When the right words create the wrong message

by Peter Watts Paskale

Addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition, Governor Chris Christie accidentally dropped a geographic f-bomb that left him apologizing to the gathering’s sponsor, leading GOP cash donor, Sheldon Adelson.

And all that poor Governor Christie had done, was to use a perfectly correct term. What went wrong? How is it there are times in public speaking when using the correct words can be fatal to your message?

The political goal of speaking at an RJC event is a simple one: Impress your pro-Israeli credentials on Sheldon Adelson, and the event held at Adelson’s Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas attracted multiple Republican hopefuls. John Kasich of Ohio was there, as was Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Jeb Bush put in an appearance at the fringe, and of course, Chris Christie was center-stage.

Christie gave a passionate speech. Everything was going wonderfully, until an unfortunate reference to “the Occupied Territories” accidentally slipped a non-Kosher item onto the buffet of his pro-Israeli credentials.

Check your editorial style guide and you’ll find that this is the correct term for much of the land disputed between Israel and the Palestinians. Its the correct word. Why therefore did an audible hiss arise from the room, and why did Governor Christie find himself having to apologize for his hideous error?

There are times in public speaking, when the correct term can be decidedly the wrong message.

A speaker’s first goal is to move their audience, and to move the audience in the direction of their argument. They have three tools with which to do this – the logic of their argument, their use of emotion, and their ability to convince listeners that they, the speaker, see the world just as the audience do. This last tool is known as “ethos” – persuading the audience to trust your viewpoint.

It’s here that Governor Christie slipped. For ethos, choice of language is crucial. If your audience uses a specific term to refer to a specific entity, then you had better use either the same term or a close approximation. By using the term “Occupied Territories’ in front of an Israeli interest group, Chris Christie did the opposite.

Good speeches use distinct language. There’s a category of rhetoric called Distinctio which states that when a term is vague, the speaker should clarify it. There are exceptions though, and by using the perfectly correct phrase “Occupied Territories”, Governor Christie obeyed an important law of rhetoric, but forgot an even more important rule of political messaging: “Reflect the interests of the audience.”

During his 2012 presidential run, Mitt Romney fell into the same trap. His attendance at Nascar was a good attempt at ethos: I like Nascar, therefore I’m an ordinary guy like you. His statement while at Nascar however, that he had friends who “owned Nascar teams”, was an example of how it can all go wrong.

Rand Paul meanwhile is highly accomplished at using ethos. His speeches are tailored precisely to the audience. Close attention is paid to turns of phrase. His recent appearance at Berkeley was a case-study.

Paul also obfuscates. He occasionally rambles off in what appear to be artless loops, but those loops are specifically placed to charmingly blur the focus of the audience. Whenever Rand Paul rambles, you can be sure he is acutely aware of a contentious topic lurking nearby. Paradoxically it’s this apparent deviation from message that helps him to remain on message.

How would you refer to the lands contested between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Unless you have a close involvement with the topic, I’m sure you might use phrases such as “Gaza”, or “the West Bank’, or maybe “Palestine”. The phrase  “Occupied Territories” doesn’t exactly trip-off the tongue. It has the same tenor as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – the sort of name that could only be created by committee.

That’s why I’m sure this wasn’t a case of Chris Christie mis-speaking. I’m sure that this was scripted, and scripted by a speech-writer who first did their due diligence by confirming precisely the right phrase, but then blew the speech out of the water by forgetting who the audience was going to be.

Yes there is always a correct way to refer to something, but no it isn’t always a good idea to use it. In all types of speaking, whether place names or industrial jargon, the first base needs to be finding out not which words the dictionary uses, but which words the audience use.

Make those words your own, and the audience will follow.

 

Immigration reform: Nancy’s hurling lemons – here’s how John can make lemonade

by Peter Watts Paskale

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Speaker John Boehner might want to remember that advice when Nancy Pelosi unveils her discharge petition for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill at a press conference tomorrow morning.

Immigration reform is a difficult topic for John Boehner’s caucus in the House. That’s exactly why Nancy Pelosi is so dramatically raising it and is also precisely why Mr. Boehner wishes that she wouldn’t.

It’s not all bad news for Boehner though. There are specific communication measures that he can take to escape from the political corner Mrs Pelosi is attempting to push him into. Here’s what to look for in a considered GOP response:

Step One: The Silent Judo Throw

In rhetoric there’s a technique called concessio. This basically means “agree with your opponent”. It’s very hard for somebody to stay on the offensive when the other side just agreed with them.

Debaters think of this as a judo throw because just like in the martial art, it takes your opponent’s momentum and uses it against them, so that they overbalance.

The question is: Where exactly should John Boehner agree with Nancy Pelosi?

Step Two: Find the Common Ground and Agree With It

In whatever Nancy Pelosi says at tomorrow’s press conference, there will be areas where John Boehner can agree – even if it’s only in a single sentence. For example, if somewhere Pelosi makes a statement such as “Immigration policy is a mess”. That’s a sentiment that Boehner can readily endorse.

Concessio will have been achieved, and the Pelosi momentum will have been temporarily checked.

Step Three: Understand the Hidden Common Ground and Appear to Ignore It

The next step would be invisible to the watching public, but John Boehner’s areas of agreement with Nancy Pelosi might go deeper than we think. For the sake of argument, let’s say that Pelosi has three main goals:

  1. Re-energize the stalled debate about immigration reform
  2. Put John Boehner into a difficult position with his own caucus
  3. Provoke Tea-Party types into some potentially vote-losing statements

John Boehner won’t be in agreement with points one and two, but point three could be quite interesting for him. The GOP has several primaries coming up where the Tea Party are challenging establishment figures – Mitch McConnell for example. Something that provokes those candidates into regrettable statements that render them unelectable could be just what John Boehner quietly welcomes.

Rather than causing a GOP headache, Mrs. Pelosi’s strategy could go some way to removing a couple of them – if the response is properly handled.

Step Four – Attack the Stratagem, not the Policy

There is a large difference between the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill that Mrs Pelosi is promoting, and the means by which she’s doing it. The GOP response can move into it’s attack phase by disagreeing not with the policy itself, but with the stratagem of using a discharge petition, which is after all, something of a procedural firework aimed at the media.

Step Five – Seize the Initiative

Unlike for Nancy Reagan with her anti-drugs message of “Just say No”, the same statement is regrettably not an option for John Boehner when it comes to immigration reform. If the Republican’s have any new ideas about immigration, then this would be a good time to indicate them. Nancy Pelosi will have provided the news platform – John Boehner will then have the opportunity to take advantage of it.

Step Six – Carefully Consider the First Responder

Speaker Boehner himself might not be the best person to lead the response. The immigration debate is a highly charged one, so it would be smart to use a speaker who is already seen as being positively invested from the GOP side. Marco Rubio could be a good choice, or even GOP elder statesman John McCain.

Tomorrow’s press conference need not be the Boehner-trap that it first appears. The damage done will depend entirely on how he directs the response – and that is directs the response, not delivers it. If handled correctly, the GOP lemonade stand can come out of this with increased credibility on a difficult topic. If handled badly though, the party, and Mr Boehner, can expect to be spitting out lemon pits from now until the mid-terms.

The question is, can John Boehner and his top-team avoid taking a great big bite from the lemon that Mrs. Pelosi is about to so gleefully offer them?

With the right communication plan, it’s completely possible. We’ll find out tomorrow.

Rand Paul at Berkeley: Why his speech worked

by Peter Watts

Senator Rand Paul is a hero. Or at least that’s how several of the nation’s news organizations would have it. Just for once though, we’re not talking Fox News. The San Francisco Chronicle for example rejoiced with this morning’s headline: “Republican Rand Paul fires up a Berkeley crowd”, while the New York Times compared him with Ronald Reagan, who found Berkeley such a tough audience that he sent in the National Guard.

All the applause would suggest that Senator Paul heroically entered a lion’s den and then persuaded the occupants to roll over and have their tummies tickled. To an extent, that’s just what he did, but this wasn’t a miracle. This was rhetoric at it’s best. Lessons can be learned!

Lions on Leashes

First of all, the audience was tightly controlled. Paul set a clear title for his Berkeley appearance and it was calibrated to the interests of the audience: privacy. He could pretty much guarantee that so long as he kept to the prepared script, the audience would keep a respectful silence. The problems were always going to come with the Q&A.

When we got to the questions however, what did we get? Pre-selected (for which read “heavily vetted”) questions. There was nothing there to open up any embarrassing civil-liberties type areas. Indeed, several of the questions such as “If elected President, would you curtail Executive Power” were directly chosen to enable the speaker to polish-up his credentials.

Millennial Momentum

Millennials are deeply suspicious of state authority. Paul’s chosen topic offered perfect synchronization. Throw in frequent references to cellphones, the web, and the threat posed by a snooping government, and rapt attention was guaranteed. Rand Paul is a clever, and thoughtful speaker. His isolation of this one particular aspect of Libertarian belief was where he and his audience would overlap. The audience were enthralled. So much so that they didn’t notice the giant logical chasm – and opportunity – that Paul was delicately tip-toeing around.

“What you do on your cellphone is none of their damned business”

This line was used twice, and to applause each time. Rand Paul passionately believes that nobody, just nobody has the right to interfere with you and your phone. Except….. the curious amongst us would love to know how that adds up if you are using your phone for some sort of gay dating purposes. If the phone company should manifest devout Christian views, would they have a right to cut you off? After all, Rand Paul also believes shops should have the right to turn away LGBT customers.

This vital question was left unasked, but then again, all the questions had been vetted anyway.

Academic Style

Something that I do personally enjoy about the Rand Paul style is his love of history. He speaks in an academic style – hence he sometimes rambles – and this address was full of quotations from what to many would have been obscure sources:

“Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England,
as I trust shall never be put out.”

Only Rand Paul could get away with Tudor history in a modern American political speech, quoting Archbishop Cranmer’s famous last words as he and the unfortunate Ridley became human barbecue on Bloody Mary’s sixteenth century execution pyre. Again, the quote was perfectly chosen. It’s an academic quote, and this speech was being given in an academic setting to an audience of high academic style. At once the quote supports Paul’s message, and flatters the audience. It winks and insinuates “I’m clever, and I know you’re clever. Let’s both be clever together.” The lions of Berkeley just rolled over and purred. Daniel himself could not have done better.

A Feinstein Love-Fest

Paul went out of his way to pour praise onto a lady with whom he would not normally share much political currency, Senator Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein’s significant if dull speech of the week before came in for substantial praise, right down to Paul’s account of how he walked across to the Senator to congratulate her on it. Again, the Lions purred their approval. Why?

Senator Feinstein is from California. Berkeley is in California. What the audience responded to was the political equivalent of a speaker standing up to praise the home-team. “Go 49ers!!!” It was another subtle little aside, that was calculated to please.

Paul endorsed Snowden!

Almost The absolute heart of the spell however was Rand Paul’s continuous flirtation with Edward Snowden. The first reference came a mere three minutes into the speech, tucked neatly beside Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Paul almost seemed to be flirting with the subject, until out of nowhere, we found ourselves in a comparison between the wrongdoings of Snowden and what Paul perceived to be the wrongdoings of NSA Director, James Clapper.

This strange dance of logic led to the statement that “If Clapper is innocent, then Snowden is innocent.” What just happened? Did Rand Paul declare Edward Snowden innocent? The audience certainly seemed to think so, and responded warmly. In actuality though, Paul did no such thing. He merely posed an interesting question that allowed the audience to gleefully assume that Rand Paul shares their views. Yet more approving purring.

Full marks to Senator Paul. This was a masterful assessment of the audience, and a message fine-tuned to their viewpoint.

There were so many ways in which this appearance at Berkeley could have gone wrong. So many topics where speaker and audience could have clashed. So many difficult questions that could have been asked. Not one of them came to pass. Many are seeing Daniel emerging unscathed from the lion’s den having performed some form of political miracle. Look a little closer though and you’ll see the natural results of a good speech, a well planned message, and above all, a flattered audience.

Cathy McMorris Rogers and the SOTU response. Yoda or Jindal?

It’s the most unenviable job in politics: delivering the response to the President’s State of the Union address.

A high-wire act performed over circling sharks, the number one goal is simply to avoid coming out of it as chum. To emerge merely a chump can be considered success.

The problem is that everybody remembers when it all goes wrong, but few remember when it goes OK. Bobby Jindahl’s train-wreck in 2009, and Marco Rubio’s water-bottle moment in 2013 both leap to mind, whereas Mitch Daniels workmanlike performance in 2012 has fallen off the radar.

If delivering the SOTU response is a plum handed to rising stars, then it’s a Hunger Games of a plum. Most of those chosen are going to wind-up pulp.

Delivering a successful refutation is never a job for the angry. An angry, fired-up politician with an axe to grind and a name to make, Bobby Jindal for example, will fall straight into the trap of attempting a sweeping refutation of everything that the President just said. Striding to the microphone, they’ll hurl the metaphorical bowling ball of their indignation down the alley and hope for a strike that sends the President’s pins a’flying.

The problem is though, that until the President actually speaks, nobody knows for certain where those pins are going to be placed, or on which facts they are going to be based. This means that unless the respondent is very, very lucky, they’re going to send that bowling ball straight into the gutter, where it will land with a dull and heavily press-coveraged thud. It’s not quite the sound of tumbleweed, but dreadfully close to it, and precisely what panicked Marco Rubio into groping for that water bottle last year.

So instead of bowling pins, let’s talk sweaters. Woolen ones.

The President’s State of the Union, will be presented as a perfectly stitched garment of arguments that knit together into one broad theme.

A successful SOTU respondent does not need to shred that sweater. They merely need to pick lose a single thread and then tug just enough so that the news networks scent an opportunity and finish the unravelling before the President is even back in the West Wing.

That thread will be found in one of two seams. It might be a dubious fact that can be directly challenged, or it could be in a slightly too sweeping phrase. All the respondent now needs to do is to get a hold of that thread and use a wonderful little toy called The Yoda Argument.

Remember the famous line from Star Wars?

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering, and that way lies the dark side, young Skywalker”

A leads to B. B leads to C. C leads to D.

For a rebuttal, you use the same structure: “If A is wrong, then B is wrong. If B is wrong, then C must be wrong, and if C is wrong, then D is wrong, and that way unravels the sweater, Mr President.”

The respondent does not need to go for a kill stroke, they just need to find that thread.

It’s a big thing to ask though. The respondent needs to resist the all-or-bust temptation of the furnace-blast rebuttal, and that’s why Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers could be such an interesting GOP choice for 2013. Despite being a highly ranked Republican, they don’t let her out to speak a great deal. Her style is generally cool, and tends towards the forensic. For so long as the Tea Party demanded speakers who came with a certain spittle-flecked fundamentalism, her cooler style didn’t always fit. Hence the low profile. Her choice for tomorrow night’s performance could therefore prove to be a smart one.

Will Cathy McMorris Rogers remain forensic enough to start the SOTU unravelling, or will she fall into the trap of ages, and make a complete Jindal of it?

A presentation pointer for Chris Christie, and he can take this to the bridge

by Peter Watts

When there’s an underlaying bogey or accusation lurking behind your presentation, and you’d rather  not have that bogey become smeered all over the screen as the main talking-point of the day, should you:

a) Make your announcement, and then quietly and concisely move on, or

b) Make your announcement and then immediately mention the accusation before vehemently denying it’s existence?

A few examples:

  • “Redundancies are not an indication that the company is in trouble.”
  • “The product recall is not a sign of engineering issues in our other product lines.”
  • “The legal action does not represent a worry for our shareholders.”

No matter how firmly those denials were made, your audience just heard:

  • “Company about to fold”
  • “Complete product recall of everything”
  • “Dump shares before Feds arrive”

In the world of rhetoric, to deny something is to confirm it.

Governor Chris Christie has been having a spot of trouble with a bridge recently, and amongst other unfortunate statements during today’s press conference, we were treated to this:

“I am not a bully.”

Hands-up all those who now suspect that the Governor is precisely that!

There is a technique in public speaking called Paralipsis, which is to put something into the mind of an audience by denying that you want to speak of it. It’s often used in politics, for example, “I would not stoop to mentioning my opponent’s history of spousal abuse, drunk-driving, and tax evasion.”

Fair enough, but while you wouldn’t “stoop to mentioning it”, your audience are now all thinking about it! Used well it can be devastating against one’s opponents, but Governor Christie’s usage demonstrates how to neatly slam the technique into reverse and then backfire it all over your own message.

If somewhere beneath the bonfire of your presentation, little kindling flames are delicately smouldering their way across the bridge of your Presidential ambitions, then the thing you really shouldn’t be doing, is blowing on them.

What you deny, you will affirm!

Dirimens copulatio and LBJ’s War on Poverty Speech

by Peter Watts

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the speech in which President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty.

Listening to a section of it on my car radio this morning, I heard the phrase:

“Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty but to cure it – and above all to prevent it.”

That’s dirimens copulatio, which is the “not only…. but” figure.

Rhetoric is a tangled heap. The past 3000 years have allowed the magic word spells we call rhetorical figures to be defined and re-defined so many times that you often find multiple definitions for the same thing. Dirimens is the ultimate example because 2000 years ago Cicero was already disagreeing with Aristotle about exactly what it was.

I’m going with Cicero’s definition because frankly, it makes more sense. He said that the purpose of dirimens was to amplify a topic, making it seem larger and more striking. Hence the format:

  • We’re not only going to do x, but we’re going to do y as well.
  • Not only do people suffer from x, but they have to suffer y as well.
  • You’ll not only win x, but we’re going to throw in y as well.

Instead of dirimens copulatio, maybe we should call it the game-show figure, because it’s exactly what a game-show host would say to rouse the thrashing zombie-mob in the audience to even wilder applause:

“And tonight, not only will you win this car, but we’ll even throw in a free year of gas”

Next time you’re making a presentation, try a dirimens copulatio. Not only will it emphasise your point, but it’s straight-forward as well.

But be careful how you Google it. It’s surprisingly easy to mis-spell!

For impact: It’s diacope baby, diacope”

by Peter Watts

Oh dear. It wasn’t my intention but I appear to be channeling Austin Powers, which for a British blogger is mortifying. Utterly mortifying. And I also seem to have gotten myself lost in a loop of this week’s topic: the diacope, which is a wonderfully useful rhetorical tool for creating  impact and soundbites. Fabulous soundbites, such as:

“Yeah, baby, yeah.”

It’s  just two words, put together in a structure of A-B-A (sorry, couldn’t resist attaching the YouTube clip).

“Bond, James Bond.”

Once again, supremely memorable, and just two words: A-B-A.

How about “Drill, baby, drill”. Suddenly it’s the 2008 election all over again, and even though Sarah Palin didn’t actually coin this particular phrase, that A-B-A carried her to fame if not to elected office.

Diacope is an easy way to slip a soundbite into your presentation. Let’s take the word “service” as an example. Here’s some differing diacopes that could land a service message:

  • “Customers demand service. Exceptional service”
  • “Our core value is service. Award-winning service”
  • “Our focus is service. Timely service”

A-B-A creates a soundbite without an overt sense of  drama, and the first time you try out a new technique, that’s a great place to start. After a little successful experimentation though, you could try diacope’s  splashier big cousin: A-A-B-A.

In “White Christmas”, Danny Kaye uses the phrase: “The Theater, the Theater, what’s happened to the Theater?” Fans will recognize that as the opening line of “Choreography”.

Kenneth Williams meanwhile, playing Julius Caesar in “Carry on Cleo” used diacope for the fabulous: “Infamy, Infamy; they’ve all got it in for me.”, thereby abusing Shakespeare while simultaneously demonstrating that diacope can play with word sounds as much as with the words themselves.

Here are a few possible A-A-B-A business samples, this time playing with the theme of “strength”:

  • “Strength, strength, industrial strength.”
  • “Toughness, toughness, rock-solid toughness.”
  • “Muscle, muscle, absolute muscle.”

As you read these examples, you might think  they look painfully awkward on the page, and that’s because like many rhetorical tools, diacope is more intended to be said than read. It needs the inflection of human voice to breath  life into the words. Also don’t forget that you’re  reading these in isolation and normally they would be blended into a longer phrase:

Bandwidth, bandwidth, affordable high-capacity bandwidth. We want to put streaming video and voice services within the reach of the regular subscriber, not just those willing to pay through the nose for premium services. That’s our goal with these new high-capacity, low-cost, high-bandwidth products.”

When folded into a phrase, the A-A-B-A format gives a power-lifter lift-off to your message.

Yeah, Baby, Yeah!

(Sorry. Last time I’ll do that. Honest!)

Syncrisis turns attack into advantage

by Peter Watts

“One man’s meat”, as the old saying goes, “is another man’s poison” and by the same token, one brand’s insult can become another brand’s praise. It’s all down to how you frame the debate.

Take “ObamaCare” for example!

Please don’t hang-up! No matter which side of the political debate you find yourself sitting on. My purpose is neither to praise nor to condemn, but to explore how the term ObamaCare demonstrates that when under attack, your best line of defence can be to enthusiastically agree with your attacker.

At the outset of the health care debates the Republican Party seized an early initiative by re-branding President Obama’s Affordable Care Act as ObamaCare, a title as catchy as the title Affordable Care Act was bland.

The President’s team initially tried to ignore the tag of ObamaCare, but the more the White House tried to ignore it, the more dominant the phrase became within the media and the country. The White House’s own deny and defend strategy started to fuel the Republican offensive.

The Obama team had placed themselves into a classical rhetorical bind that many presenters can find themselves in, where an opponent has successfully defined the terms of the debate and managed to negatively define your position. If debate were chess, then this would be check, and there’s only one route out: a technique called syncrisis.

In his book “Thank you for arguing”, Jay Heinrichs describes syncrisis as being a form of verbal jujitsu that takes an opponent’s attack and turns it on it’s head by redefining the terms of the insult.

For example, one brand might decide to attack another as being boring. On the surface nobody likes to be thought of as boring, but if however we redefine  “boring” as meaning tried and tested, reliable, and thorough then actually maybe we rather like boring. Maybe boring becomes something to be proud of!

In this way a pejorative becomes co-opted as a compliment.

Realizing that the Republican’s had stolen the media agenda the White House used syncrisis to re-take possession of the term ObamaCare. The break-out came in a 2012 speech in Denver when President Obama stated:

“The Affordable Care Act…. also known as ObamaCare. I actually like the name ObamaCare…. because I do care.”

It was the first time he had used the term in a speech, and ever since, he and his team have been steadily working to not run-away from the term ObamaCare, but to embrace it.

For die-hards on either side of the debate, ObamaCare will always be devoutly good or appallingly bad. Those folks aren’t the people that the warring camps need to influence though; it’s amongst the undecided where battles and elections are won or lost and techniques like syncrisis, that reframe an argument,  can neatly turn your opponent’s attack into your own emphatic positive.

It takes a speaker who has their wits about them, but if you find yourself, your brand, or your message attacked, then the best form of defense can often be embrace.

Analysis of Malala Yousafzai’s speech to the UN General Assembly

malala

by Peter Watts

Shot in the head by the Taliban simply for going to school, Malala Yousafzai has not only recovered from appalling injuries, but has gone on to become a champion for the rights of children everywhere to be educated.

Today, before the UN General Assembly, Malala delivered a speech of substance, power, and grace.

This speech deserves to be heard. This speech deserves to be read. This speech deserves to learned. Both for it’s incredible message, and for the incredible public-speaking skills of this 16 year old girl.

Unassailable ethos

The first challenge any speaker faces is to establish their ethos, their credibility to speak. For this speech Malala wished to establish herself not as a victim of violence, but as a champion against it.

“….it is an honor for me that today I am wearing a shawl of the late Benazir Bhutto.”

We sometimes speak of somebody “putting on the mantle” of a hero, but this is the first time I can recall somebody literally wearing the mantle. The mantle of a female Pakistani leader, a champion of education, assassinated by terrorists. Furthermore, the mantle of a woman who had spoken at the UN, and would have been known by many of those in the audience.

Indeed a mantle of power, yet contrasted beautifully against the phrase “dear brothers and sisters”, which appears in almost every paragraph, and reminds the audience of whom Malala ultimately represents: the young.

A triple trilogy of power

A similar evocation of power appears later, in a trio of trilogies:

“This is the compassion that I have learned from Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ, and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of non-violence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa”

To speak in groupings of three is a classical technique, and as Malala delivers this roll-call, she summons the presence of those leaders, alive and dead, to stand behind her on the stage. Malala then drops the power level, as she summons the presence of two more individuals:

“And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my mother and father.”

Once again, she evokes humility, and the fact that this is a speech about children.

Climb and Collapse

This pattern of power-build followed by drop-back to humility reappears in the fourth paragraph. Malala uses the technique of climax, where numbers are grouped so that they climb in a sequence from small to large:

“There are hundreds of human rights activists,…. thousands of people have been killed by terrorists and millions have been injured.”

Hundreds. Thousands. Millions. The incrementum leads the audience to see an ever larger and more horrifying amount. The next number in the sequence? Surely Billions! But no. Instead we hear:

“I am just one of them. So here I stand, one girl amongst many.”

This is anti-climax. Having built up an image of afflicted millions, Malala collapses it all back down, to just her, one child. She is reminding us of the many for whom she speaks, while simultaneously using pathos, an appeal to the emotions.

Step-by-step to Logos

Logos is the logic of a speech; it’s argument. Malala’s argument is contained within paragraph eight, all of which I’m going to reproduce here, step-by-step, because the passage is so dense with power that each phrase deserves to individually understood:

“Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.”

Light and darkness. Voice and silence. These paired opposites are examples of antithesis. They have a clean, binary logic that is enhanced by contrast. Malala then uses this foundation to create an analogy: “we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.

“The wise saying, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’. It is true. The extremists are afraid of pens and books. The power of education frightens them.”

Here, the well known commonplace “The pen is mightier than the sword” is used to move the argument to it’s next stage: Extremists are afraid of education. The technique used is epicrisis, where a widely accepted commonplace or maxim adds weight to an argument built upon it.

“They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them. This is why they killed 14 innocent students in the recent attack in Quetta. And that is why they kill female teachers. That is why they are blasting schools every day, because they are afraid of change and the equality that we will bring to our society.”

Having earlier set the argument that extremists are afraid of education, Malala then builds that argument to demonstrate the link between women’s education and society, until she concludes her argument with an anecdote:

“And I remember that there was a boy in our school who was asked by a journalist: ‘Why are the Taliban against education?’ He answered very simply by pointing to his book, he said: ‘A Talib doesn’t know what it written inside this book.’”

The anecdote provides a dramatic punchline to the logos, but also hints that the illiterate are more likely to become Taliban. This is the technique of adianoeta, where a more subtle meaning is hidden just beneath the surface of a comment: If Talibs can’t read, then the ultimate sword with which to win the war against the future Talib, is to teach the children to read.

Malala’s Key Message

Referring to how the Taliban sought to silence and intimidate her, Malala uses antithesis to deliver the words:

“….weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”

Strength, power and courage in the face of adversity are the key messages of Malala’s speech.

It is a speech filled with passion, with emotion, with skill, incredible belief, and daring hope.

It is a speech we all should hear, and delivered by a woman whom we all should hope we will hear a lot more of.

You can access a transcript of Malala’s speech by clicking here, or watch the speech on YouTube by clicking here.

Opinion is a persuasive tool

Audiences, be they customers or colleagues, act when presentations are delivered with the fist-punch impact of belief. They remember presenters who deliver not just the facts, but the flavour of their opinions.

I’m pleased and delighted to be able to say, that as of this month I’m going to be writing for the business website ManagingAmericans.com. My first piece is live on their blog today. It’s all about opinion, and why it’s a good idea to not just have one, but to be out loud and proud about it when you want to persuade an audience.

I’ll be talking about why so many presenters are reluctant to stray from the facts-only format, and then examining three easy ways to use opinions within your next piece of persuasive speaking.

Please drop by the blog by clicking here. Come share your opinion!

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