Tired of political bluster? Try this antidote

If, as speakers and presenters, our only source of inspiration came from politicians, our spirits would be plumbing the depths. It’s easy to think that public discourse these days is dominated by bare-faced liars, cheats and dissemblers. Any speech from them, we can safely guess, would be an amalgam of bluster, bravado and self-aggrandizement.

Thankfully, there are other sources of inspiration. It’s just that they don’t usually get the big headlines and the air-time that the gaseous politicians bask in.

To redress the balance, here are some extracts from speeches that celebrate humanity and encourage everyone to be the best they can be. As well as being little treasures in their own right, they all are models against which we can all enhance our speaking skills.

Actress and producer Glenn Close gave the commencement address at William and Mary University. Here’s a fragment:

“We die without connection. Nothing is worse for us humans than to be bereft of community.

“Empathy evolved because two eyes looked into two eyes. It’s the most immediate and powerful way we humans communicate. Empathy evolved because we looked at each other, face to face, not on a screen. Studies have shown that the farther away we get from two eyes looking into two eyes, the harder it is to empathize.

“What I have learned is that if we are to remain a free and viable society, we need to spend less time looking at screens and more time looking into each other’s eyes.”

And, on a similar theme, best-selling author James Patterson said this to students at the University of Florida:

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air.

“You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air.

“Hopefully, you come to understand that work is a rubber ball. if you drop it, it will bounce  back.

“But the other four balls – family, health, friends, and spirit – are made of glass.

“If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.

“Once we understand that, maybe, just maybe, we strive for more balance in our lives.”

By the way, storyteller Patterson’s speech was peppered with stories. I counted at least 12 in the 15 minute address. Stories really do make your core message stick in the minds of the audience.

Singer Justin Timberlake struck a chord with his audience when he received an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music:

“…what happens right after you feel like you failed is who you are and who you will continue to be… You have to dare to suck. You will never make something great if you are afraid that it’s going to suck, that it’s going to fail… Your tenacity and your ability to define who you are through those failures will be your ultimate success.”

As you read through or listen to these speeches, we find the same tools being used to deliver very different voices:

  • Short sentences (easy to perform, easy for the audience to comprehend)
  • Conversational language 
  • The words ‘you’ and ‘we’ occurring far more often than the word ‘I’
  • Unhurried delivery (plenty of time for the audience to enjoy and ponder the comments)

You’d expect to find Oprah Winfrey in a collection like this, and here she is, at Colorado College commencement:

“…what you can do here and now is make a decision because life is about decisions. And the decision is that you will use your life in service.

“You will speak up. You will show up. You will stand up. You will sit in. You will volunteer. You will vote. You will shout out. You will help. You will lend a hand. You will offer your talent and your kindness however you can. And you will radically transform whatever moment you’re in.”

Well-crafted speeches and presentations really do change lives. And they are a wonderful antidote to the cynicism fostered by some of today’s political rhetoric.