A Lesson from Germany’s World Cup Victory

One month, 64 games and 171 goals, including Mario Götze’s brilliant effort in the dying minutes of extra time to give Germany a 1-0 win over Argentina and a World Championship. The World Cup tournament, hosted by Brazil, was thrilling from start to finish, and captured the imagination of hundreds of millions of people around the globe.

There are many lessons that can be learned from the games played over the past 32 days. But one in particular struck me as relevant for public speakers. It has to do with the long path that the Germans took en route to the championship.

Today, Germany is, without question, a football powerhouse. But reaching the pinnacle of the sport did not happen overnight. In fact, before last night, it had been 24 years since Germany had won the World Cup (as West Germany in 1990 when, coincidentally, they also beat Argentina 1-0). And, as recently as 2000 and 2004, Germany failed to get past the group stage at the European Championships. So how did the Germans do it?

Quite simply, they worked at it. In the early 2000’s, Germany began a long-term programme to find and develop football talent and build the strongest national team possible. Years of effort began to pay dividends. From 2006 to 2012, Germany made it to at least the semi-finals in the previous two World Cups and European Championships. But the ultimate prize still eluded them. Until last night.

When asked about Germany’s success, here’s what their coach, Joachim Löw said:

We’ve been together now for 55 days, but this is a project we started 10 years ago. So this is the result of many years’ work, beginning with Jürgen Klinsmann [his predecessor as coach].

Our biggest strength is that we improved throughout the years even if we missed taking that last step at tournaments. We knew we would take that last step and believed in it and today it finally worked.

We were disappointed at times in the past but today there was only a deserved winner. This team. It is a special moment because it was not just these days here but the entire 10 years.

It has been a long journey with setbacks and disappointments. It has been countless hours of focus and practice and adjustment and more practice. It has been a steady and consistent process. It has been a decade of work. And it has all been worth it.

It is exactly the same with public speaking (or any skill). If you want to become a better speaker, you have to speak. Not once. Not a few times. But many times over a long period. You have to get feedback, make adjustments and practice. You have to speak in front of different audiences: big; small; colleagues; strangers; in different venues; on different topics. And you have to keep at it.

Becoming a good speaker is possible but only if you commit to the process 100%. And only if you are prepared to go the distance. That’s what Germany did and now they are enjoying the payoff for all that hard work. You can too.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 184) – Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett (1906 - 1989) Irish Novelist and Playwright

Samuel Beckett (1906 – 1989) Irish Novelist and Playwright

“Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

— Samuel Beckett

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The Elements of Eloquence

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my series on rhetorical devices. Figures of rhetoric such as anaphora, epistrophe, epizeuxis and others, when used properly, can set a speech on fire so that it blazes in the memories of those who heard it long after the speaker has left the stage.

ForsythThus, I was delighted when the good people at Icon Books sent me a complimentary copy of Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence. In his book, Forsyth takes us through 39 chapters, each one devoted to a specific rhetorical device. Now, you might be thinking: “Thirty-nine chapters of rhetoric? I’d rather have bamboo shoots shoved under my fingernails.” But you’d be mistaken.

Forsyth has a writing style that make you feel as though you are having a chat with a good friend over a beer. (And when good friends get together for a beer, what else do they talk about besides rhetoric?) He also has a wry, and often wicked, sense of humour. Take, for example, this commentary on alliteration:

You can spend all day trying to think of some universal truth to set down on paper, and some poets try that. Shakespeare knew that it’s much easier to string together some words beginning with the same letter. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. It can be the exact depth in the sea to which a chap’s corpse has been sunk; hardly a matter of universal interest, but if you say, “Full fathom five your father lies”, you will be considered the greatest poet that ever lived. Express precisely the same thought in any other way – e.g. “your father’s corpse is 9.144 metres below sea level” – and you’re just a coastguard with some bad news.

Or this remark on syllepsis (when one word–often a verb–is used in two different ways, or applied to two different things):

But the commonest form [of syllepsis] is the simple contrast of the concrete and the abstract. When the prophet Joel told the people of Israel to “Rend your heart and not your garments” he was using the same trick that the prophet Mick Jagger employed when he talked in one song [Honky Tonk Woman] about a lady who was not only able to blow his nose, but his mind, although for rather different purposes. Indeed, one suspects that Mr Jagger was planning another syllepsis based on blow that would have got the song banned on radio.

Although Forsyth frequently draws on examples from the usual suspects such as the Bible, Shakespeare and Churchill, he also welcomes rhetorical devices from singers, such the Beatles, Supertramp, Leonard Cohen, INXS and Alanis Morissette, and movies such as Dirty Harry, Pulp Fiction, Austin Powers and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

You might think that a 39-chapter book on rhetoric makes a good reference guide that sits on your shelf until you need of inspiration or clarification, and you certainly can use it that way. However, with a writing style that is so light that it borders on the conversational, and with chapters that average only four to five pages in length, The Elements of Eloquence can easily become a page turner. Indeed, Forsyth cleverly ends each chapter with an example of a new rhetorical device that is the subject of the ensuing chapter. So the reader is always tempted to read just a little bit more.

I highly recommend The Elements of Eloquence to anyone who is looking to spice up his speeches (or writing) and to anyone appreciates seeing the English language stretched to its full potential. Will I refer refer to Forsyth’s book in future posts on rhetorical devices? Indeed I will; of that you can be certain; indeed I will. (And that’s hypophora and diacope.)

Posted in Book Review, Rhetoric | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 183) – Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) British Prime Minister, Historian, Author and Orator

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

— Sir Winston Churchill

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The Prezi Top 100

The past couple of weeks have been pretty exciting for this blog. Only days after reaching 1,000,000 visitors, I received an email from the good people at Prezi notifying me that they had chosen Manner of Speaking as one of their “Top 100 Online Resources Every Presenter Should See”. What’s more, from among the Top 100, Prezi staff members chose ten favourites and Manner of Speaking was one of the ten.

top100 illustration full size

Prezi explains how the list—which includes article and blogs, videos and podcasts, presentations and books—was created:

We have scoured the web looking for the most inspirational and useful resources for anyone looking to improve their presentation skills; the #PreziTop100 is the result of all this hard work. We assembled this list by looking at both popularity data (Alexa Rank, Google page rank, page views, Klout score, social media followers, and social engagement) and the quality of the content as determined by a panel of Prezi judges. So, without further ado, here are the best videos, articles, presentations, and blogs to get your creative juices flowing. Keep an eye out for our Staff Favorites in each category—look for the bolded links.

My sincere thanks to Prezi for the recognition—it is much appreciated—and for compiling such a great list. I was already familiar with many of the resources mentioned, but there are several that I had not seen before.

I encourage you to check out the list and do some exploring of your own. You will find lots of useful ideas and inspiration.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 182) – William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats (1865 - 1939) Irish Poet

William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) Irish Poet

“I always think a great speaker convinces us not by force of reasoning, but because he is visibly enjoying the beliefs he wants us to accept.”

— William Butler Yeats

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