Speech of the Month, October 2019 - Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn ignited with his 'Not for Sale' statement. Could you do similar?
Hands up again – October’s most notable speech was undoubtedly given by Rosie Duffield – when a backbench MP makes the evening news because of a speech she’s given then it’s got to be pretty outstanding. But I want to look at a moment that happened in Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign that was pretty stand-out, explain why, and suggest how we can do similar.
In arguing that a Tory government led by Boris Johnson would see the NHS flogged off to US pharma companies, Corbyn said, “I am not prepared to stand by while our NHS is scarified on the altar of USA big business or any other country’s big business. Our NHS is not for sale.” The immediate audience (by that I mean the people in the hall) loved it and applauded. And then spontaneously began to chant, “Not for Sale. Not for Sale.” Corbyn seemed surprised by their reaction and began to say, though with less gusto, the ‘Not for Sale’ chant himself. What he’d done, unintentionally it seems, was hit upon a great soundbite.
A soundbite is a phrase that once said is sealed in our minds. You could easily imagine Labour party political broadcasts where we’re shown various scenes: a mother is handed her new born baby, a paramedic successfully performs CPR, a child is undergoing complicated surgery, and over each image is the slogan, Not for Sale.
A good soundbite can help you support your points and change the pace and tone of your presentation. Soundbites can be very potent and emotive. But how can we intentionally craft one? If you want to end a section of your speech or round off an argument with a killer phrase then consider these ideas:
How does a situation feel?
When Churchill said that ‘an iron curtain has descended over Europe,’ he was talking about how a situation felt. He also wrapped that feeling into a metaphor. Ultimately he was saying that it felt like a hard barrier was dividing Europe, but that’s not nearly as catchy or visual as an iron curtain descending. So think about how a situation feels and then consider how you can convey that sentiment in an unusual and neat way.
Which of us born before 1990 will ever forget the People’s Princess? A wonderful soundbite. And Gordon Brown’s Boom and Bust is pretty memorable too. Although I think few of us would attribute it to Brown.
When Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high,” people loved it. But again, she was responding to how a situation felt. Nick Clegg used this technique effectively too, ‘The more they talk, they more they sound the same.’
When Tony Blair talked about ‘Education, education, education,’ we got the message. The repetition of the word helped to seal the notion that all that mattered was education. It might be hard to copy that technique without an audience thinking of Blair when they hear your ‘Safety, safety, safety’ phrase. Of course, if your audience is mainly under 25, then that won’t be a problem.
Can you find a rhyme?
When making his closing argument in the trial of OJ Simpson, Johnny Cochran ended with the devastating phrase, ‘If it does not fit, you must acquit.’ And the jury did acquit. ‘Coal, not dole’ demanded the miners, but to a less successful outcome. While Weight Watchers warned its members that 'Little pickers wear bigger knickers.'
Once you’ve formed your phrase, treat it carefully. Some soundbites need an element of repetition for them to embed. But if you over-repeat, the soundbite will adulterate and ruin your speech; when all it should be doing is adding a piquant note.
“I had a conference speech to give to academics, which aren't my typical bag, so I was really nervous about it and I was being too safe. Emma gave me the direction I needed. But what I valued most were the amazing tips she gave me along with some wonderful ideas, especially for my opening. My presentation was excellently received and I felt great giving it.”