A fate worse than death: Public speaking and narrative development – Lessons from the IMF’s Lagarde
Studies show that the majority of adults fear public speaking (1). Some studies go as far as showing that some people fear public speaking more even than death (2)! Maybe this is why clients come to AKAS so frequently for help in developing powerful and inspirational speeches, business stories and corporate narratives. And why we are always on the lookout for outstanding examples.
As I was reading the FT this week, I came across an article written by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, titled “Sunny spell allows precious time to fix our roof”. It was Lagarde’s lyrical and metaphorical message ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos focusing on economic rebalancing when times are good.
Christine Lagarde is a great exponent of powerful speeches and this article reminded me of a previous speech at Harvard in October 2017. It was similarly entitled “A Time to Repair the Roof” (3) relying on the same metaphor. Lagarde’s continued use of the “fixing the roof” imagery is in itself instructive because it shows an understanding of the power and importance of repeating messages.
The speech is notable on many levels, but in this article, I want to concentrate on revealing the narrative structure that underpins Lagarde’s speeches. This forms part of the five elements of the Corporate Narrative Checklist (see Figure 1) that AKAS has developed.
When we discuss narrative structures at AKAS, we argue that a three-part structure is one of the key building blocks of a successful narrative. Lagarde often uses this classic structure, which starts with a situation (or celebration), is followed by a complication, and finally has a resolution. (See the three-part structure of the speech at the “Research Conference on Globalization”: 1. Globalization Benefits; 2. Globalization Challenges; 3. Policies for Inclusive Trade (4). This classic “overcoming the challenge” structure is then bookended by an introduction and a conclusion. Figure 2 shows how we represent this structure visually.
Interestingly, in her “A Time to Repair the Roof” speech, Lagarde uses a more sophisticated “Rags to Riches” structure where she starts with the bad news, following it with good news and then even better news. Figure 3, once again represents this visually but this time includes quotes from the speech mapped onto the narrative line.
However, important as having a great structure is, it does not on its own make a great speech, story or corporate narrative. What elevates Lagarde’s speech are the other narrative elements that we will highlight in forthcoming articles. Here is a taster:
- Understanding your audiences and connecting on a human level (“I want to thank all three of you for inviting me to speak in October… instead of January. Coming to Cambridge in the fall during the change of seasons is a true pleasure”);
- Alluding to history to validate core ideas (“President Kennedy said: ‘Pleasant as it may be to bask in the warmth of recovery… the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.’ ”); And
- Completing the narrative by linking the beginning and the end (“I started my remarks by mentioning a walk through your campus and how it sparked my thinking. I am certainly not the first French citizen to find a little wisdom in New England. In fact, I think Alexis de Tocqueville would quite enjoy the town hall forum you have created here at Harvard”)
So, if you are one of the 56% who fear public speaking or you simply wish to write a truly impactful speech, AKAS would advise you to read Christine Lagarde’s speeches and to use our guides to corporate narrative development and business storytelling to help you understand, appreciate and absorb their underlying ‘DNA’.
If you would like to follow up on the topics discussed in this article, please contact Luba Kassova or Richard Addy on email@example.com