How to deliver a big speech to celebrate a big occasion
This year in June 2022 marks 70 years since Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne. She’s overseen many historic events throughout her reign, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of these occasions have been marked with a trademark eloquent speech.
The Queen is a remarkable public speaker — so what can we learn from royal speeches when it comes to delivering important addresses of our own?
As the Platinum Jubilee approaches, we examine the art of making a momentous speech to mark an important occasion.
The power of presence
News articles reveal the key quotes and themes of the Queen’s speeches weeks before they’re broadcast. And what’s fascinating is that although we know what she’s going to say, we tune in to watch in our millions.
And when we watch the Queen speak, we’re never bored. This is testament to the power of her presence. Speakers are often told that movement creates energy — but the Queen is an exception to this rule. She remains perfectly still throughout her speeches, creating energy with sheer authority and the metronomic pacing of her speech.
As a leader, the Queen’s listeners are already on her side. She never needs to build or react to her audience, so it’s not necessary to create buzz or excitement through movement or controversy. As a result, the content of the Queen’s speeches is often less noteworthy than her performance. She simply tells us what we want to hear in a compelling way.
How to deliver a big speech — even if you’re not the Queen
Few speakers have the natural presence of the Queen. That means our content must be just as riveting as our performances. But the rules are the same when delivering a speech to mark any big occasion — whether it’s a jubilee or a wedding.
This isn’t the time to shock your audience. People should already have an expectation of what you’re going to say. The best man is expected to deliver a few jokes at the groom’s expense; a new president should talk about hope, and the future of their country. As a speaker, you need to deliver on those expectations.
Choose one or two key messages. Make them stick with your audience, so they leave with a powerful, unified message. Remember that impact doesn’t come from saying a lot — it comes from hitting home. So you need to understand what you’re trying to say, and use your platform to make your message clear and accessible.
In a standard speech, we often talk about building to a crescendo. But when you’re delivering a big statement address, your speech is the crescendo. Make the most of this climatic moment with a sharp, short, impactful address.
Celebratory vs consolatory speeches
Royals and other leaders are often called upon to speak about bad news as well as good. But regardless of the tone of your speech, the purpose is the same: to give the audience permission to act on their feelings.
Celebratory speeches give the audience permission to cheer. Consolatory speeches give them permission to mourn. On these occasions, you’re not trying to play with people’s emotions. Instead, it’s about creating a sense of togetherness, and allowing people to express their feelings.
While funerals are always sad occasions, there are often moments of humour in the eulogy. These give mourners permission to find joy in the memories of the person they’ve lost. A little laughter helps many people find the strength to get through tough times.
How to overcome a fear of public speaking
As The King’s Speech shows, even royals aren’t immune to the fear of public speaking. If you don’t consider yourself a natural speaker, you may worry about delivering a big speech at work, or even at a wedding. Fortunately, anyone can make a speech — we just need to conquer our fears.
The critical thing is to own what you’re going to say. You have to use your own words and speak with confidence. Don’t try to create a new personality; simply relax into your performance as yourself.
This includes your speaking style. You may speak too fast; you may not know what to do with your arms. You can work on these things without changing your fundamental voice and style. When you give yourself permission to be who you are on stage, you can overcome the fear of public speaking.
The art of delivering speeches for important occasions
Few of us will ever deliver a speech on the scale of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. But there are still many things we can take away from the Queen’s ability to unite an audience with her presence and performance.
Momentous speeches are often the most muted. You don’t need to speak for 40 minutes — shorter speeches are often more memorable. The audience is on your side, so you don’t need to influence them. Instead, find your core message, deliver it in a way that resonates with your audience, and stay true to your own voice.
See our ultimate guide to public speaking for more helpful tips for making a memorable speech.
Nick Gold is the author of Speaking With Confidence, published as part of the Penguin Business Experts Series.
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