The Queen never featured in my Christmas when I was growing up.
At 3pm on Christmas day my family were normally eating dinner or struggling to spend some enforced “family” time together without committing murder.
I was always a little bit disappointed by this – I rather like the pomp and circumstance of anything royal myself. But my parents, for whatever reason, would rather play monopoly than stand for the national anthem.
Like it or not though, the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast is an important part of many people’s Christmas day. This year it even topped the TV viewing figures, with 7.8 million viewers. That’s more, even, than Mrs Brown’s Boys.
In case you missed it, here it is again.
So what can we learn from the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast. What messages can she impart to us about great public speaking?
Well, lets, start with a little history.
The history of the Royal Christmas Broadcast
The first Royal broadcast was in 1932, delivered by George V, and went out live on Christmas day. It was written by Rudyard Kipling, and the king was so nervous that his table had to be heavily lined with thick cloth to deaden the sound of him rustling his papers.
Fortunately things have improved slightly since then but the message has still often been brought with difficulty or controversy.
- In 1936 Edward VIII broadcast on December 11th, instead of 25th, to announce his abdication.
- In 1939 George VI’s speech marked the outbreak of war – “A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”
- George VI was an extremely nervous speaker as we all now know thanks to The King’s Speech. He not only stammered but he also had a natural lisp and had to be heavily coached through every speech.
- George VI’s final broadcast in 1951 was recorded early due to his ailing health. This was the first time the speech did not go out live.
- Elizabeth II gave her first televised speech in 1957. It was produced by her husband, Prince Phillip, who had encouraged her to embrace the new medium, and coached her on her delivery. During this first broadcast, freak weather conditions caused US police radio signals to interfere with the broadcast and some listeners heard an officer say: “Joe, I’m gonna grab a quick coffee.”
- Elizabeth was incredibly nervous throughout her first televised speech, and had to be reminded to smile. At the end of the recording she can be seen to glance past the camera at Phillip and, for the first time on live tv, flashes a luminous smile.
- Audience figures have fallen over the years but royal misfortune, such as her ‘Annus Horribilis’ in 1992 attracts more viewers. That same year however, The Sun Newspaper broke the press embargo and printed the message 2 days early. The Queen sued them for copyright. She won, and The Sun paid £200,000 to charity.
How to create a right royal speech
Although the speech can go wrong 2014 was not one of those years. “One Take” Windsor has become a master of the screen, overseeing much of the filming herself.
And here are some of her top tips (as decided by me) that you can use in your speeches as well.
1. Make a grand entrance
The Queen does have an unfair advantage over the rest of us.
If we’re lucky we might get an reasonably enthusiastic introduction before we stand up to the speak.
The Queen gets the whole country to stand up and sing to her.
Although most of us don’t get our own theme tune, it doesn’t hurt to engage your audience at the earliest possibility. Ask them a question. Tell them a joke. Or even better get them to do something physical like raise their hand, touch their nose, or do 5 jumping jacks. Any kind of interaction gets their attention and helps them focus on what you have to say next.
2. Believe in what you say
Although she is advised by her private secretaries, the speech is written by Elizabeth herself in close co-operation with Prince Philip and takes several to get right. She takes great care with the speech, seeing it as a chance to reiterate her religious views and her mission to the nation and is very careful to only say what she truly believes in. Indeed, the book Elizabeth the Queen by Sally Bedall Smith notes that the Queen will not even say ‘very’ in a speech unless she actually means ‘very’.
The same must be true for you. You will never convince your listeners if you can not convince yourself. Believe it your message and it will have a power that cannot be added to it by months of practice.
3. Work out your key message before you start writing.
Every royal christmas broadcast contains a central theme that is normally based on the evens of the proceeding year.
This year the Queen spoke on topics as diverse as the 1st World War, the Referendum on Scotland, the Commonwealth and Invictus Games and Game of Thrones. But she tied it all back to the theme of Reconciliation.
Framing her speech with a statue in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral she reminded the nation of the importance of acceptance and forgiveness. In fact, if you were to sum up her speech in one sentence it would be “A speech about hope and reconciliation.”
Make sure you can sum up your speech in one sentence before you start on your final draft. If you can’t go strip it back and simplify it. Only when you know what you want to say can you find the words to say it.
4. Tell stories
Elizabeth is a master story teller. She can tell stories is only a few lines that still conjure up images in the listener’s mind.
In 1914, many people thought the war would be over by Christmas, but sadly by then the trenches were dug and the future shape of the war in Europe was set.
But, as we know, something remarkable did happen that Christmas, exactly a hundred years ago today.
Without any instruction or command, the shooting stopped and German and British soldiers met in no man’s land. Photographs were taken and gifts exchanged. It was a Christmas truce.
Without stories a speech is nothing. Stories bring speeches to life, making them relevant and memorable. They take the black and white words off of the page and rebuild them in glorious high definition colour in your listeners’s imagination.
Fill your speech with stories. Every speech. Always. They can be no exceptions.
And if you can tell each story in 3 lines or less then all the better.
5. End on emotion
Leave them laughing, crying, or cursing. Just don’t leave them silent.
Emotions are the human soul laid bare. They create our memories and decide what we forget. They keep us awake at night and comfort us in old age. We live for them, by them, in them. And as a speech writer they are your best friend.
The last words of any speech should be a call to action, and people will remember that call most strongly if you talk directly to their hearts.
Sometimes it seems that reconciliation stands little chance in the face of war and discord. But, as the Christmas truce a century ago reminds us, peace and goodwill have lasting power in the hearts of men and women.
On that chilly Christmas Eve in 1914 many of the German forces sang Silent Night, its haunting melody inching across the line.
That carol is still much-loved today, a legacy of the Christmas truce, and a reminder to us all that even in the unlikeliest of places hope can still be found.
A very happy Christmas to you all.
And I hope that your next speech, no matter where or when it may be, gets you even more viewers than the ruddy Queen.