In week three of our ongoing series chronicling what we’re learning in the course “The Art of Public Speaking: Lessons from the Greatest Speeches in History,” Professor Hale discusses Queen Elizabeth’s particular prowess for speaking about herself.
Professor Hale opens by declaring that “talking about yourself” is the most important but most neglected aspect of public speaking. He quotes the venerable Dale Carnegie: “Be yourself, and let you audience know who you are.” Opening yourself up and allowing your audience to see your authentic self is the only way to establish a true relationship.
Recall for a moment what we discussed last week– Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech. The power and lasting impression of that speech resulted from Henry’s impassioned talk about himself. He revealed to the audience that he was personally willing to die for the cause, for liberty. This kind of personal revelation is the easiest, and most authentic, way to win over an audience.
Professor Hale tells us the story of Queen Elizabeth I of English, who in 1588 gave a riveting speech to the troops stationed at Tilbury. It was moving, emotional and delivered entirely in first person. The key moment of the speech came when she confessed her own weakness by stating, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king and of a King of England, too.”
By candidly admitting her weakness, Queen Elizabeth draws her audience in, draws their sympathies to her, and thus, creates feelings of courage and determination among the troops. It’s wildly successful– the idea of fighting for a feeble woman, indeed, their Queen, is more than enough to motivate and excite the troops.
Speaking candidly about your own failures and weaknesses is a very effective way to get a crowd on your side, and it’s a great way to bring yourself as a speaker down to an accessible, relatable level for your audience.
Professor Hale goes on to highlight Sojourner Truth’s speech about equal rights for women in 1851 as an excellent example of using imagery in a terrific way (“ice has cracked,” “chain of pain”) to paint a picture for the audience. And he points out that highlighting personal experience lends a sense of authenticity to the speaker.
Moreover, Professor Hale discusses an example of what not to do with a speech by Napoleon. Following the failed invasion of Russia in 1814, he wrongly called the defeated army “invincible,” and then selfishly declared, “I have sacrificed all my interests for my country.” He wants to be pitied and admired. It’s clear that he’s not interested in his audience; they’ve simply become an audience for his personal regrets, wishes, and fate.
Public speaking is a great avenue for people to encourage revelation, communication and foster a greater authenticity of self. And it breaks down the barrier between speaker and audience; as Professor Hale aptly points out, we all feel closer to people who have been confident enough to share their weaknesses and failures with us.
All that to say, here are six takeaways Professor Hale concludes with during this lecture on Queen Elizabeth I and the importance of talking about yourself in public speaking:
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