Friday, May 4, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard at ANZAC Day

(Editor's note: Sydney-based speech and communications coach Claire Duffy, who has a special interest in women and young speakers, is back with a recent speech from Australia's prime minister. I'm happy to have this contribution as another international entry for Famous Speech Friday.)

Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard is feisty and personable in debate, and comfortable and easy at walk-arounds, but in interviews and speeches she is criticised for having little animation and a nasal monotone that can sound flat and stilted.  

Her address to the Gallipoli Dawn Service this year on ANZAC Day was a challenge she met well.

ANZAC Day (April 25th), commemorates Australians at war. It’s a significant holiday, and Dawn Services are held throughout the country and overseas to mark the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces, at Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915. The battle was a devastating defeat, but it was the coming-of-age for these two young countries, and gave birth to the ANZAC legend – the national character.
So it's  a national occasion in an international arena, and she’s speaking because she's Head of State. Apart from the normal challenges that go with this, consider what else she was up against.
First there’s the setting. She is speaking outdoors to a big crowd in cold pre-dawn darkness. Second there’s her gender, a female leader memorialising a very masculine military event. Third we have the political context. She’s delivering this speech just days after announcing Australia is reducing its commitment in Afghanistan, amid widespread criticism at home about the effects of war on veterans and their families. Finally there’s the emotion. Any ANZAC speech is freighted with generations of symbolism, tragedy, grief and loss. The theme is always “ Was it worth it?”, there can be no other.
Gillard’s speech is beautifully writtenIt tells the story of the catastrophe in poetic language:
“They were strangers in a strange land.
Men who came from “the ends of the earth” in an enterprise of hope to end a far-off, dreadful war.
But it was not to be.
Even at dawn, the shadows were already falling over this fate-filled day.”
It deftly weaves in respect and honour for the Turks, our enemy. The Australians:   
“…did not begrudge the victory of their enemy, which was hard-fought and deserved.
They did share a regret greater than any defeat – having to leave their mates behind.
So the Australian and New Zealand commander, General Godley, left a message asking the Ottoman forces to respect the Anzac graves.
But no such invitation was required.
The Turkish honoured our fallen and embraced them as their own sons.
And later they did something rare in the pages of history – they named this place in honour of the vanquished as Anzac Cove.”
The speech builds to a climax that could have been corny (because of the way it plays with place names), but instead it is heartbreaking.
“In this place, they taught us to regard Australia and nowhere else as home.
Here where they longed for the shape and scent of the gum leaf and the wattle, not the rose or the elm.
Where they remembered places called Weipa and Woolloomooloo, Toowoomba and Swan Hill.
Or the sight of Mt Clarence as their ships pulled away from Albany, for so many the last piece of Australian soil they would ever live to see.
This is the legend of Anzac, and it belongs to every Australian.”
These are unusual speaking circumstances, but there are still some lessons to be learned.

  • Honour the occasion. A dignitary at a ceremonial event has little control or flexibility over format, timing, or even content. These are all largely pre-ordained.  To present well at these events you should be sure you’ll meet the expectations of the organisers and those attending. Understand what it is they want from you. Formality and state occasions invite big messages, simply stated; rousing, direct language; and strong (but contained) emotion.
  • Manage the feelings, don’t avoid them. An occasion like this is necessarily sad. This speech has enough feeling to carry the mood and no more. Gillard keeps up the pace. She doesn’t hurry – far from it, but while the words are emotive, her naturally flat delivery sounds matter of fact. This steers her away from sentiment and into practicality.  Her tone lacks light and shade or dramatic effect, which gives her a no-nonsense touch. It’s moving but not mawkish. 
  • Keep eye contact.  It would be better if Gillard raised her eyes at the end of her paragraphs. She could hold our attention but instead she disconnects from us while she finds her next line. It’s an elementary mistake (perhaps there’s no autocue), but however much you want to look away and hide from the audience remember, you may not.
  • Dress for the podiumI wish it wasn't so, but female speakers are invariably assessed on how they look as well as what they say. I don’t much like that hat and coat combo. The downward brim draws attention away from her eyes (which are what we want to see), and the collar and hat together clutter up the silhouette - but of course it’s better than freezing or having her hair blowing in the breeze.  I'd have preferred a hat that showed her face in full. If you are dressing to look good from a distance, keep the outline tailored  and uncomplicated.

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

Her delivery does seem very flat to me, and yet it works. I thought the speach was beautifully written and heartfelt in its delivery. I found it difficult to explain why I was crying over it to my English partner! I'm Australian and have been to Gallipoli and Anzac Cove, it's a very moving experience and this speech brings back the emotions. Thanks for sharing :-)