This has been a big week for speeches. President Trump at the UN. Aung San Suu Kyi on the Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis. Theresa May in Florence today. These three outings have all been headline news around the world and were/are significant attempts to set or shift political agendas.
As someone who pours over strategic communication – thinking about how and why people and organisations approach their audiences, develop their messages and deliver them to maximise their influence and impact – this has been a fascinating week. Each of these speechmakers have a wide range of options to get their message out to their audiences – letter, press releases, video message, social media, interview, document/report and so on. Why then did they choose to make a speech; why choose to stand in front of some people and talk?
Part of the reason surely lies in the deep tradition of speech making and oratory – in which leaders from history have stood before the people and made their case; set out their argument. The history of our world is littered with examples of announcements being made in this way. This is a nod to underline how signifiant the announcement is – look I am making a speech not just issuing another press release. Part of the message here is the media – how the message is delivered says something about how important – perhaps historic – the author of the message believes it to be. The way the message is delivered really matters.
Part of the reason is practical. A speech cannot be edited by a media organisation like an interview or release – choosing only the “best bits” to use. Of course the media coverage will focus on what it decides are the most newsworthy sections but the speech itself sits on the record, in full, as the exact message the author wants to convey.
There is also something about the setting. To develop a message which will be picked up by media – print, broadcast and social – the author must think now about the context in which the speech will be seen, the wider narrative that can be attached to it. Speaking at the UN is news. Travelling to Florence – one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with a rich and important history, makes for a great setting for a speech on the future of Europe. The setting and context is part of the story of the speech – why speak here, who will be in the room, what the subliminal message of choosing this venue?
The way the message is delivered really matters. The ability to get out your message in full – unedited, unmangled – really matters. The setting and story really matters. This week we see again that, even in the world of 140 characters and short attention spans, making speeches still matters. They can hold the attention. They can capture the agenda. They can make a difference. The final piece of the jigsaw is of course what is said – the content. That matters most of all. History will judge whether these three speech makers achieved their goals this week – going into today’s third leg of the trilogy, I would suggest its speech makers 0, critics 2 so far. Over to you, Prime Minster.
Photo taken from BBC news website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41355642