Watching speeches delivered by great speakers is a really valuable thing to do. They can help you with structure, style and delivery.
But I don’t want you to limit yourself to real people.
Speeches delivered in movies and TV shows are just as valuable.
They’re written by exceptional writers and delivered by experienced actors who have likely done 10 or more takes to get it right.
(If it’s a Sorkin production, that jumps to 20. IYKYK.)
That makes them a great source of inspiration that’s accessible and enjoyable.
I’ve compiled 5 of my favourite fictional speeches for you to enjoy.
Andrew Shepherd, final speech – The American President
The scene: Widower, single Dad and President Andrew Shepherd has started a relationship with lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade who he met while in office. After sustaining weeks of political attacks on his character without response, President Shepherd gets up and speaks from his heart and his values about his presidency and his vision for the future.
This speech is all about maintaining your values, even when they come under attack.
The delivery here is so effective – emotion without volume, pausing for effect, using body language and eye contact – right down the barrel – to drive the message home. It shows us who he is and what’s important to him.
Try not to lose hope with the fact that this is a 1995 movie where they’re talking about taking action on climate change.
Jed Bartlet, American Heroes – The West Wing
The scene: After a terrorist act at a university, President Jed Bartlet turns his speech at a political fundraiser to the horrific events of the afternoon. The hastily written final piece of the speech is a tribute to those victims and survivors who took action in the face of terror and destruction. It plays into the larger narrative of the original speech about doing what it takes even when it’s tough.
This is all about imagery and inspiration: “The streets of Heaven are too crowded with American heroes tonight.” And note how ‘American heroes’ is repeated multiple times in multiple contexts to really drive it home.
This is certainly helped along by Tori Amos’ cover of ‘I don’t like Mondays’ but even without it, it’s a damn good speech. The little snippet at the end with the speechwriter – Sam Seaborn – is also lovely. To be that good!
Tammy Metzler, Who Cares – Election
The scene: A student government election is due to be held and this is the assembly where everyone gets up and makes their promises. Tammy Metzler, deeply unpopular and known for causing trouble, gets permission to run and blows the whole election apart much to the shock of fellow candidates Tracy Flick and Tammy’s older brother, Paul.
This speech is about truly knowing what your audience wants and giving it to them in language they can understand and support.
This is a cult classic movie that you absolutely need to watch. It’s funny and weird and stars Reese Witherspoon before she was anyone. Make sure you put the kids to bed first – it’s not for their eyes or ears.
Leslie Knope, the Debate Closing Statement – Parks and Recreation
The scene: Leslie Knope, Deputy Director of the Parks Department, and the single most focused person the planet is running for a Councillor spot in Pawnee. Her main opponent is Bobby Newport, the simple heir to the Newport fortune, made from having a stranglehold on the Pawnee economy. Leslie is seen by many in the community as overbearing and way too persistent. In reality, she just cares very deeply.
This speech is inspiring and so well delivered. It destroys her opponent’s promises and unethical actions without being vicious or mean. That’s not always something candidates get right.
She also responds to the voters’ objections about her:
“If I seem too passionate, it’s because I care. If I come on strong, it’s because I feel strongly. If I push too hard, it’s because things aren’t moving fast enough.”
If you’ve never watched this show, you’re really missing out. There’s lots of great moments like this where Leslie fails to contain her enthusiasm.
Cher Horowitz, Haiti Debate assignment – Clueless
A quick, fun one to round out.
The scene: Rich, popular girl Cher Horowitz has to participate in a debate in English class about immigration. She is pro-immigration for the debate and has 2 minutes to get her point across.
While this isn’t the most incredible speech ever delivered, Cher does a great job using an analogy to make her argument. Analogies are all about making the unfamiliar familiar so telling a whole lot of rich kids about a fancy party makes a lot more sense than trying to tell them about the plight of poor people in Haiti.
A total winner!
So what’s your favourite fictional speech? Let me know!