This isn’t just a cut-and-paste of every other ‘Best Speeches Ever’ compilation. It breaks public speaking down into its five key constituent parts, and picks an example to demonstrate each. Which means we’re not saying that Neil Kinnock is the world’s greatest public speaker, or that Barack Obama gets by solely on the back of a winning smile. We’re simply suggesting that if you could combine the strengths of this lot, you’d have the public speaking equivalent of Pele, Don Bradman and Nijinski rolled into one.
The Pause: Mastered by JFK, in Berlin June 26, 1963
In many ways he gets it all wrong. Gripping the lectern as if he’s worried he might fall-off, swaying from side-to-side, great phrases garbled too quickly. From that perspective, it’s a study in sea-sickness. However, he’s rescued by the words themselves and, as demonstrated here, by the power of the pause. Extraordinarily, he has the confidence to stay silent even when the crowd don’t respond. It doesn’t take long before they do. Pausetastic!
Body language: Mastered by David Cameron, Global Investment Conference, 9th May 2013
Watch this one with the sound muted and ignore the content (along with your political views). This is body language at its very best – energetic, great arm movement and eye contact, but in no way over-the-top. From the moment Cameron leaps onto the stage, he is in control, exuding positive energy and creating impact. The key to getting people to listen is to get the body language sorted first (they say that 90% of a speaker’s personal impact is created visually). In this speech, it’s hard to look away.
Facial expressions: Mastered by Barack Obama, White House Correspondent’s Dinner, 2011
When he’s on form he’s the contemporary master of public speaking. This is Obama at his best. The pauses and comic timing are worthy of a professional entertainer, but focus particularly on his face. The smile lightens the mood; the frown is quizzical but unthreatening. The speaker’s job is, in many ways, to use delivery to signpost to the audience how they should react to the words. To say he nails it would be one of the great understatements. And the jokes aren’t bad either.
The voice: Mastered by Neil Kinnock, Labour Party Conference 2005
Lampooned by Spitting Image, mugged by the English Channel, and forever associated with the infamous “We’re orriitte” in Sheffield, Kinnock may be an odd choice. But the man remains a fine orator. This isn’t a long clip, but it demonstrates how the emphasis given to certain parts of a sentence can bring a speech to life. Listen out for the words “outdated”, “misplaced”, “irrelevant” and “chaos”. Passionate, heartfelt but not OTT. Delivery at its finest.
The content: Mastered by Martin Luther King, August 26th 1963
Every schoolboy can quote ‘I have a dream’ but when you listen to the speech in its entirety it’s incredible how many other sound bites and phrases you will be aware of. You’ll also appreciate just how many other speeches have taken elements of this one as a template. On top of everything, MLK pretty much sings it. The word “Alabama” lingers for ever. The rhythm is extraordinary. When he talks about ‘rising’ his voice rises with it. Simply the best.
Click here: Martin Luther King masters his content (amongst other things)
On the other hand: Not mastered by Robert Mugabe, United Nations 2011
Fed-up of inspirational, talented, impactful speakers? Watch this for a bucketful of wet water to dampen your love of public speaking. Eyes down, voice monotone, hands still. You’d feel more engaged listening to him on the radio. As for the content – it’s irrelevant. I challenge you to sit this clip through without falling asleep.
There is, of course, an element of self-interest in pulling these together. We help politicians, business people and private clients around the world write and deliver speeches that are remembered for all the right reasons. If you enjoyed this, please spread the word.