Speech of the Month, October 2020 - Jacinta Ardern
Jacinta Aderne knows how to let her light shine. Employ some of her techniques to project your most likeable self.
Back in mid-October I was worrying, who was going to be my subject for Speech of the Month? Boris’s conference speech was a fatuous fairy-tale and Sir Keir’s call for a Covid-19 circuit breaker, however powerful, was a tad sombre - and SotM isn't about sombre. Just when I thought I was going to have to resort to Pam from Payroll’s presentation re her new pro forma, Jacinta Ardern swept to a landslide victory and, conveniently for me, gave a great victory speech. Take a look if you haven’t yet.
Here’s what I liked about it, and what I think we can all learn from it:
Give another lingo a bash
It’s charming, sensitive and politically astute that Ardern opens and closes her speech in Maori. But such a decision also takes balls and commitment to pull off. Don’t we panic when a royal or a politician veers from English during a speech? Why? Usually because we suspect they don’t know the language and they’ve learnt their ‘lines’ so if they lose their thread and stumble, then they really are in the word soup. I’ve worked with so many speakers who feel it would be a nice touch to say a few words in Urdu or Polish or Spanish but, at the same time, also think ‘but why do it when I clearly don’t know the lingo and the rest of the speech will be in English? It seems a bit pointless.’
Well the point is that you’ve made the effort. Years ago I was in France with a friend who’s a fluent French speaker. I’d feel embarrassed trying out my rusty A’level Francais on the locals so one evening I told her that I wasn’t going to bother anymore. “Don’t do that!” she roared (we’d had a few Pastis) “They love that you’re trying." So from now on if you’re speaking to an audience whose first language isn’t English, consider saying a few words in their native tongue. They’ll suspect those words will have been phonetically drilled into you, but they won’t care. They’ll be touched that you’ve put in the time and effort to learn them. The gesture, as Ardern knows, demonstrates respect. And one of the greatest gifts a speaker can give their audience is respect.
Easy to do when you’ve just won a general election by a landslide. But even when she’s giving her audience the ‘information bit,’ Ardern manages to look excited and cheerful about it. Compare that with so many work presentations when Lee for Logistics runs you through a list of recommendations with the misery of someone who’s about to face the axe or the ennui of a person who’s been standing in a Post Office queue for over an hour.
Why don’t we bother to project cheer when running through our ‘information bits?’ Maybe because the information is troubling and could have negative repercussions for some people so it would feel sinister to smile. But probably, and more usually, we don’t do it because at the moment we’re talking about our information it’s just ideas - that will no doubt be scrutinised and tested - and it’s hard to get excited about stuff that isn’t tangible and might involve a battle or two.
And yet a smile is so warming and its good vibes are so infectious. So, like Ardern, try to get used to using it when you speak about the informative stuff. This is something the BBC's Carol Kirkwood does brilliantly too. Don’t grin like an idiot but don’t look like a miserable Mike or a bored Betty either.
Fill the space
Ardern might be slight of frame but this does not stop her taking up space. She’s expansive, she makes large sweeping gestures. And this ‘taking up space’ projects confidence. Audiences don’t want to watch bashful or tense speakers. Why would they? They’re an uncomfortable watch. So speakers need to make their audiences feel comfortable, and the best way to do this is by looking at ease. Consider how you move when you’re out with friends (or rather how you moved with friends when you were allowed to see them) and bring that quality to your public speaking. Fight the temptation to stand like a rigid statue, it won’t do you any favours. That said, do try to keep your lower deck grounded and do more with your upper deck, face and arms.
Get in touch if you'd like some of the Jacinta style for you or your team.
“I have known Emma a long time, and she is my 'go to girl' for all things public speaking/presenting. At the University of Salford she would help us prepare our Graduation presenters - inspiring them, giving them strategies to cope under the spotlight and confidence to deliver. At UCLan, Emma delivered a workshop aimed at helping us teaching staff to 'use our voices' - and I still do the exercises in the car travelling to work. She is a joy to work with, always delivers, 'tailors' her approach (and yes a deliberate pun) and is really empathetic with her clients. What's not to like?”