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.