Simon Lancaster: Speak Like a Leader at TEDxVerona (Full Transcript)


Simon Lancaster at TEDxVerona

Here is the full transcript of top speechwriter Simon Lancaster’s TEDx Talk: Speak Like a Leader at TEDxVerona conference. Simon Lancaster runs Bespoke, a speechwriting consultancy and he has written speeches for many top politicians and CEOs.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: speak-like-a-leader-by-simon-lancaster-at-tedxverona


Speech writing must be one of the weirdest jobs in the world. No matter how carefully the words have been prepared, you are never quite sure how they are going to be delivered.

Yesterday, I was in London, and I was watching one of my clients, who is a big Australian businessman, deliver a speech that I’d written for him. I’d written for him this passage, kind of with Winston Churchill in mind, about how we’ve got to fight for our future, fight to protect our position, fight our competitors. And I’d forgotten about the Australian accent. And I watched from the back of the room with horror as I saw him go, “We’ve got to ‘fart’ for our future, ‘fart’ to protect our position, and I’ll tell you what, folks, when I wake up every morning, there is one thing I know for sure I’m going to do that day; ‘fart’!”

So today I’m going to share with you some speechwriter secrets. Because I don’t know whether you know this, but there is a secret language of leadership; a secret language of leadership that we all used to be taught at school. Ancient rhetoric. This was a core part of the curriculum in Ancient Rome, part of the trivium. In London, right the way through to the 19th century, it was possible to get a free education in rhetoric, but not in mathematics, reflecting the importance that was placed on the topic.

Today, teaching in rhetoric is restricted — restricted to a powerful, privileged few. So what I’m going to do in my speech is revive this ancient art of rhetoric and share with you six techniques so that you can all speak like leaders.

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So right, okay, stop. Right, stop listen. Look left, look right, look center. How are you feeling? Distressed? Anxious? Little bit edgy? That’s because I’m mimicking, hyperventilating. And so this is the authentic sound of fear, and that fear transfers to you. This is an ancient Roman rhetorical device; they used to call it asyndeton. And it’s one that leaders still use today. So David Cameron uses it: “Broken homes, failing schools, sink estates.” Tony Blair used to use it as well: “Education, education, education.” Barack Obama too: “A world at war, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a generation”.

Why three? Well, three is the magic number in rhetoric. “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

(In German) “One people, one empire, one leader.”

(In Italian) “Eat well, laugh often, love much.”

That was the hardest part of this speech to practice, so thank you for the applause.

This is also an ancient Roman rhetorical device. They used to call it tricolon, which makes it sound like a peculiar part of the digestive system. But it’s just putting things in threes. You put your argument in threes, it makes it sound more compelling, more convincing, more credible. Just like that. And so we find the rule of three here, there, and everywhere. And so indeed you can tell the history of Verona through nothing more than the rule of three. If you think that Caesar used to come here 2,000 years ago, “Veni, vidi, vici.”

400 years ago, Shakespeare wrote “Romeo and Juliet,” which was set here. “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” But of course, far and away the most momentous event in Verona’s history — today’s TEDx: “Reinvent. Rethink. Relay.” Right.

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