Charles Spencer Chaplin, netter known as Charlie Chaplin is still known as the greatest silent actor ever, and few remember him in any speaking role. However, after his performance in the 1940 political satire The Great Dictator, we remember him as both the writer and deliverer of the greatest fictional speech ever given.
The controversial satirization of Adolf Hitler during a time when the United States had not yet been formally at war with Nazi Germany was Chaplin’s most commercially successful film, and his famous speech was a deciding factor in winning him Best Actor that year’s Academy Awards.
Lesson 1: Connecting
“Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness - not by each other’s misery.”
Chaplin begins his speech by making a connection and carries this tone throughout his delivery. By connecting with the audience, and frequently using the words “we”, he builds a rapport that allows listeners to empathize with him and creates a bias endears him to them. This allows him to get his point across more easily as they stand enraptured by a person whom they now regard as “one of them”
While an effective strategy and one employed frequently in politics and to great effect by US President Barack Obama, one must take special care not to appear as falsely relating to the audience. This is often demonstrated when a person who frequently distances him or herself from the audience suddenly appears to force a camaraderie on them.
Lesson 2: Repetition and Rhythm
“More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.”
“… - tell you what to do - what to think and what to feel!”
“Machine men with machine minds and machine hearts!”
Chaplin employs a highly effective delivery method here, which was also employed by famous real life orator Martin Luther King.
His inspired use of "I have a dream," in the speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 Civil rights March on Washington employed rising, rhythmic momentum, punctuated by the repeated refrains.
Repetition and rhythm in speech delivery has its effectiveness rooted in science. Psychological studies have suggested that repetition can have a positive effect on someone's reception and agreement with an argument.
Doctors of cognitive neuroscience and psychology J.T. Cachiappo, PhD and Richard Petty, PhD were two pioneers in this field in the late 1970s and 1980s. They concluded that low to moderate levels of repetition within a message tend to create greater agreement with the message, along with greater recall.
However, their work also suggested that too much repetition has an adverse impact and can lead to stronger disagreement with the argument being made.
Lesson 3: Hope
“You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural!”
Nearing the end of a speech, Chaplin rouses his audience with feelings of hope. The late 19th-century poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, expressed the power of speeches as:
“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.”
In real life, Barack Obama employed this to great effect with his firm conviction and campaign slogan of “Yes, we can.”, effectively converting the cynical and empowering the supportive. This shared hope helped to unify his audience and humanize his campaign, declaring that we all need hope and we all have it.
Lesson 4: Emote
“You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!”
After watching Chaplin’s performance, it is quite apparent that an effective speech relies on much more than a well-written script. While expertly crafted, Chaplin’s speech needed to be brought to life through its delivery.
A strongly emoted speech, with a nuanced and subtle delivery in some places and rousing crescendos as they reach their culmination can turn a simple script into an experience.
Practicing this is simple. In preparation for a speech, pick up a short newspaper report or takeaway menu. The objective is to ignore the content. With your material in hand, practice delivering the speech, firstly, in a subtle and nuanced fashion, emphasizing small details, and slowly escalate your tone and emotion, moving through happiness, sadness, and anger until your control over the delivery highly tuned.
Now, with your actual speech, mark it in places where you’ll need to “turn on” an emotion and practice with it. This method will help you effortlessly engage an emotive delivery at will.
Lesson 5: Commission
“In the name of democracy, let us all unite!”
Finish with a bang; always leave the audience with what is commonly referred to as “A key takeaway”. While the actual terminology may sound archaic and clichéd, giving your audience a key phrase to remember your speech by can make the difference between a life changing event and something that would be forgotten by the time refreshments are served.
Often, orators may even punctuate their final words with, “If you remember only one thing from today, remember this.” Which surprisingly works, but is a weapon which must be wielded with care and careful measure.
So, if you remember only one thing from this article, remember this:
It’s not just the script, it’s the delivery. So don’t read, perform.
To learn more about public speaking and other skills for the workplace in small, manageable sessions, visit the British Council's Bitesize Learning and Development Programme and send us your details, and may the Force be with you, always.