Reap The Lessons from a Stand-Out Speech

What elements make a great speech? Chancellor Angela Merkel hit upon more than a few when she spoke the day Germany locked down to fight the Covid-19 virus almost a year ago. Rhetoric experts responded by calling her speech the best delivered in 2020.

A panel of academics from Tubingen University described the Chancellor's address to the German people as a vividly written, well-structured model of rhetoric that “directly influenced the German population in a way that almost no other speech of the past years has done.”

Here are a few more reasons why her speech drew high praise:

How often have you heard public officials say the pandemic is an “unprecedented” event? Probably often enough that you don’t even pay attention to that abstract word anymore. It’s just noise in the background. In contrast, Angela Merkel used specific language to get a reaction. She said the situation was “serious” and asked her audience to take it “seriously”. Then she put the pandemic in perspective in a dramatic way by saying “Since German reunification, no, since the Second World War, there has not been a challenge for our country in which action in a spirit of solidarity on our part was so important.”

The theme that “everyone counts" runs through the speech. In her opening, the Chancellor said every citizen had a part to play in slowing the spread the virus. And she repeated her belief again in the body and at the end.

She used concrete language to show she knew and felt empathy for her listeners. “Millions of you cannot go to work, your children cannot go to school or kindergarten, theatres and cinemas and shops are closed…” She was also concrete when she suggested practical steps people could take to stay safe and protect others. And she based her suggestions on the advice of virologists.

She spoke frankly about the controversial decision to close borders. It was, she said, a hard choice to make for someone who wouldn't consider such restrictions under normal circumstances.

Finally, in addition to delivering a grave message, Chancellor Merkel took a moment to be light-hearted and hopeful, praising the children who were making podcasts to stay connected to their grandparents.

Read Chancellor Merkel's speech and you’ll discover other ways it stands out as an example of how to connect with and engage people while delivering an urgent message in a crisis.