Message for today, objective for tomorrow

by Peter Watts

“Tonight, I can report to the American people, and to the world…..”

To understand the mechanics of any successful speech, you must always read it. By reviewing the printed page, you see the ingenious word workings that give the speech its power.

“Tonight, I can report to the American people….”

These opening words announced the death of Osama Bin Laden. They initially slip past you until you read the script.

President Obama deliberately chose to approach his audience with the simplest humility; when we “report to” someone, we work for them. When we “report for duty”, we present our service. Contrast this opening to a flight-suit clad George W. Bush astride a battle-cruiser with a banner screaming “Mission Accomplished”, and the full style difference will become all the more apparent.

Your opening words in any speech or presentation will set the tone for everything that is to follow. They will provide the springboard for your key message, and in Obama’s presentation, that key message was not “victory over terror” as might have been expected, but “unity in the face of terror”.

In the first two minutes of the speech, the word unity, or synonyms for unity were mentioned 20 times. In the final two minutes, again, there were a further 20 repetitions.

Unity synonyms are used for pathos: “3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.”

Unity synonyms are used for society and community: “In our time of grief…. we offered  our neighbors a hand, we offered the wounded our blood, we reaffirmed our ties for each other”

And the word unity itself is used as a vital pivot-point to turn the speech from the retrospective trauma of 9/11, to the 10 year hunt for Bin Laden: “We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice.”

Within every great speech, there is a key message, and that key message must be carefully chosen with the audience in mind. For Obama’s audiences, both domestic and global, in the defining moment of Sunday May 1st, 2011, no finer message could have been chosen than that of “unity”.

The Roman orator Quintilian, once wrote that great speeches place a “hidden dart” into the mind of the audience, and that the message encoded in that dart will remain long after the speech itself may have been forgotten.

In his speech announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden, President Barack Obama sought to use the power of oratory to not only announce the death of a terrorist, but to use that power to further advance the death of the terrorist’s cause.

With all due respect, some irritating phrases will annoy your audience!

Certain phrases are guaranteed to turn-off an audience

by Peter Watts

“With all due respect……”

“I’m sorry, but…….”

“Look, I just want to say…….”

These are the phrases that when we hear them spoken, make us want to lovingly reach through our television screens and strangle whoever it is that has just uttered them!

I have a word for these phrases. Collectively I call them “winders” in that whenever they are used, someone is going to wind up becoming distinctly wound up!

A winder can be defined as any phrase that belittles the person against whom it is aimed. It suggests an air of smug superiority on the part of the individual who has used it, and if you listen carefully as the winder is delivered, you will hear that is accompanied by a slight sigh, as the deliverer condescends to be involved with such a lesser mortal.

Winders, in presentations, are bad news! There can be no quicker way to completely lose the support of your audience than to irritate them. So, how to avoid such a mistake?

First, know what are the phrases that act as winders on you! If they annoy you, there is a strong chance that they annoy others. Try listening to politicians being interviewed on the radio for an endless supply! The time that you are most likely to hear them is if the interview is not going well, and the politician suddenly feels the need to defend themselves. It is in this heat of battle context that the winders come exploding forth!

Secondly, approach audiences or interviewers with a sense of humility. If the audience feels that you respect them, then there is a significantly lower chance that they in turn, will do anything to provoke you. With fewer provocations, come fewer winders!

In this final point we can see something ironic within the nature of the winder. We use them when someone else has already provoked us into doing so. Frequently, the intended victim well and truly asked for it, deserved it, and got it….. right between the eyes! It is not however, from this deserving victim that the presenter will them find themselves damned; it is from the wider audience! Like the sound of fingernails being dragged down a blackboard, winders not only affect those at whom they are aimed, but also affect everyone within hearing distance.

Verbally, they are weapons of mass destruction, and as with all WMD’s, they are best kept out of commission!

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