A speech is hard work. It takes time to write, it takes time to rehearse, it takes time to deliver. It’s more stress than a press release and can feel less permanent. It’s like making your own mayonnaise: the risk is that you put in all that effort but afterwards you wish you hadn’t bothered.
So why should you bother?
Probably for the same reason that for thousands of years, nations at war have declared victory on the podium but defeat on paper.
Namely, when you have something to say, no form of communication amplifies it better than a speech.
It brings together the speaker and the subject in a specific moment in time. Think of Steve Jobs's famous product launches. They were events, gatherings, where one person commanded the attention and even the thoughts of many. This temporary sense of community allowed Jobs to tell a compelling story about his company, rather than simply launching a couple of new phones.
The personal nature of a good speech allows it to be euphoric or shocking or anything in between. Articles, reports and pamphlets all fail on this front because they rely on bald numbers, not storytelling.
Speeches also look good. A photo of you on stage, talking to an audience of hundreds, with all of them hanging on to your every word, is superior in every way to a photo of you holding up a glossy report. The speech and the report might make the same points. The report might even be more comprehensive. But only one of them resembles leadership in action. That’s why Facebook’s newspaper ads, taken out a few weeks ago in an attempt to address concerns about data harvesting, won’t change much, and why Mark Zuckerberg should get on stage and talk to people IRL.
Speaking of social media, has the pick-and-mix immediacy of Twitter and the rest undermined the power of one person on a platform talking for ten minutes?
Far from it. Good speeches bend social media to their will. Twitter and Youtube and Facebook are full of 90-second clips from Obama, Trump, Corbyn, Farage. The moment in the speech where the argument gleams brightest can now be glimpsed not just by the people in the room but by seven billion people across the world. Prime Minister’s Questions has been shaped by this trend, with both Theresa May’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s teams each furiously brainstorming short passages, of ten seconds or less, that can be tweeted out for the next couple of news cycles.
These passages are often based around the rhetorical moments that would seem absurd, or at least self-important, in other forms of communication. Anecdotes, for example, or rebuttals of opponents’ views. Killer metaphors.Jokes. Passion. The good bits. The bits that only speeches can really carry off.
But it isn't just politicians or Silicon Valley evangelists who should pay attention to the potential power of speeches. We all should. Because whether you're speaking at a tiny gathering or a huge conference, inspiring, personal, unique speeches will always be memorable and they’ll always be effective.
Yes, there are risks involved, as there are with any form of communication. But speeches can do more for your comms strategy and more for your personal profile than any number of articles or insight documents.
At their best, they can change the world.
That’s why you should bother.