J.A. Gamache demonstrates how to complement strong writing with powerful body language in a speech titled “Being a Mr. G.” that took first place in the 2007 Region VI Toastmasters speech contest.
This video critique analyzes many noteworthy elements of the presentation, including:
- a memorable speech opening and closing which feature the same prop;
- the callback technique for repetitive humor;
- emotionally charged writing; and
- a series of wonderfully choreographed gestures.
I encourage you to:
- Watch the video;
- Read the analysis in this speech critique; and
- Share your thoughts on this presentation.
Effective Prop for Strong Opening
J.A. opens his speech by blowing a train whistle and yelling “All aboard!” [0:30] This may be the greatest impact in the opening four seconds of a speech I’ve ever seen. It is simple and quick, but it transports the audience out of their chairs in a ballroom and onto a train.
Also note how J.A. expertly conceals the prop before its use (in his left hand, so that he could shake hands with his right), and then immediately pockets it afterwards. This is a good lesson: display the prop only when you are specifically using it. You don’t want the audience’s attention on the prop anymore, so don’t hold onto it, fidget with it, or leave it anywhere in view.
(Effective Prop for) Strong Closing
J.A. closes the speech exactly as he opened it: blowing the train whistle and yelling “All aboard!” This is wonderfully circular, and symbolically tells the audience not only that the speech is complete, but that we have neatly returned back to where we started.
Immediately preceding the whistle, J.A. says: “In the train of life, the world needs more Mr. and Mrs. G’s like you.” This is a well-crafted call to action for several reasons:
- metaphor (“train of life“)
- simile (“like“)
- personalized for audience (“you”)
“Mr. G.” – A Contemporary Hero
When first used in the speech title, “Mr. G.” creates mystery in the minds of the audience. Who is Mr. G.? The use of “mister” implies that it is someone J.A. respects (i.e. Mr. G. rather than simply G.), but that is a subtle clue.
Later, after the true identity is revealed, J.A. continues to use “Mr. G.” I think this gives the hero a more contemporary quality. This makes Gandhi seem more like a next-door neighbour than a great man who (to the audience) lived around the world in a faraway land sixty years ago. The word choice is an effective way to bridge the distance – in time, geography, culture, context – between the life of the hero and the lives of the audience members.
Repetition of Key Phrases
“Awww. How sweeeeet.”
- Three repetitions. J.A. first uses this phrase following the story of Gandhi and the two sandals [1:51]. He repeats it during the stories of giving shoes to a homeless person [2:33] and dancing with the hearing impaired crowd [5:00].
- J.A. uses virtually the same vocal variety and gesture every time.
- He gets a little laughter on the first use, and much more laughter on subsequent uses. This is not accidental. The callback technique creates a psychological connection between each use. Essentially, G.A. created a lightweight conditioned response for the audience to laugh whenever he used that phrase and that gesture.
“Dare to care.”
- Five repetitions. First used with “Gandhi dared to care.” [2:08] Used again at 2:43, 2:48, 5:05, and in the conclusion at 7:28.
- In all cases, this phrase is followed by a longer-than-average pause to indicate its importance.
- This is the signature phrase of the speech. “Dare to care” would have been a suitable title for the speech, although I prefer the title J.A. used for the mystery it created.
“Dance with me.
And we danced.
At last we understood each other.
Not a word was spoken.
Yet we were not silent anymore.
Our joy roared louder than a thousand voices.
Some words erupted from my heart.
I couldn’t hold them anymore.
I yelled.” [4:22]
These words and the complementary gestures – the foot beating the stage and dancing around – combine to create the most emotional moment in the speech. J.A. is marvelous in this segment:
- His dance and gestures draw the audience in.
- The vocal variety creates building excitement.
- Note the short sentences in this segment: nine sentences with just 44 words (less than 5 words/sentence). The short, simple sentences complement the up-tempo rhythmic beat of his feet.
Rich Figures of Speech
There are many other examples of clever speechwriting as well:
- Double meaning. “Just chatting…[pause] So to speak.” [3:24]
The latter phrase – So to speak – has a double meaning here:
- Its usual meaning – to draw attention to the understatement preceding it. (To say that hearing impaired people just chat is an understatement.)
- In this case, the understatement is about speaking. This double meaning is apt to be particularly appreciated in an audience of public speakers.
- Simile. “My brain started melting like ice cream in a heat wave.” [5:32]
- Vivid exaggeration. “Sweat … pooled in my shoes.” [5:34] Later, this is followed by “I slushed back to my seat.” [5:52]
- Repeated word.
- “Confused… Confused…” [5:39]
- “Thank you. Yes, you. You. You. All of you!” [6:58] Audiences like to be complimented, as long as you are sincere as J.A. is in this segment.
- “You.” J.A. uses this word 38 times (including derivatives “your” and “yourself”). The entire speech has 718 words. Over 5% of the words in the speech are explicitly audience-focused. The concentration of “you” words is especially high in the opening and conclusion.
- Anaphora and the Rule of Three.
“A sandal of hope when you reach out.
A sandal of joy when you listen to your heart.
A sandal of courage when you dare to care.” [7:13]
The first two are accompanied by great gestures. The third gesture is interesting, though I’m not certain what it is meant to represent.
J.A.’s use of body language in this speech was masterful. He demonstrates that gestures should not be random, or an afterthought. Gestures should be carefully crafted to complement and punctuate the words being spoken (or, occasionally, to express ideas in the absence of words). With gestures, he is able to express numerous emotions and ideas throughout his speech. In addition to those already mentioned, there are several more:
- Pride. “You are wearing a pair of sandals you proudly made yourself” complemented by glancing down at sandals with pride. [0:50]
- Motion. “The train starts to pull away” complemented by backwards walking (to the left). His movement makes it seem as though the stage is moving off to the right. [1:02]
- Displeasure. “I would have cursed my bad luck…” complemented by stomping around on stage and “sour puss” facial features. [1:09]
- Recalling a memory. “Big deal. It’s just a pair of sandals.” complemented by a gesture to the stage location where the sandals were removed earlier. [2:15]
- Bravery. “I jumped on the loudspeaker” complemented by a lateral jump to the left. [3:50]
- (Lack of) Physical fitness. “Well, actually, I climbed on the loudspeaker” complemented by cradling his stomach. [3:55]
- Yelling. Waving arms above his head. [4:00]
- Slow motion. Compare the waving of arms @ 4:15 to the earlier waving of arms @ 4:00. The latter gesture is much slower. This contrast shows that that latter waves were more deliberate, more heartfelt.
- Drum vibrations. Tapping of foot on stage to mimic the beating of a drum was masterful. [4:22]
- Sign language. “We love you too.” complemented by sign language. This is far more effective than simply saying “They signed back that they loved me too” without actions. [4:50]
- Nervous and confused. “Boy! Was I nervous! My heart was pounding…” complemented by various nervous gestures. [5:21]
Did you enjoy this speech? What did you like most? How could this presentation be enhanced? Was the evaluation fair? Did I miss anything?