My daughters tell me that Emma Watson’s speech to the UN is totally old news, because she gave it at the end of September and it’s been buzzing all over the Internet for two whole weeks and already has 5 million + views, but my guess is that no one has looked at this speech from the perspective of what it can teach writers, so clearly I have to jump into the fray.
Writers can learn so many things from speakers, for two main reasons. One is that many writers become speakers when they are called to talk about their books and their ideas, so it’s good practice to pay attention. In just the last few months, I have had clients invited to give Tedx talks, speak at the Chicago Ideas conference, speak at a women’s empowerment weekend and become a headliner with a speaking agency that specializes in big corporate workshops. It could be you – and sooner than you may imagine.
The other is that speakers are doing the exact same thing writers are doing, which is trying to communicate, to engage, to inspire and to connect. The tools they use are slightly different (see #7) but the intention is identical.
So what can we learn from Emma?
1.) Have something to say. No one wants to read a book or hear a speech from someone who has nothing to say, or who is just mimicking what everyone else is saying, or who wants to share some vague thoughts for which they have no passion. Take a stand, make a point, own your power. If you wonder what that looks and sounds like, watch Emma.
2.) Speak with authority even if you’re nervous. Emma must have been terrified to speak at the UN. Sure, she’s walked red carpets and giving a gazillion interviews and posed for famous photographers all over the world, but speaking at the UN is something else entirely. And her terror is clear the second she steps up to the podium. Her voice shakes. She barely smiles for the first few minutes of her speech. But she doesn’t let that stop her (Why? because she has something to say.) She marches forward with authority despite her nerves, and it’s one of the reasons we listen.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “But Jennie, I can’t speak in front of people. I’m shy. I get SUPER terrified. I could never do it,” get yourself a copy of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
3.) Tell us why you care. At minute 3:18 in the speech, Emma gets personal. She says why she cares about the topic of gender equality – she talks about being called bossy at 8, being sexualized at 14. We listen, because she is being honest and authentic. This matters to her – you can tell -- and that makes it matter to us. If you’re writing non-fiction, we absolutely want to hear why you care. If you’re writing fiction, we may not hear you say it straight up, but it will come through, believe me – in key scenes, in the climax, on every page. =
4.) Never lead with self-deprecating comments. It’s cringe-worthy when you start off in a speech (or a book) apologizing for standing up and speaking (see #1 and #2) but all bets are off once you have won our trust. At minute 10:30 in the speech, Emma makes a funny little self-deprecating comment -- “You might be thinking, who is this Harry Potter girl and what is she doing speaking at the UN?” And she laughs at herself and says, “I’ve been asking myself the same thing myself.” It’s a charming and disarming moment and it’s the place where she wins hearts as well as minds.
5.) Give us a call to action. At minute 7:38, Emma asks for what she wants. She gives a formal invitation to men to be part of the gender equality movement. She does it again at the end of the speech. If you are trying to move people or inspire them or teach them, you need to be this clear about what you are asking them to do.
6.) Own your mistakes. At minute 8:25, Emma slips on a line. She says “less of a men” when she means “less of a man.” She very calmly and firmly corrects herself, and carries on with her speech – a tiny little 3 second act that reinforces her authority and her passion.
7.) Wear something fabulous. Emma wore a spectacular white coatdress – and yes, of course, she’s a model, she was a Burberry spokesperson, but that is not the point here. The point is that she looks like she wants to be heard. She looks like she hopes she has 5 million people watching her speech. She looks professional and appropriate. When next you have the chance to address a crowd – even a small one – you might practice doing the same thing.