Three powerful women; three powerful speeches. All delivered on the same day. Very different occasions, very different styles – but they demonstrated qualities that all speakers and presenters can learn from.
There was US soccer captain Megan Rapinoe, picking up a FIFA award as footballer of the year.
Her powerful speech focused on the racism, the homophobia and the inequalities in football, and by extension in life. She talked about being inspired by the way fellow professional footballers Raheem Stirling (Manchester City) and Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli) had called out racist behaviour.
“I feel like if we really want to have meaningful change, what I think is most inspiring would be if everybody other than Sterling and Koulibaly were as outraged about racism as they were.
“If everybody was as outraged about homophobia as the LGBTQ players.
“If everybody was as outraged about equal pay or the lack thereof, or the lack of investment in the women’s game, other than just women, that would be the most inspiring thing to me.”
- She starts with specifics, and broadens out her message.
- She brings a symmetry to her phrases: three times she begins with “If everybody…”. Three is a great number to use if you want to apply that powerful rhetorical tool of repetition.
- Her message is sharply focused and delivered with control. No tangents, no distractions.
- She makes great eye contact around the auditorium.
- And she ends with a clear call to action.
“I ask everyone here, lend your platform to other people, lift other people up.”
There was Michelle Williams at the Emmy Awards, being named as Best Actress in a Limited Series for her role in Fosse/Verdon.
She used the occasion to highlight inequality in pay for women. She had been fortunate, she said, in that her bosses had helped her develop her sense of self-worth.
“When I asked for more dance classes, I heard yes. More voice lessons, yes. All these things, they required effort, and they cost more money but my bosses never presumed to know better than I did.
“They understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value.”
Michelle Williams chose to make her point through contrast. She painted a glowing picture of how bosses had helped her, listened to her, empowered her. So it was more powerful when she contrasted that treatment with the treatment of those being paid half for doing similar work.
“So the next time a woman, especially a woman of colour – because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white, male counterpart – tells you what she needs in order to do her job, believe her.
“One day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing [her] to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.”
Like Rapinoe, Williams had a very focused message: listen to women, believe women, pay them fairly — particularly women of colour.
And it took her fewer than 290 words to deliver that message. Less is more.
And then there was Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old climate activist, delivering a blistering speech to world leaders gathered at the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit in New York.
She stunned her audience in different ways. First there was the anger, powerfully packaged for maximum impact in short, simple sentences:
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.”
But her’s wasn’t simply an emotional, accusatory address. She had data to support her:
“To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise – the best odds given by the IPCC – the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on January 1st, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons.”
Greta Thunberg was confidently in control of her message and the occasion. She didn’t have a teleprompter – just a single sheet of paper in her hands. Yet she barely looked at her notes. She eyeballed the audience, checking that they were tuned in to the passion of her oratory.
And she had a powerful conclusion:
“The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.”
Passion is a quality we focus on in our workshops, and in these powerful speeches all three women delivered it – in different ways. For Megan Rapinoe it was the understated power of conviction and life experience. Michelle Williams and Greta Thunberg showed more overt passion, but each had it under control. You knew they wanted their speeches to be remembered for the power of their words, not the drama of their delivery.
Three strong women, three powerful speeches, three heart-felt messages – each with clear focus, simple words, short sentences, an unmistakable purpose, passion and a voice that was clearly authentic.
Neil Everton has distilled a lifetime’s experience with some of the world’s top news organizations into his Media Mastery training aids for anyone worried about talking to reporters. The video, books, e-books and workbooks are available in the Podium Coaching online store.