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Background to the Speech
The marriage between Diana (née Spencer) and Charles, Prince of Wales, had collapsed by the 1990s. The two royals had been divorced for a while, when the former Princess of Wales went on a trip to Paris with her new boyfriend, Dodi al-Fayed. On 30 August 1997, whilst escaping from papparazzi, Mr al-Fayed's car crashed in a tunnel, leaving him and his driver dead. Hours later, the grievously injured Diana was declared dead by her French doctors, thrusting the British monarchy into an unprecedented crisis of public perception.

At the time of Diana's death, Tony Blair had only been Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for a few months, having been elected to the nation's highest office in a landslide victory for his Labour Party in May 1997. Now, hours after the tragic news, he was faced with the task of consoling a grieving nation.

Original Text of the Speech
“I am utterly devastated. The whole of our country, all of us, will be in a state of shock and mourning. Diana was a wonderful, warm and compassionate person who people, not just in Britain, but throughout the world, loved and will mourn as a friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, in particular with her two sons, and with all of the families bereaved in this quite appalling tragedy.

I feel like everyone else in this country today – utterly devastated. Our thoughts and prayers are with Princess Diana’s family – in particular her two sons, two boys – our hearts go out to them. We are today a nation, in Britain, in a state of shock, in mourning, in grief that is so deeply painful for us.

She was a wonderful and warm human being. Though her own life was often sadly touched by tragedy, she touched the lives of so many others in Britain – throughout the world – with joy and with comfort. How many times shall we remember her, in how many different ways, with the sick, the dying, with children, with the needy, when, with just a look or a gesture that spoke so much more than words, she would reveal to all of us the depth of her compassion and her humanity. How difficult things were for her from time to time, surely we can only guess at – but the people everywhere, not just here in Britain but everywhere, they kept faith with Princess Diana, they liked her, they loved her, they regarded her as one of the people. She was the people’s princess and that’s how she will stay, how she will remain in our hearts and in our memories forever.

She seemed full of happiness, full of life, she was great fun to be with and she was an unusual but a really warm character and personality and I will remember her personally with very great affection. I think the whole country will remember her with the deepest affection and love and that is why our grief is so deep today. Thank you.”

Analysis
Note the use of the collective “all of us” by the Prime Minister. He also uses emotionally charged terms such as “loved” and “friend”. He also refers to “our thoughts and prayers”. It is obvious that Blair successfully attempts to speak for the entire nation during what proved to be a trying time for many citizens. This is even more remarkable, as it has been widely reported that Blair hardly knew the Princess of Wales prior to her death.

Blair’s description of Diana is that of a “wonderful and warm human being”. It implies a deeper awareness of the personality of the deceased princess. Additionally, it is notable that he emphasizes the role that Diana played “in Britain – throughout the world”, keenly aware that his words reflect an incident that would be widely reported in international news broadcasts. He then shifts to describe the appeal that the princess had to so many people, including the respect that she had obtained for “her compassion and her humanity”. He also alludes to the difficult times in her life, widely reported in newspapers and television reports – thus empathizing and sympathizing with those tough periods in her life.

But the key to the speech is the last sentence of the penultimate paragraph, which levels the princess to the level of “one of us” – whilst subtly reinforcing the Prime Minister as “one of us” as well. In a way, Blair was distancing himself from the Royal Family (“them”, maybe?) by reinforcing the collective appellation. The final paragraph has to be seen from this perspective as well, since the prime minister talks about the “great affection” with which he will remember the princess. However, given the sparse contact between the two, it would seem that this is an emotional expression on behalf of the wider public, who did get to know her ever since the televised wedding between her and the Prince of Wales in 1981.

 
 
Today, not so much an analysis, but some links for you to explore the world of speechwriting and rhetoric on your own: 

American Rhetoric - An absolutely fantastic resource in terms of American speechwriting. Features audio and video of many important speeches in recent history, including convention speeches, commencement addresses and keynoters. Be sure to check out their Top 100 of Speeches. 

The Churchill Centre - Dedicated to the memory of Britain's most famous prime minister, this site boasts a venerable collection of the statesman's oratory, stretching from the antebellum era to well past World War II.

De Gaulle's Rallying Cry - Or a report by the BBC how a speech changed the course of a war

Perseus Collection - Courtesy of Tufts University, you can check out Cicero's rhetoric or peruse Caesar's works as well
 
 
Speechwriting is a challenge, but a rewarding one

When we think of speeches and rhetoric, these very ideas conjure up images of desks strewn with paper, random notes having been jotted down on an equally random Post-it note, and highlighted passages in drafts that are nowhere near ready. But then we remember that those invariably nervous, tense and rough moments of creative combustion are followed by "the spark": the tear rolling down someone's cheek, the smile caused and the deeper appreciation kindled in a sceptic. All of that through the power of the word.

I remember one of the primary debates during the 2008 election, when it had come down to then-Senators Obama and Clinton. One exchange particularly remained in my head: Hillary complained that Barack gave a nice speech, but that words alone didn’t matter. The senator from Illinois countered that, yes, words do matter – and a great deal at that. There are so many examples from thousands of years of history. Whether the debates in the Roman Senate, Kennedy’s inaugural address, Reagan’s speech after the Challenger disaster or President Bush’s words comforting a stricken nation after the outrage of September 11: Words do matter. They provide hope, optimism, cause for reflection and energy for tasks ahead – but they can also indict, clarify injustices and shine the light on a cause whose time has finally arrived. That’s why I like public speaking.

Many years ago, when I was preparing my first speech for a public audience, no such high-minded discourse was on my mind – well almost. The occasions when I have had the pleasure of delivering a speech have been varied – in front of audiences big and small, across social strata and income disparities. Like anyone who has been involved with crafting a speech, I have had the moment when I’ve been at a loss or when coming across the perfect phrase "made" my speech. Writing a speech is by no means for the faint-hearted, the shy or the meek. Speeches are all about clarity, structure and seizing the moment.

More than that, however, there is one overriding lesson that I have taken on board when thinking back to the speeches I have written and it’s this: Know your audience. It’s vital to establish a real bond with them, to press their emotional buttons and think about the value to them. No one else matters when it comes to crafting your speech. No one. Talking about crafting a speech: You can only write a good speech if you have material to work with – in other words, if your substance isn’t convincing (and you aren’t convinced, either), then you can use all the best imagery in the world and it won’t matter. Eloquence isn’t just about words, it’s about content, clear thought and persuasiveness. To be a good speaker, you must be a good thinker, a bit of a practical joker and a bit of a seducer.

When people ask me about the best speech I have given, I don’t cite the speeches that I gave in front of hundreds of people. Instead, I refer them to a presentation I gave at an Indian engineering college on the issue of trademark and patent law. For anyone not familiar with these areas, they can appear very complicated. Why was that speech my best? Well, because I got to teach others about their rights under patent law, about the history of intellectual property and what they could do in concrete terms. And this is the final lesson here: Aim higher, elevate the discourse and seek out high quality – not just in what you write, but how you say it. Chances are when you think of your audience, you will write a better speech.

It all boils down to these three principles:

• Know your audience
• Deliver quality content
• Aim to educate 

Writing and delivering a speech may be daunting at first, but its rewards make up for all the uncertainties of the speechwriting process. Carpe diem!

PS: In case you do find the process daunting - or if you just want to entrust your speech to an experienced hand, you can always approach us!
 
 
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Many a time, we're called upon to write and eventually deliver a speech. For many people, it can be an exceedingly daunting prospect, leading to pressure and an inexplicable bout of nervousness. Are there any tips for those who are drafting their speech for the first time? Well, I'm sure different people will tell you different things - so, I give you my very own personal Top 5 tips on writing a good speech. Ready? Well, here we go: 

1.) Do your Research: Yes, take a moment and reflect on the context in which your speech will be delivered. Will it be in a big auditorium or before a classroom of high school students? Will the audience be affluent, middle class or the working poor? The reason for the meeting plays a big role as well - it is the thread that brought about the speech in the first place. Whether it's a birthday or a death, a family or a business gathering - be mindful of the occasion. Which leads me to preparation. I cannot emphasize it enough. Your top priority for every speech has to be preparation, preparation and preparation. Know your subject, know your audience and know your goal. Don't cut corners and you will touch hearts and minds. 

2.) The Audience Matters (a Big Deal!): When you're asked to deliver a speech, pause for a minute. Think of what a great privilege it is for you to have been asked to speak in front of an audience, whether it's a gathering of friends, a wedding reception, an annual general meeting or a conference of medical professionals. Let me repeat it again: It is your privilege to be speaking to them, not theirs! Think of the fact that these strangers are voluntarily sacrificing their quality time to listen to you  and your ideas. It is that simple - and that big. You have to make your speech interesting, entertaining and intriguing for them. They have no obligation other than listening politely to you. But at the same time, in their very own self-interest, they want you to do well - because no one likes being bored out of their mind. Turn this into an advantage. 

3.) Develop a Broad Idea: George H.W.Bush once said during the 1988 presidential campaign that he had problems articulating "the vision thing". Trust me, in a speech, articulating an overarching theme is vital to the way you structure your speech and your ability to captivate the audience. Use the structure of your speech as building blocks leading up to the overall articulation of your vision. When you're talking about the overall decency and fundamental kindness of a friend, for example, illustrate it through examples of that kindness and what other people say - before outlining those characteristics in broader terms. 

4.) Entertain: No, you don't have to be Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Bailey or Eddie Murphy. But consider using anecdotes to demonstrate a point. Keep your speech light on too many statistics. With a speech, it's all about making an impact - you can do that best with personal warmth, a broad knowledge of your subject and a narrative use of your voice. Tell a story throughout your speech and bring those facts to life. Your audience will thank you for it. 

5.) Keep it Real: Some budding orators make the mistake of channeling someone else's personality. You're not Charles de Gaulle, President Jed Bartlet from The West Wing or Tony Blair. You're who you are: You! Remember that and speak with your authentic voice, with all its quirks - speak from the heart and believe in what you're saying, even if that means having to rewrite a speech. The rule is simple: If the words you use are spoken sincerely, chances are that your audience will know. 
 
 

Y
esterday, on our Twitter profile, we posted one of the most effective, groundbreaking and legendary speeches in recent history. It was a speech that changed a nation and shone a light on one of America’s toughest challenges, namely that of civil rights. We’re of course referring to the „I have a Dream“ speech delivered by Dr Martin Luther King Jr on the occasion of the March on Washington that took place on 28 August 1963.

In his speech, King reminded the nation of the promise enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the values publicly espoused since the Revolutionary War. In the process, he rallied the nation around equal rights for all citizens – ultimately leading to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.  But how was this speech written? How did it become the clarion call that resontes throughout the generations? There are some interesting and, at times, surprising answers.

In a time when King was already hard-pressed by his leadership of the Civil Rights Movement, his ideal wish was to take some time out with his family. But as the March on Washington had been fixed for August 1963, there was no time to rest – it was time to draft his speech for that event. In order to have the requisite peace and quiet, King withdrew to upstate New York. Apparently, even on the day prior to the March, King had no concrete idea on how he would address the crowd and which themes he would raise.

What followed was a two-step process: a collaborative discussion between King and his closest advisers on their ideas for the speech, followed by King refining and distilling them into what became the “I Have a Dream” speech. But those memorable words weren’t even in the original draft. In fact, when King began speaking, there was no plan whatsoever for him to use these visionary cadences. In the words of Clarence Jones, King “winged it” in front of millions of people. This clearly makes the address even more extraordinary. And it proves that a powerful message and authentic delivery are vital to any public speech. This is a lesson we all can take away from a truly legendary orator.
 
 
Welcome to First Impressions, the blog of Verbavolant Consulting on the topics as wide-ranging as speeches, PowerPoint presentations and good English. These also happen to be the areas that we cover in our range of services - but there is something else they happen to have in common: They are all about the construction and perception of public images. In other words, it's about making a good first impression. Rather than selling you a product, this blog is all about anecdotes and practical advice for you, the visitors of our website. Of course, we would be delighted if you liked what you see and decided to check it out for yourself. But our primary objective is to provide information that you can practically use. 

That may mean providing advice on how to plan a speech, a five-step guide to structuring a good valedictorian speech or the analysis of a speech that has gone down in history, so that you can learn from it and understand it better. We look forward to hearing from you and welcome suggestions for topics.