Lessons from a Prince
Over the past dozen years, Prince William has delivered many speeches and increasingly speeches on significant universal subjects with messages that reverberate for all mankind.
In his role one will know that he has been well coached in delivery, supported and guided in content and organised around the key aspects of speech structure.
The brief speech he delivered at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee concert is a marvellous example for us to examine and briefly analyse.
The first thing to consider is the context: and it is not an easy one!
However, on a smaller scale, it is similar to the type of speech that many of us will need to deliver.
A political speech or a conference speech will have the support of context and environment.
In these cases, the audience is ready and primed for what is coming next. The speaker may be introduced by an MC or they may be following or responding to a previous speaker.
Therefore the listeners are already psychologically prepared to listen to what follows, whereas in this example
Prince William is suddenly required to deliver his words out of the midst of a celebratory concert, so his audience is in a mindset of dancing and singing and not necessarily ready to listen to a speech.
This is often what faces us at work. We may have to stand up in front of our team or group of guests and establish a change in tone by quickly engaging our listeners.
Prince William does this very well, in ways that we will analyse in a moment.
Add to this first challenge of having to establish a change of atmosphere and refocus the level of attention in his audience, he is also standing completely out in the open, with no lectern, no table, and nowhere to hide, hence the fact that he takes what is fairly obviously referred to the fig-leaf pose with his hands protecting his vulnerabilities!
In this brief analysis I want to focus on his use of gestures, not because his gestures a particularly expansive, in fact, they are fairly restrained, but nevertheless, the 3 key types of speaker gestures are all present and since this is a speech with a serious message and is delivered in a formal tone, we would not want or expect these gestures to be too bold or expansive.
If his chosen message was one of unrestrained passion or emotion and if his speech was sprinkled with vocabulary like: ‘humongous, greatest, brilliant, superb, disgraceful, overwhelmed’, each word would be accompanied by a greater unrestrained passion in vocal delivery and therefore accompanied by more expansive gestures to enforce even greater emphasis. (If you are looking for liberal, emphatic, or even bombastic use of ‘best, worst, greatest, amazing’, Donald Trump would be a good place to start!)
Prince Williams’ use of gestures is for the most part very appropriate to his theme, tone, and therefore delivery
3 key types of gestures for public speaking:
1. Gestures that support keywords (gestures that help us ‘hear’ better what the speaker wants to say)
2. Gestures that use space to support the message – ‘higher, lower, on the one hand, on the other hand, last year, next year’ (gestures that help us ‘see’ better what the speaker wants to say)
3. Gestures that support the emotion behind the words (gestures that help us ‘feel’ what the speaker wants to say)
And Prince William uses each of these to good effect.
1. Gestures that support keywords
The word ‘united’ is one that Prince William would like to stress and so it receives a little supporting gesture. If he wished to be more passionate and expansive he could have given us a broad sweeping gesture to underline the word ‘amazing’ and possibly followed that with a more dramatic gesture to support ‘united’. If that were the case, you could also imagine each of those words being accompanied by a much stronger vocal emphasis as well.
This first type of gesture relies very much on understanding the mutual connection between the voice and the hands. This connection creates an aural emphasis for the listener and embeds those chosen keywords in the listener’s head.
- Gestures that use space to support the message
A very simple, subtle, and apparently natural example (I say ‘apparently’ because sometimes – not always – these little emphasis gestures may have been planned, however even so they must still come across as natural and spontaneous, otherwise the speaker will come across like an air steward explaining an evacuation drill)
So, we the listener ask ourselves:
‘Where is this on the global agenda? Ah – the top – I can see that.’
- Gestures that support the emotion behind the words
You do not want to overdo this type of gesture. Prince William uses it twice in this speech.
Anytime you put your hands to yourself, touch your chest, or indicate yourself, you are emphasising deep personal belief. You are saying ‘personally’, ‘I believe’, ‘from my heart’.
Used occasionally, this portrays sincerity and feeling.
Using too much can start to suggest the opposite.
Prince William spent most of the speech with his hands below in front of him, bringing them up occasionally to support his words in one of the three manners indicated above. Since there was an element of restrained dignity in his persona, it worked very well. The potential danger for us to note is that if we become more passionate without allowing our hands to come up and support our words (a big ’amazing’, ‘united’) we run the risk of all the support for the words coming from other places and not our hands, typically an over-vigorous nodding of the head, shifting from foot to foot or rising up and down on our toes. Our words will always look for physical support and if we do not allow that to come from our hands it will come from elsewhere
We see the starting of a few vigorous nods to support the keywords like ‘inspiringly’, ‘spearheaded’, ‘amazing’, each getting support from an accompanying nod, which is then relieved with the small hand gesture to support ‘united’. Without the supporting gesture for ‘united’, we would in danger of ever-increasingly vigorous head nods!
And now one small clip with all three gestures together
‘my firm hope’ (gesture 3 – feeling)
‘my grandmother’s words’ ( gesture 2 – space, a gesture to indicate the figure of the Queen ‘just here’)
‘tonight’ (gesture 1 – keyword for emphasis)
Putting them together means that we the audience gain a clear sense of the core of his message
‘my firm hope, my grandmother, tonight’
2 final things to notice
Openings and Endings –are both very important.
In this example, the music has just stopped and suddenly the speaker is alone on stage in the full glare of public attention. It is a very dramatic and overwhelming transition. Natural instinct (and regardless of how confident and full of self-belief Prince William is) is to want to curl up and disappear into your shell.
Therefore it is always a good idea to prepare a couple of simple gestures to accompany the opening of the presentation, just to overcome that initial moment of dread and introversion.
Prince William manages this by starting with an all-embracing gesture to accompany ‘incredible night’, followed by a simple gesture behind to accompany ‘Buckingham Palace’
The second most important moment of a presentation is the Ending.
Again Prince William is well supported by some formal and probably rehearsed gestures.
These gestures are used to accompany a simple closing rhetorical structure called ‘Climax’
This is where you typically use a structure of 3 examples of increasing size and significance
‘big – bigger – biggest’
‘for you, your children, and your children’s children'.
Or in this case:
‘our children, our grandchildren, and for future generations to come’
which in this example is accompanied by a gesture to the left, a gesture to the right, and a unifying gesture to the middle
True unplanned spontaneity often leads to an impression of chaos.
For a speaker, particularly one that knows his speech will be carried across the world,
an easy relaxed style still requires a little planning.
And one good place to start is to be aware that your words will need support.
And there are three styles of gesture that can be used.