that her voice quavered for the reasons she gave in her statement. But it doesn’t matter. For her target audience, her vocal tone matched her message, and therefore cranked up her authenticity.  

Often clients worry that they’ll ‘lose it’ during a speech and dissolve into an emotive puddle. I always wonder why they fear this so much. If an audience can see that the speaker is genuinely moved, then they’re usually moved too. And this almost always has a positive payoff. Of course, what’s important is that you don’t speak over emotion, take a moment for the lump in the throat to settle and then continue. 

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