In an age of screens, let’s remember the power of speech

Olive Pometsey

Olive Pometsey attends Speeches of Note Live, an event held in association with DRUGSTORE CULTURE

26 September 2018 11:15

As we hide behind screens all day, reading texts, emails, tweets and articles like this one, it can be easy to forget just how rousing an impeccably delivered speech can be. When was the last time you truly felt something after hearing someone address a crowd? Laughing along with the world’s leaders at Donald Trump’s UN General Assembly speech doesn’t count.

Last night, I was lucky enough to hear twelve speeches within the space of an hour that each either made the audience cry, laugh (for all the right reasons), view the world differently, or all of the above. Author of Letters of Note Shaun Usher has moved on from rifling through the post of our past and has now collated a new book celebrating the power of the spoken word, Speeches of Note. While the speeches within this book have the power to move without being read aloud; naturally, the words were designed to be delivered. And so, in association with DRUGSTORE CULTURE, Usher and the How To: Academy hosted a live multimedia event, at which the audience had the opportunity to either watch videos of the original speeches, or hear them be performed by actors Ian Kelly, Georgina Rylance, Tanya Vital and Jessie Buckley.

Ian Kelly, Georgina Rylance, Tanya Vital and Jessie Buckley at Speeches of Note Live

Opening with a clip of Malala Yousafzai addressing the United Nations in 2013, and ending with Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration speech in 1994, two extremely famous speeches sandwiched the evening – but it turned out to be the lesser-known addresses that inspired the greatest response from the audience. Take, for example, the undelivered speeches of President Nixon and the Queen, which were prepared for the potential tragedies of a failed Apollo 11 mission and World War III, respectively. Revealing alternative histories that we fortunately never had to witness, these speeches both chilled and provided a sense of relief in equal measure.

Then there was Panti Bliss, the drag queen who got on stage at the end of a play he wasn’t even in to deliver an impassioned speech on homophobia; ex Australian PM Julia Gillard who teared down Tony Abbott in a parliamentary speech on misogyny; human rights activist Yeonmi Park on escaping North Korea; and death row convict Napoleon Beazley’s last words, in which he challenges the purpose of the death penalty.

Julia Gillard's speech on misogyny

These speeches could barely be more different from each other – from their subject matters, to the types of people delivering them – but they were all unified by the fact that they received a palpable response from the audience, whether that was a cheer of support, tears of empathy, or simply stunned silence.

In a world where our most powerful leaders’ speeches are being laughed at for their idiocy, Speeches of Note is a book that reminds us of the power of the spoken word when used with purpose, whether the deliverer is speaking to the entire world or a small room. It sure beats 140 characters.

Yeonmi Park's speech on escaping North Korea

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