Speeches from Film: Invictus


Just because a speech in a movie is scripted, it doesn’t mean that we cannot learn from it. In fact, when you think about, some of the most famous speeches in history were rigorously prepared and polished before they were delivered.

So today, we start a new series of posts: Speeches from Film. Over the months (and years) to come, I hope to look at a variety of speeches from the big screen to see what lessons can learn from them.

To start the series off, I have decided to show two short clips from a movie that I only saw a couple of days ago: Invictus.

I do not intend to turn this series into a film review, but I will say that I very much enjoyed the film. Invictus is the true inspirational story of South Africa’s victory at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. In particular, it looks at the relationship between Nelson Mandela and South African Captain Francois Pienaar

Let’s look at two short speeches from Invictus.


Speech No. 1

The National Sports Council has just voted to change the colours, emblem and name of South Africa’s National Rugby Team, the Springboks. Upon hearing the news, Nelson Mandela (portrayed by Morgan Freeman) rushes to the meeting to persuade the Council to reconsider its vote.

Set out below is the text of the speech as it appears in Invictus (with an extra few sentences at the end that were cut off from the video). I believe that we can learn much from this speech in terms of how to persuade a hostile audience to our point of view.


Brothers, sisters, comrades, I am here because I believe you have made a decision with insufficient information and foresight. I am aware of your earlier vote. I am aware that it was unanimous.

Mandela lets the Council know from the outset that he disagrees with them. However, he is respectful of their authority and explicitly recognizes their vote and the fact that the vote was unanimous.

Nonetheless, I believe we should restore the Springboks. Restore their name, their emblem and their colors, immediately.

He states his position clearly, forcefully and at the outset. There is no room for doubt. He still has his work cut out for him, but everyone knows where he stands. Coming clean with your audience at the outset will not likely win much support – you still need to show why – but it should earn you some respect for having the courage to state your convictions openly.

Let me tell you why. On Robben Island, in Pollsmoor Prison, all of my jailers were Afrikaners. For 27 years, I studied them. I learned their language, read their books, their poetry. I had to know my enemy before I could prevail against him.

Here begins the argument. And Mandela is clever. He immediately seeks common ground with his audience. And that ground is obvious – the years of oppression that they all suffered under Apartheid. Of course, Mandela had it worse than most; but he doesn’t pity himself. Instead, he talks about the effort he went through to understand the “enemy” – a strong word – in order to prevail against him.

And we did prevail, did we not? All of us here … we prevailed.

Again, seeking common ground. And also letting the audience know, subtly, that they have already won. There is no need to continue to fight.

Our enemy is no longer the Afrikaner. They are our fellow South Africans, our partners in democracy.

This comes as a shock to many in the audience, but Mandela has to get his point out: times have changed; we need to work together to build the country. It is here that he starts to appeal to his audience to think about a higher ideal.

And they treasure Springbok rugby. If we take that away, we lose them. We prove that we are what they feared we would be.

Emphasizing that rugby is something more than a sport for the Afrikaners; it is something that runs deep within them. Note the gesture with his fist. And note also the caution at the end that the Council risks becoming, in a sense, as oppressive as the Afrikaners had been in the past. This is a powerful rhetorical tool – showing your audience that their position is similar to something against which they are adamantly opposed.)

We have to be better than that. We have to surprise them with compassion, with restraint, and generosity.

Another call to a higher ideal.

I know. All of the things they denied us.

Again recognizing the suffering of the audience in the past.

But this is no time to celebrate petty revenge. This is the time to build our nation using every single brick available to us – even if that brick comes wrapped in green and gold.

But immediately appealing once more to the higher ideal and the importance of using every available resource to build the country.

You elected me your leader. Let me lead you now. Who is with me on this? Who is with me?

Asserting his authority and ending with a call to action. Now, we might not be Nelson Mandela, but we can invoke authority in different ways such as through our position or experience.


Speech No. 2

Seven minutes remain in extra time in the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final. South Africa trails New Zealand 12-9. The New Zealanders are pressing and if they score, South Africa is almost certainly lost. South Africa is called for a penalty and its captain, François Pienaar (portrayed by Matt Damon), huddles the team and gives them a 20-second inspirational speech.

A speech of this nature is usually given during intense situations such as a big sporting final. Still, there are things that we can learn from this short motivational speeches in Invictus.


First and foremost, Pienaar speaks with passion. This is vital. If you cannot be passionate about the subject, your chances of inspiring others are nil. Passion can come in different forms; it can be understated; but there must be passion.

Heads up! Look in my eyes.

He gets the team’s attention from the outset. He makes eye contact to show the level of his commitment.

Do you hear? Listen to your country!

Like Mandela in the earlier speech, Pienaar appeals to something bigger than the team. A nobler idea. It is a theme that runs through Invictus. It is unlikely that any of us are going to have 64,000 fans singing in the background when we speak, but we can still invoke noble images in the minds of our audience through our words.

Seven minutes. Seven minutes! Defence! Defence! Defence!

He boiled his message down to the essentials: we have little time left and we must stop New Zealand if we want to win this game. Think of great speeches in history. For each one, isn’t there usually a key phrase or two that encapsulates the entire speech? Look for a memorable line that captures the essence of your message and that will resonate with your audience. And, he used the rhetorical device known as epizeuxis.

This is it! This is our destiny! Kom bokke! (Let’s go Springboks!)

Ending on a high note; appealing to a lofty ideal; using inspirational words such as “destiny” – these are all key aspects of a successful motivational speech.

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest


  1. I love this idea for a series of posts and I very much love your analyses.
    In case you run out of ideas for speeches from film I would be happy to let you know my favourite ones (not recent movies though).
    Looking forward to your next post about speeches from film.

  2. Wonderful analysis as usual! Mandela is such an inspirational speaker. He talks with passion, authority and yet with respect and dignity for his audience. Not many speakers around have skills that he does.
    Have you read the book “Speeches that changed the world”? It features two of his speeches – one before he got jailed and the night of the first post apartheid election.

    1. Thanks, Faisal. You have captured the essence of Mandela’s speeches in your second sentence – spot on. I have not read the book, but it is on my (long!) list of things to read. John

  3. Today, I read this post of yours. Superb.
    Your analysis captures a valuable dimension to the understanding of human mind.
    I would like your comments on following —
    As far as speech or public speaking is concerned, it also involves the body language, other than words.
    Suggest me a post of yours which captures these.
    Also, would like your comments and analysis on following …..
    When Saddam Hussain was finally captured after he having given the slip for long, I vividly remember the first words and body language of then President George Bush.
    “We have got him” and there was a total pause for a few minutes.
    This expressed the great satisfaction on his part, and he was trying to give it to public as well.
    Would like your analysis of the same, if you remember about it.

    1. Thanks you, akhkoshur. I appreciate the comments. The speech by Mandela shows just how incredible a man he is. As to your questions:
      1. Concerning gestures and body language, there are several posts in which I analyze a speaker’s gestures. Here’s one with a great speech by Bonnie Bassler: http://wp.me/pwfa1-Mz.
      2. Concerning the capture of Saddam Hussein, the clip that I remember was of Paul Bremer. Here it is: http://youtu.be/S02BHmWPZNs. It is certainly possible that Bush said it as well, but I can’t remember it. As for Bremer, it is clear that he was using the pause to build anticipation and give a real punch to the words that followed. Here is a post that I wrote about the power of pauses: http://wp.me/pwfa1-4v. There are others. Just search for “pause”.

      1. Thanks, John.
        I stand corrected regarding “we got him” were first spoken by Paul Bremer. Thanks for youtube clip.
        I did go thru the link regarding power of pauses.
        It was interesting.
        Thanks a lot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

nine + 17 =


John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International