How public speaking can spark a movement

By Greg Dardis / Guest Column

The events that will come to define July – Black Lives Matter protests, Dallas funerals and two political conventions – all hinge on public speaking. Their impact is determined when someone steps up to a microphone and addresses a crowd.

If the address accomplishes four key functions, it can take on a certain magic, becoming more than just a speech but the impetus for a movement. In your own presentations – whether in a boardroom or a ballroom – you too can strive for the same effect.

Dardis Communications instructors will be listening closely to the speeches delivered this week in Cincinnati and next week in Philadelphia. After a protracted primary season that left many with political fatigue, this is a crucial opportunity for the Trump and Clinton campaigns to formally kick off the general-election season and introduce themselves on a national stage.

Historically, stars have been born at these conventions and groundbreaking party platforms have been proposed. Back in 1896, William Jennings Bryan delivered his stirring 14-minute “Cross of Gold” address at the Democratic convention, asserting that silver as well as gold should be minted as U.S. currency and landing himself the presidential nomination the following day.

In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt took to the podium at Chicago Stadium and proposed the New Deal. His message thundered out that July day, becoming a historic catchphrase: “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”

Barack Obama was a little-known senator until he delivered the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, soaring to fame and opening the pathway to his presidency. Reflecting on his journey in simple terms, beginning with his parents, made it feel personal. “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story,” he said, “that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”

Four years later Sarah Palin delivered the speech of a lifetime in St. Paul, Minn., introducing her boisterous young family and claiming her credentials in her roots as a hockey mom and “small-town mayor,” which – she said, in a jab at then-presidential-candidate Obama – “is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.” She was the woman who “took on the old-boys network in Juneau,” and she won over the Republican delegates in dazzling fashion.

Diverse as they speeches were, they have four functions in common: they tell a story, inform, inspire and provide a clear call to action. In doing so, each one managed to ignite a movement.

Telling your story may be the easiest yet most often overlooked element of an effective speech. No matter how dry and business-like the climate, an audience always craves personal insight. They should walk away from your talk feeling that they know you better – not just the mid-level manager or corner-office executive, but you as a person. The trick is to find artful ways to weave in anecdotes about yourself so they come across as meaningful or fun, not indulgent.

The second and third functions work best when they are closely intertwined. A stirring speech thrives on the delicate balance of information and inspiration. You sprinkle your statistics with stories. You share observations, identify problems and propose solutions rooted in fact that ultimately elicit emotion.

Lastly, the most powerful public speeches include a call to action. What are you asking your audience to do? Vote? Approve your budget? Ask them clearly, persuasively and more than once. Repetition is key to retention.

When you tell a story, inform, inspire and call to action, you can spark or advance a movement. This may sound dramatic, but it has plenty of corporate application. It means you’re making the audience feel a part of something – something bigger than themselves. Perhaps you want your audience to recognize they are part of a decisive chapter in their company’s history. Maybe the movement is a revved-up department or a successful initiative. No matter your scope, think in terms of this moment in time. Where do you find yourselves today? What opportunity awaits, and how will you seize it?

Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Inc., located at 2403 Muddy Creek Lane in Coralville. For more information, visit