Speech of the Month, March 2020 - Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak skillfully brought emotion to an informative speech. Here's how....

Speech of the Month, March 2020 - Rishi Sunak

Who didn’t like Rishi Sunak? Who, after Sajid Javid was made an offer he could only refuse, was set to loathe this privileged puppet, the possible secret lovechild of Michael Howard, Priti Patel and, if a third party could be involved, Dumbo (check out the ears!)? Yeah, me too. 

So imagine my surprise when, as I watched the budget speech, Sunak didn’t come across as servile, lacking compassion or unable to tie his own shoelaces. And, to my almost irritation, I thought his budget speech was good. Yes, he overdid the rhetorical flourishes but given the circumstances and the fact that he was so new in the job, he was impressive. 

But I’m going to focus on the address he delivered during the Cononavirus briefing on 20 March. What I liked about it - because it’s something I’m always encouraging my clients to do - is the way Sunak reflected his introduction in his ending, thereby giving the speech a cyclical quality. I also thought the way he wove in emotion during his ending was very affecting, especially as he was giving an informative speech, and they’re the ones that are usually devoid of emotion. 

Reflect the opening in the ending

So here’s the opening...

“Let me speak directly to people’s concerns. I know that people are worried about losing their jobs; about not being able to pay the rent or mortgage; about not having enough set by to pay for food and bills. I know that some people have already lost their jobs. To all those at home right now, anxious about the days ahead, I say this… You will not face this alone. But getting through this will require a collective national effort, with a role for everyone to play. People, businesses, government – it’s on all of us.” 

Next we get the main body of the address which is the information and then here’s the ending... 

“Now more than at any time in our history, we will be judged by our capacity for compassion. Our ability to come through this won’t be just down to what government and businesses do but by the individual acts of kindness we show each other: the small business who does whatever it can not to lay off its staff; the student who does a shop for their elderly neighbour; the retired nurse who volunteers to cover some shifts in their local hospital. When this is over - and it will be over - we want to look back on this moment and remember the small acts of kindness done by us and to us. We want to look back on this time and remember how we thought first others and acted with decency. We want to look back on this time and remember how, in the face of a generation-defining moment, we undertook a collective national effort and we stood together. It’s on all of us." 

What punches through in the opening and the ending is the message that this crisis is something we are all in and we all have to do our bit. The repetition of ‘It’s on all of us’ is not accidental. 

Make an effort to top and tail your intros and outros so there is some reflection. It helps to reinforce the key message. It doesn’t matter if you do this by echoing an idea, an image, a phrase – just do it.

Let emotion flow

Sunak’s ending was purposely emotive in the hope that by presenting clear information and then appealing to the magnanimity of his target audience (business owners), his speech would be all the more persuasive; he’ll get businesses to take a Cononavirus Job Retention Scheme grant so that they can keep workers on their payroll instead of laying them off. 

His appeal to magnanimity is a smart move. What good would it do him to make that small hotel owner in Cumbria feel mean spirited and a general tight wad if he lays off workers who’ve kids to feed because of his crippling cash-flow problems? It's not like he's responsible for Coronavirus. But by making that person picture themselves in 30 years telling their grandchildren about how they managed to hang on and pay their employees till a grant came through, that is the feel-good / feel-proud vision that will persuade the hotel owner to hold tight. 

So how do you bring emotion into an informative talk? Like Sunak, be really clear what you want your audience to do but when speaking focus more on why they should do it. In your preparation decide on the emotion that you should awake in your audience so that it will be motivated to do that thing you need it to. So for example, if I were teaching a group of new adult readers phase 1 phonics, I might move them into taking on the information and practicing it by getting them to think about that moment when they’re presented with a form and instead of making an excuse as to why they can’t fill it in there and then, they confidently pick up a pen and begin to fill it out.

Of course, the level of emotion that you bring to a presentation depends on the importance of the message. Sunak was delivering a speech of huge consequence so it was fitting that his closing message was emotionally large. But if you were to hit the same high rhetorical notes complete with tricolon after explaining to a group of transport operatives how to install new bus shelter apparatus, then you’re going to look ridiculous. So always match the level of emotion with the importance of the message.  

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